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Old Thursday, January 03, 2008
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Default A controversial decision

The change in the election date from January 8 to February 18 comes as no surprise. Going by the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP’s) statements in the run up to its final decision and its activities like gathering reports about the rioting in Sindh and violence in other parts of the country, it had become amply clear that it was ‘seriously’ considering re-fixing the date of the elections. It had also announced that it would consult the political parties. It transpires now that the ECP did not take into confidence the political parties and only held ‘informal’ talks with ‘some’ parties. Resultantly, the main parties like the PPP and PML-N are annoyed and have rejected the ECP’s decision. Though the ECP put forward many compelling reasons for its not being in a position to hold the elections according to schedule, the main one being the situation in Sindh where all communication links are badly disturbed and the record of polling stations and voters destroyed in many districts, these deficiencies could be removed or at least some way out could have been worked out.

As a result of the postponement of the elections, Pakistan, which is standing at a very delicate crossroads, has lurched from one phase of uncertainty to another. It would have been in the fitness of things if the ECP had shown commensurate resolve to proceed with its original election plan. The immediate victim of this change in the election date is none other than the credibility of the already discredited ECP. It is being accused of following the wishes of the PML-Q, which is generally perceived to have received a jolt to its electoral fortunes in the face of the perceptible public swing in favour of the PPP as a reaction to the murder of its leader. Though the PML-Q leadership had shown its readiness to participate in the elections, it was construed as a bluff to conceal its anxiety over the sympathy wave for the PPP in the aftermath of Benazir’s murder. By delaying the election at this moment, the ECP may have augmented the impression that its move is aimed at enabling the PML-Q to re-gather its momentum and give a befitting fight to the PPP and the PML-N in the elections, whenever these are held. The opposition parties do not view the ECP as an independent and non-partisan body due to its controversial role in facilitating President Musharraf to contest the presidential election while wearing his famous uniform. It was subjected to criticism when it framed a code of conduct for the elections in a meeting that was not attended by the opposition parties. The poll postponement may have further tarnished its image. Ironically, the ECP had been bragging about its unflinching determination to go ahead with the polls, come what may. That resolve now lies buried ostensibly under the burden of the violent events in Sindh and most probably the political requirements of the PML-Q.

For President Musharraf it is an unenviable situation, as on the one hand, he is being urged by Washington not to delay the polls in order to complete Pakistan’s so-called final phase of democracy and on the other, he is bound to face allegations of having engineered the delay in the polls for his own political ends. The danger is if the PPP, the PML-N and the APDM embark on a protest movement, things could complicate further; and with Muharram falling in between now and the re-fixed date of the polls, things have become pretty uncertain. Surely, this could have been avoided.

" Woods are lovely dark and deep But i have promises to keep And miles to go before i sleep "
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