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A leaf from history: The much-awaited poll date

July 21, 2013

Bhutto wanted to give the shortest possible time to the opposition for electioneering, keeping the approximate date to himself as his team continued campaigning for elections.

On January 1, 1977 Bhutto asked Maulana Kausar Niazi to go ahead with public meetings. With full organisation of the campaign lying with Rafi Raza, Bhutto wished the maulana to address the people in big towns and prepare ground for an onslaught on the opposition fronts that might emerge as a result of Niazi’s speeches. On Jan 4, Bhutto brought labour reforms which were not surprising, only some increase in the workers remuneration; the next day he announced another phase of land reforms aimed at further curtailing landholdings — from 150 acres to 100 for irrigated land and from 300 to 200 acres for unirrigated.

He chose his birthday, i.e. Jan 5, to make this announcement. His speech on radio and television, recalling his pledge for reforms, was presented in a way that seemed tantamount to an announcement for holding elections. During his long speech, he sent a message to the ultra leftists who had developed the feeling that Bhutto was adding landed aristocrats to the party when he said that “… we have no favourites. We see no reason why a rich zamindar (landlord) should not contribute to the public exchequer in the same way as a rich trader or an industrialist. We believe in the integration of society. This is not a matter of sentiment for us. We consider it a compelling imperative.”

Recalling the achievements of his government, he concluded his speech in a manner that expressed the feeling that the elections were not far away. “Today’s reforms are socially just and historically inevitable. They are the culmination of an irreversible process that we initiated five years ago. With this culmination, my heart is filled with peace and with the satisfaction that, whatever the future may hold, I have not played false to my people.” These reforms were announced through an ordinance promulgated on that day.

On Jan 7, when the National Assembly met, the government presented the ordinance to which the opposition objected saying that when the session was scheduled to be held in two days there was no logic in issuing an ordinance and a proper procedure should have been adopted, and staged a walkout.

The evening session of the assembly became a historic one when Bhutto announced that the general elections will be held on March 7, 1977; the announcement was made in the absence of the opposition. According to the schedule, March 7 and March 10 were fixed as the dates for the polls for the national assembly and provincial assemblies respectively. As per schedule, both the national and the provincial assemblies were to be dissolved on Jan 10.

The same session of the assembly passed a resolution giving three-year extension to Justice Sajjad Ahmad Jan, the chief election commissioner. This was against the Constitution which said that the National Assembly could extend the service of chief election commissioner for only a year.

The next day, i.e., on Jan 8, 1977, Bhutto wrote a letter to all the assembly members of his party in which he extended his warm appreciation for the cooperation and assistance during the “momentous years”. He also reminded them that the far-reaching changes that were brought during these years were not equalled by any past government. “They were brought about against the relentless opposition of long-entrenched vested interests that had held Pakistan in their grip. Now the wind of change is blowing across our beautiful land. Though we have a long way to go to make Pakistan conform to the image of progress and prosperity which we cherish, the common man has been made to feel that he is an equal and integral member of the society.”

Recounting the past he hoped that the people would allow him to serve again, he said: “It is on the basis of this record that I am again going to the electorate to ask for their mandate for another term so that the social justice which has been brought about and which is still in the process of taking roots could be successfully consolidated.” However, he made it clear that “While I have every confidence that my countrymen will judge and judge wisely, it is their privilege to choose their rulers. If they decided differently, I will have no regrets.”

The announcement of polls sent a message of satisfaction to the business class while the opposition parties which had began gathering since the last days of the past year, began consolidating and pondering whether Bhutto’s affirmations that the elections would be fair and free should be believed.

In all a new phase began.