Pakistan gets ready for ‘mother of all elections’

February 16th, 2008 - 3:08 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, Feb 16 (IANS) Pakistan goes to the polls Monday to elect members to its national parliament and four provincial assemblies in a contest President Pervez Musharraf describes as the “mother of all elections” but which others say is the most colourless in decades. More than 80 million people are eligible to cast their votes in the polls, the 10th general elections since formation of the country in 1947. The polls are being held under tight security with the army out to help the law enforcing agencies to ensure peaceful polling.

The fear of violence, especially in the aftermath of the Dec 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has kept people away from public rallies and campaigning has been lacklustre with few gatherings compared to previous elections.

“I don’t remember such a colourless election since 1970,” said Waheed Khan, 70, who had witnessed the country’s first polls.

Election analysts are expecting less than 30 percent turnout due to the security concerns and also because of the outdated election lists. The Election Commission last year prepared fresh electoral rolls but they were challenged in the court, which subsequently ordered that all those listed in the previous lists be included.

On the court’s order, 30 million people were added to the list “which now includes the dead and many names have been duplicated”, an Election Commission official told IANS. According to the new lists, half of Pakistan’s 160 million population is listed in the rolls.

“This is logically not possible,” said Sarwar Bari, secretary general of the Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN).

The three major political parties, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and its breakaway faction PML-Quaid (PML-Q), have run massive campaigns in the media with huge advertisements in newspapers and television channels.

Of the 64,176 polling stations, 620 have been declared sensitive by the provincial governments. The observers have also been asked to stay away from these areas.

The Election Commission Saturday gave final touches to the arrangements. “Election material has been transported to all polling stations and everything is fine,” said Secretary, Election Commission, Kanwar M. Dilshad.

The National Assembly (NA) or the lower house has 342 seats, of which 272 members are elected directly and 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims that are divided among the winning parties on proportional representation. However, women and non-Muslims are eligible to contest in the general elections as well.

Monday’s election will be held for 268 NA seats as polling on four seats has been postponed. In three NA and eight provincial assembly constituencies polling was put off due to the death of contesting candidates, including in Bhutto’s constituency Larkana. Election in the South Waziristan Agency in the tribal areas has been cancelled because of the security situation.

More than 2,300 candidates are vying for the 268 NA seats while more than 4,200 are contesting for the 730 seats in the four provincial assemblies.

For the first time in the country’s history, 180 women are contesting for the parliament while nine non-Muslims are also standing in the direct elections.

The elections will also see for the first time a large number of media organisations, including 67 television channels and 82 FM Radio Stations in the private sector. “I believe these are the media polls… Never before have elections been held in the presence of such a vibrant media,” said Adnan Rehmat, country director of Internews.

More than 1,000 international monitors, observers and media persons have also reached Pakistan to monitor the polls amid opposition allegations the polls could be rigged by the establishment in favour of the Musharraf-backed PML-Q.

On Friday, the Musharraf administration came further under pressure after Human Rights Watch released a telephonic conversation with Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum admitting that the PML-Q will rig the polls.

Forty-nine political parties got themselves registered with the Election Commission to get symbols. However, 13 of them fielded no candidates while 11 have just one candidate each. The PPP is the largest party with candidates for 207 NA seats followed by Nawaz Sharif’s PML that has 166 candidates and PML-Q with 154.

The fourth party, Mutahidda Qaumi Movement, has fielded 110 candidates for the first time. In the last elections, it had contested just 31 seats.

There are some regional parties like the Awami National Party (ANP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, PML-Functional, PPP-Sherpao, PPP-Parliamentarians, National Party and others. In the 2002 elections, 16 parties were able to get representation in the National Assembly.

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