It is clear that the army does not want the return to power of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, nor PML-N, his party that ruled Punjab for ten years before a caretaker government took office last month….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
A party not recognised by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that tasted blood by laying siege of a key intersection in the national capital in an agitation that led to the resignation of country’s Law Minister, has fielded as many as 150 candidates for the July 25 elections.
The then elected government had ‘requested’ the Pakistan Army for the civilian authorities to ‘talk’ to the agitators. The latter, instead of sending troops to clear the route to its General Headquarters, ‘advised’ the civilian authorities to resolve the matter by holding ‘talks’.
It was a clear breach of discipline. Logical outcome of this impasse within the government was the unceremonious resignation of the law minister who was accused of framing a draft law on “khatm-e-Nubuwat” and deliberately leaving adding a portion that militated against Islam according to the agitators.
The army’s hand behind the TLP and a host of other Islamist parties and groups – the latter using loopholes in the election law to gain surreptitious entry into the election arena – is now in the open as what the Pakistan’s analysts call “political engineering” by the army, reaches an advanced stage as the elections come close.
This “political engineering” includes subtle promotion of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehriq-e-Insaf (PTI) and getting a large number candidates of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to ‘return’ their party nominations at the last minute of the hour of filing so as to ensure that the party could not field alternate candidates for the National Assembly.
It is clear that the army does not want the return to power of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, nor PML-N, his party that ruled Punjab for ten years before a caretaker government took office last month.
Only 193 PML-N candidates figure in the list so far, while withholding list of candidates in 28 constituencies in Punjab, which is the principal battleground between the PML-N and the PTI.
Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is a lesser known religious party. It has jumped into electoral politics in a big way, fielding more candidates than many of the parties active in the political arena for decades.
The ECP has announced the candidates contesting elections from 248 National Assembly constituencies out of total 272 seats and it has provided the details of the candidates from 117 NA constituencies of Punjab out of 141 general seats from the province.
A careful analysis of the list shows that besides three major political parties — the PML-N, PTI and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — the TLP headed by Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi is the only party which has fielded over 100 candidates in Punjab’s 117 constituencies.
The number of its candidates is even more than those fielded by a bigger religio-political parties’ alliance — Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA).
The total number of TLP candidates in these 117 constituencies stands at 103, which means that the party has fielded candidates on 87 per cent of the total constituencies in the province.
The ECP data shows that the PPP of the Bhutto family and former president Zardari, struggling to retain power in Sindh and regain its base in Punjab has fielded the largest number of 225 candidates (90pc) in 248 constituencies across the country. The PTI and the PML-N have fielded 218 (87pc) and 193 candidates (77pc), respectively, all over the country.
The MMA headed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has put up candidates in 173 constituencies, followed by 152 candidates by the TLP.
The candidates of the Milli Muslim League, which has been denied registration by the ECP due to its alleged links with banned outfit Jamaatud Dawa led by 2008 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, will be using the platform of the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (AAT) to contest the polls.
Saeed is the hero of all the Islamist parties and groups and his photographs and banners are quite prominent in the current election campaign across Pakistan.
The AAT has fielded 43 candidates in Punjab and seven in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), which makes the total number of its candidates 50.
Another little known religious party, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Islami, has also put up 18 candidates in Punjab.
A symbolic evidence of the role and popularity of the army is the symbol of ‘jeep’, its most-used vehicle.
The data reveals that the symbol of ‘jeep’ allotted to estranged PML-N leader and former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, this time contesting for two NA and two Punjab Assembly seats independently, is the most sought-after symbol of the independents across the country — particularly in Punjab. In Punjab’s 120 constituencies alone, as many as 66 independent candidates will be contesting polls on the symbol of ‘jeep’. Overall, 119 candidates have been allotted the symbol throughout the country.
In KP, 23 independent candidates are contesting the polls on the ‘jeep’ symbol whereas there are 16 such candidates in Sindh and 14 in Balochistan.
The allotment of the ‘jeep’ symbol in such large numbers and to most of the PML-N dissidents has triggered a debate, particularly on social media, suggesting that those contesting on the symbol are backed by the establishment.
Chaudhry Nisar, however, has disassociated himself from the other independent candidates contesting on the ‘jeep’ symbol, and denied formation of any group within the PML-N.
He made this clarification during a news conference in Taxila in the wake of media reports that a number of PML-N leaders belonging to southern Punjab, who had returned their party tickets, will now be contesting the July 25 elections independently and on the symbol of ‘jeep’.
The role of the army is being alleged in muted terms. Even fiery daughter of Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz in a message on her official account on Twitter has alleged that “the votes to be polled for jeep will go to khalayi makhlooq”, a reference to the “invisible forces” which, according to her father and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, are behind the alleged victimisation of the PML-N and the Sharif family.
“As Mian sahab had said, it should be found out how people are being forcefully brought off from the lion symbol and being made to climb the jeep,” she tweeted from London, where she had gone with her father to look after her ailing mother Kulsoom Nawaz.
Chaudhry Nisar, on the other hand, clarified that he had not asked anyone to seek the symbol of ‘jeep’, trying to suggest that it was a mere coincidence.
The province-wise data of the candidates shows that the PTI has fielded 112 candidates in Punjab’s 120 constituencies, followed by the PML-N (111 candidates) and the PPP (108 candidates). The MMA’s candidates are contesting for 60 NA seats from Punjab.
In Sindh, the PPP has fielded 60 candidates, out of 61 constituencies. After the PPP, the MMA has fielded the largest number of 53 candidates in the province, followed by the PTI (45 candidates) and the PML-N (32 candidates).
The party that speaks for the migrants from India that dominated Karachi once is in dire stress. Two breakaway factions of the former Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are contesting the elections this time. The MQM-Pakistan led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui has fielded 30 candidates whereas the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) headed by former Karachi Nazim Mustafa Kamal is in the field with 21 candidates.
The only sincerely secular party, the Awami National Party (ANP) founded by the family of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, ousted fro power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013, has fielded 38 candidates in the province. The challenge the ANP is facing is symbolic of the challenge the secular forces face in Pakistan.