The Pakistan Peoples Party decided last week to boycott the presidential election, articulating a number of objections. The party’s presidential candidate before the decision was announced, Senator Raza Rabbani, spoke to Dawn.com about why the PPP decided to take this stance. His main concern: The election, Rabbani says, will be producing a president of ‘one unit’ – not the president of a federation who takes all provinces into account.
Q: what political objectives is the PPP achieving by boycotting the election?
A: Let me make one thing very clear – we didn’t boycott the polls to achieve any political objective. Our main objective was to save the federation and to side with the smaller provinces who are feeling left out because of this situation. After the 18th Amendment Pakistan has become a true federation. This [however] is an election process which will bring forward a president of one Unit. We have been fighting against this kind of thinking all along. The smaller provinces are feeling alienated because of this decision and they are feeling cornered. Secondly, this decision has imposed a time constraint on the election campaign and because of this, presidential candidates will not be able to reach the provincial assemblies because of the short span of time given to them for campaigning. The18th Amendment gives the provincial assemblies a status equal to that of Parliament in the presidential election. Here we have a situation where the presidential candidates will not be able to reach out to the provincial assemblies. So this means, this election will be producing a president of one unit and not of the federation.
Q: Does the PPP boycott mean that Sindh assembly will be boycotting the election?
A: No, it doesn’t mean that. The PPP is a federal party. We have representation in Punjab, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Sindh and in the National Assembly and Senate. Besides, this is not a boycott of PPP alone. Awami National Party has also boycotted the polls, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) has boycotted the poll and Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A) has boycotted the poll. In this way we can say that this will be a boycott of the federation and all the federating units.
Q: Partially, your strategy to make this boycott a broad base boycott has failed. Your old ally MQM has decided to participate in the polls – so the Sindh assembly, where you have a majority, will not be unanimous in the boycott of the presidential election?
A: MQM has its own politics. Since the general elections, MQM is not with us. They are not part of the Sindh government. They have their own politics. I respect their decision. But let me make one thing very clear – that the PPP has re-affirmed its credentials as a true opposition party and as a true believer in Pakistan as a federation. PPP has a long struggle for true democratic federation to its credit. And we believe that we will take our allies along in this struggle which lies ahead of us.
Q: When you say that you will not accept the president elected as a result of this election process, what does it mean practically?
A: We are boycotting the polls, but the exercise will take place nevertheless. But as I have said, this election will produce the president of one unit and not of the federation. The five year tenure of this president will be tainted. We don’t accept this flawed election process. The fact of the matter will remain there that the five years tenure of the new president will be a tainted presidency.
Q: Is it easy for (your party) to criticise the Supreme Court while you are not in the government? You were restrained in speaking against the SC while you were in power.
A: I don’t think much has changed. Many of our leading lawyers were quite harsh in criticising the Supreme Court while we were still in power, although I didn’t subscribe to this kind of harsh criticism. We have been expressing our point of view on this issue quite openly while we were in power and now we are doing the same thing. In a temperate way we will continue to put our viewpoint forward on this issue. I don’t think much has changed in this regard.
Q: Do you fear this situation will cause any damage to the federation? Do you fear any rollback of the 18th Aamendment after all this?
A: In fact, PPP has saved the federation from damage by boycotting the polls. This is a situation where the smaller provinces started to feel that they would again be mistreated by the centre. But PPP protected the federation again by raising voice on this issue. I don’t feel comfortable in saying this again and again. But this is a fact that this situation in an indication that the federation as we know it today could be altered. Let me reiterate again that any attempt to perpetuate the rule of Islamabad, any attempt to roll back the 18th Amendment, will have disastrous consequences for the federation. The kind of external and internal situation the country is facing must be kept in mind. I mean the rampant terrorism and the regional security situation. In this situation any attempt to alter the federal structure will have disastrous consequences.
Q: You have been quoted saying that by-elections have not taken place and as a result a large number of provincial and national assembly members will not be able to vote in the presidential election. This would not have changed, even if the elections were held according to the original schedule.
A: The general elections were held on May 11 and everybody in the election commission knew that the president’s term will end on September 9, 2013. In such a situation they should have planned the by-elections in such a manner that all the members of the provincial and national and senate should have been able to cast their votes in the presidential elections. Right now 42 by-elections have to take place. And this is no small number. This means 42 members of provincial and national assembly will not be able to cast their votes in the presidential election.
Q: Would things have been different in case the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf also supported your boycott?
A: Yes it would have been better if PTI had also boycotted the Presidential elections. But they have their own politics. I respect their decision. However, I read that Imran Khan has also said that he wanted to boycott the elections. But his candidate wanted to contest the elections.
— By Umer Farooq