Spectre of election postponement

And the Pandora’s Box it opens

Speculations regarding the postponement of elections became rife after Tahir-ul-Qadri’s address to a mammoth gathering in Lahore on December 23. At a time when elections were due in about four months, the TMQ chief demanded wide ranging reforms in the economic, social and electoral system. What is more, he gave deadlines to the government to fulfil his demands. Three weeks deadline till January 14 for announcing an independent interim setup to be formed in consultation with the army, judiciary and other stakeholders. In case this did not happen, Qadri is to march on Islamabad “at the head of four million people on January 10”. Three months for changing the entire system! If this could not be done within the stipulated period, elections would have to be postponed. With MQM and PML-Q, two major partners in the ruling coalition, now supporting the demands, this has further added to uncertainty.

Meanwhile, statements by the top PMLN, ANP and Jamaat-e-Islami leadership on the New Year eve warn of dire consequences if the elections were postponed. Asfandyar Wali called any delay was disastrous for the country. Going a step further, JI’s deputy chief Siraj-ul-Haq said that a second Bangladesh model would come into being if the general elections were postponed. Last week, Imran Khan had maintained that a delay would jeopardise Pakistan’s stability. On Sunday, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira asked the MQM not to become part of a conspiracy to delay elections and derail democracy in the country. Meanwhile, the government allies have reportedly asked it to immediately announce the schedule of elections to take the wind out of Tahir-ul-Qadri’s sails.

Under Article 232(6) of the Constitution, the term of the National Assembly can be extended only in case the president proclaims a state of emergency in situations like war, foreign aggression and internal strife. Pakistan faces threats from the extremists, of this there is no doubt. But if Iran could hold elections in the midst of its war with Iraq, Pakistan too can do the same. Postponement on any pretext would be a serious setback to the democratic process as it would constitute an acknowledgement that the democratic system was unable to address the challenges facing the country. Proclamation of emergency by the president would be an expression of no confidence in the PPP-led government. If the government really finds itself unable to cope with the challenges, the best way is to urgently hold the elections to let the next government bail the country out of its difficulties. The government has unnecessarily delayed an agreement with the opposition on the interim setup. The talks should be concluded urgently. Meanwhile, the government would do well to announce the election schedule.



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