The recent by-elections in Punjab for eight vacant seats on the surface had all the right ingredients: a healthy voter turn-out, fierce campaigning by political parties, no law and order crisis.
Yet, as soon as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) confirmed the results of the by-elections held on December 4, an assortment of accusations was directed at the winners, who were all from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
The losers of the day found it hard to believe that the PML-N won seven out of the eight spots where by-elections were held, notwithstanding the fact that even earlier it was the PML-N’s candidates who had vacated the seats.
The party most upset was the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) whose leaders repeatedly attacked the PML-N.
Qamar Zaman Kaira, chief spokesperson for the ruling PPP, accused the PML-N of retaining its seats by using the government machinery.
“PML-N candidates won because the elections were rigged,” Mr Kaira was quoted to have said after the election. He obviously wanted the ECP to take notice of the issue and avoid a repeat of the episode in the upcoming general elections.
Not to be left behind, Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, the newly-appointed PPP president in Punjab, shared Mr Kaira’s sentiments but wanted the Supreme Court to take suo-moto action against the provincial government for defrauding the people.
Mr Wattoo has been assigned by President Asif Ali Zardari the responsibility to redeem party fortunes in the province, and so it wasn’t surprising when he took a direct dig at Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for sabotaging efforts of the ECP to conduct free and fair elections.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi of the PML-Quaid also cast doubts on the performance and role of the ECP during the by-elections.
Addressing a rally in Faisalabad this Sunday, he called the ECP a silent spectator over the mismanagement in the by-polls.
Mr Elahi, whose PML-Q had contested these by-elections in alliance with the PPP, claimed to have personally conveyed his reservations to the Chief Election Commissioner Fakharuddin G Ibrahim. Even the PTI leadership croaked about election rigging which they said were allegedly committed by the PML-N.With all the political rhetoric aimed straight at the PML-N, it was obvious that the political parties had lost sight of the bigger picture: the fact remains that the by-elections wins have no impact on the overall composition of the National Assembly and concerned provincial legislatures.
The PML-N will remain seated on the opposition benches in the National Assembly, and likewise, its winning of seven seats in the Punjab Assembly will not affect CM Sharif since he has been holding a comfortable majority in the house.
Moreover, except for one seat of the National Assembly from Sahiwal, where a PML-N candidate won the election in a constituency previously held by the PPP, in all other constituencies political parties have retained their majority vote. In fact, even in case of Sahiwal, the candidate, Chaudhry Zahid Iqbal, had won the seat in 2008 from a PPP ticket, but later defected and has joined hands with the PML-N.
Lastly, the present assemblies have already crossed the crucial threshold of their constitutional term. Article 224 (4) states that no by-elections can be held, if a seat becomes vacant later than 120 days before the expiry of the five-year constitutional term of assemblies.
In simple words, if today a sitting member of the national or provincial assemblies dies or resigns the seat will remain vacant until next general elections which are due within 60 days after the present assemblies complete their term on March 16 next year.
When a PPP leader was asked to comment on the outcome, he replied: “If you want us to accept that the PML-N has overwhelming won seats in by-election, we can’t. The PPP and PML-Q formed an electoral alliance, which we knew was going to put up a tough fight against the PML-N candidates.”
“Yes, we are worried because on the face of it our election strategy of joining hands with the PML-Q has failed. A meeting has already been scheduled soon after the president returns to discuss the outcome of these elections,” said the PPP leader, part of the party’s inner circle in Punjab.
However, the wisest words of the day were from a political science professor of a government university, who said, “In South Asian politics, losing parties do no accept defeat with an open heart and cry foul. Look at the US, where the winning candidate only makes his winning speech after the losing candidate accepts his defeat and congratulates his opponent.”
He opined that the country’s politicians still had miles to cross before they adopted such healthy traditions.
“The only moot point here may be the large margins with which the PML-N won, which could mean that the party is popular with the masses and hence is disturbing the PPP,” opined the professor, “Otherwise, there is no need to create such a lot of fuss about these elections.”