Contradictory statements on whether the elections will be held on time should not be alarming – unless they are emanating from leaders within the ruling party that has said it wants polls on schedule.
On Saturday, Pakistan Peoples Party’s Farooq H. Naek, who is also the federal law minister, added to the confusion by refuting claims made by fellow partyman Raza Rabbani. He sought to dispel talk that the general elections will be delayed and an unconstitutional interim or caretaker set-up will be installed. The prime minister did the same on January 30.
They were both reacting to Senator Raza Rabbani’s statements made on January 28 that “some elements” were conspiring to install an “unconstitutional interim government” in a bid to delay the next general elections for two to three years. Rabbani did not name the “elements”, but in the past the powerful security establishment has been blamed for “unconstitutional steps”.
Naek asked Rabbani to come out with the evidence to back his claims. “If someone has any reports about any conspiracy, he must expose such elements so that all democratic forces can resist them,” Naek said in an interview on Saturday. “I don’t see any long-term interim set-up, nor any confrontation between the judiciary and the government or even the fate of the National Accountability Bureau chairman as a hurdle to holding the general elections on time.”
But then, just as he had said there was nothing to the talk of delays in the polls, Naek felt it necessary to spell out ways in which this could happen. If there is trouble, say an external threat or a serious outbreak of violence, the president can promulgate a state of emergency under Article 232. However, this would still have to be put before the elected representatives in the National Assembly within 10 days, he said. And only the house can make the law and extend the term for one year. “At present, I don’t see this coming at all,” Naek added within the same breath.
President Asif Ali Zardari will announce the date for the general elections in the country, between March 8 and 14, and he will not be part of the campaigns, Naek also said. Zardari will seek the consent of the chief ministers for the date of the dissolution of the provincial assemblies too.
Naek warned that two of Tahirul Qadri’s demands – the dissolution of the Election Commission and 30 days for nominations – could lead to the postponement of elections, if the government decides to implement them in letter and spirit. An extension in the date for the nominations from a week to 30 days could also lead to an extension in holding elections in 60 days.
“My advice to the government will be not to touch these demands at the moment as they require major changes, including an amendment to the Constitution, and I have told Mr Qadri as well,” he said. “You need an amendment to the constitution and need to make lot of changes in the law, which at this stage seems highly unlikely. Similarly, the dissolution of the election commission is not possible but it is good that he has decided to go to the Supreme Court.”
The name of the interim PM would be announced within three days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. Two names each will come from the PM and the leader of the opposition. If they do not agree, the National Assembly speaker will name a committee of four members from the government and opposition. If they fail to agree on one, the chief election commissioner will then name the caretaker PM.
Naek has ruled out the possibility of any changes in the governors of the provinces. “There is no provision in the constitution, which only talks of a caretaker cabinet,” he explained. “The governors have no political role nor do they have any such powers.”
Article 224 of the Constitution only talks about a caretaker cabinet. Therefore, the demand to remove the governors can be a political one but not a constitutional one.
He said that so far the government has not received any reply from the Swiss authorities about the letter he wrote on the possibility of reopening the case against President Asif Ali Zardari. “To this day we have not received anything from them and it has been almost three months now, if I remember correctly,” he said.
When asked if this meant the case was closed, he replied, “You can draw your own conclusion but it has neither been reopened nor have we heard from them.”
The writer is the director of current affairs at Express News
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2013.