LAHORE/ KARACHI: A new ceremonial head of state will be elected tomorrow (Tuesday) in an election already boycotted by the biggest opposition group – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – and its allies.
The PPP withdrew its candidate, Senator Raza Rabbani, after the Supreme Court accepted a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) request to reschedule the polls. The party says it’ll stage protest sit-ins outside the assemblies on the election day.
The second largest opposition party – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – revealed on Sunday that it also wanted to pull out of the race but decided otherwise at the request of its presidential candidate Justice (retd) Wajiuddin Ahmed.
“We’re taking part in the presidential elections under protest. We condone the opposition’s concerns but we don’t want to leave the field open for the PML-N,” said Imran Khan, the charismatic leader of PTI.
Presidents are elected by the members of four provincial assemblies, and both houses of parliament. The PML-N has enough votes to elect its nominee Mamnoon Hussain, a businessman from Karachi and a loyalist of Nawaz Sharif, to the top office. PTI’s Justice Wajiuddin Ahmed, on the other hand, has virtually no chances of winning the election.
Senator Rabbani, who is capable of commanding cross-party support, says that the new schedule does not leave enough time for campaigning in the four provincial capitals and in Islamabad.
On Sunday, Imran agreed with Senator Rabbani. “Though we have been allowed little time for canvassing, the PTI believes it should still go ahead and contest the election,” he told a news conference in Lahore.
Although it was the Supreme Court that brought the presidential election forward from August 6, Imran heaped criticism on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). “While announcing the election schedule, the ECP should have kept in mind that it was falling in the last three days of Ramazan,” he added. Imran said the ECP was playing a highly controversial role. Interestingly, the PPP also accused the ECP of bias and called for the sacking of chief election commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim.
About the upcoming by-elections, the PTI chief claimed that barring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, pre-poll rigging was ongoing everywhere. “We will hold a press conference to bring the truth out. At the same time, I challenge everyone to point out any wrongdoings or pre-poll rigging in K-P [where PTI is in power],” he added.
Imran promised that his party would ensure free, fair and transparent by-elections in the province. At the same time, he said if the ECP failed to ensure transparent by-polls elsewhere in the country, his supporters would stage countrywide protest demonstrations and that he himself would lead these demonstrations.
The PTI chairman also said that he would not attend a proposed government-sponsored all-party conference (APC), calling it a useless exercise.
“Three APCs took place in the past but yielded no results. I want to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani behind closed doors and want to have real information on national security. I’m a patriotic Pakistani citizen and want to know their compulsions. Such vital issues cannot be discussed in APCs,” he said.
In Karachi meanwhile, Sindh’s Minister for Information and Archives Sharjeel Inam Memon said that PPP legislators will boycott all assembly sessions scheduled for July 30.
“Nawaz Sharif has no political wisdom to pick a new president. He only needs a flatterer,” Memon told journalists on Sunday. “Mamnoon Hussain is going to be a new Rafiq Tarar,” he said referring to a president picked by the PML-N in 1997.
(Read: Presidential election)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2013.