ISLAMABAD, Dec 20: The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) virtually isolated itself from other political parties when it opposed the delimitation of constituencies in Karachi at a meeting the Election Commission had convened on Thursday.
It was a consultative meeting presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim. The parties were asked by the commission to make written comments on how to modify the existing boundaries with maps illustrating desired changes.
The meeting was attended by representatives of over a dozen political parties, but the Awami National Party (ANP) was conspicuous by its absence. An angry parliamentary leader of the MQM, Dr Farooq Sattar, opened the discussion and questioned the legality of the exercise. “Delimitation cannot be carried out without first going for a census. It is being done on the wishes and whims of judges,” one of the participants quoted him as saying.
Dr Sattar described the exercise of delimitation only in Karachi and without a census as pre-poll rigging and warned that it could have dangerous consequences. The fall of Dhaka, he said, must not be forgotten. He blamed the forces conspiring to fan an ethnic confrontation for the move.
When speaking in a high-pitched voice, the MQM leader criticised ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan for appearing on talk shows to state that the commission would undertake the exercise, the latter said: “I can be louder than you. Don’t try to intimidate me.”
Dr Sattar said he was at a loss to understand why the ECP was so scared and did not file a review petition in the Supreme Court against its verdict on delimitation. The chapter of delimitation stood closed, he added.
When informed that under Section 10-A of the Delimitation Act, the ECP was empowered to alter, modify and amend the limits of any constituency, the MQM leader said the section had been introduced by a dictator in 1984, adding that the section should not be read in isolation, the act should be seen in its entirety.
Soon after the remarks made by Dr Sattar, the Chief Election Commissioner proposed that those wishing to endorse the MQM leader’s views should speak first. A complete silence followed and Mr Sattar asked angrily: “Are we holding elections here?”
Taj Haider of the PPP played it cool. While saying that delimitation should be carried out across the country, he pointed out that his party pursued a policy of reconciliation and of taking others along. But he said implicitly that the majority’s view should be respected.
Mr Haider also talked about implementation of Supreme Court’s judgments by the government, particularly referring to the verdict disqualifying former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Mehmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) was of the opinion that the entire country should not be destabilised to strengthen a particular force. He said picking up arms would not solve any problem and stressed that all institutions, including the Supreme Court, Election Commission and parliament, should be respected.
A number of participants, including Iqbal Zafar Jhagra of the PML-N, criticised the MQM for opposing delimitation and asked what was the problem if the voters in their stronghold were moved from one place to the other.
One of the participants questioned the basis for the demand for country-wide delimitation and said one did not wrap bandage on the entire body when there was a problem in a hand. He cited the example of military operation in Swat and said it was Swat-specific because the problem was there.