ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) candidate for the presidential election, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, has expressed the hope that the members of opposition parties and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) will vote for him according to their conscience rather than their party line.

“I hope the PTI people will do Insaf (justice) in the election. I am expecting votes from all the political parties, as the lawmakers will be required to choose the best man for the [position of] the country’s president in accordance with their conscience,” said Barrister Ahsan who attained international recognition for leading the movement for restoration of the independent judiciary in Pakistan.

Talking to reporters outside the headquarters of the Election Commission of Pakistan after his nomination papers had been accepted on Wednesday, he said the lawmakers could cast their votes according to their free will as there was no constitutional bar on them for voting against party line. He added that secret voting would be held during the Sept 4 presidential election. Only in voting for the budget, a constitutional amendment bill or in the election of the prime minister or chief ministers, a member could not vote against the party line under the Constitution, he elaborated.

Nomination papers of Alvi, Fazl and Amir Muqam for presidential election also accepted

“The presidential election is a vote of conscience,” he declared, claiming that some Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F members, too, would vote for him. He expressed the hope that JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman would ultimately withdraw from the electoral race.

The veteran PPP leader said his party might have nominated some other candidate on the demand of other opposition parties, but the statement of PML-N Senator Pervez Rashid asking him to visit Adiala Jail and apologise to Nawaz Sharif aggravated the situation.

Mr Ahsan said that after this statement from Mr Rashid, his party decided to stay firm on his nomination and he considered it an honour for him. He reiterated that he did not expect such a statement from a “progressive and intellectual person like Pervez Rashid”.

If the PML-N had nominated persons like Ayaz Sadiq or Raja Zafarul Haq as presidential candidate, the PPP could have withdrawn his name from the race. Mr Ahsan said he had great respect for Maulana Fazlur Rehman as he did not consider him a traditional maulvi, yet there was much difference between his worldview and that of the Maulana.

Avoiding to comment on a controversial statement of the JUI-F chief before Independence Day, the PPP leader said it was up to the voters to decide as to who was fit for the office of the president.

Meanwhile, the ECP accepted the nomination papers of PTI candidate Dr Arif Alvi and PML-N’s Engineer Amir Muqam, who submitted the papers as a covering candidate of the JUI-F chief on behalf of all the opposition parties except the PPP.

The ECP rejected the nomination of five other candidates for submitting their papers without any seconder or proposer. Under the laws, a candidate is required to be proposed and seconded by a voter, which in this case are the members of the National Assembly, Senate and the provincial assemblies. The grand opposition alliance, which was formed by 11 parties soon after the July 25 elections, had suffered a major blow within weeks of its formation.

The controversy erupted following the PPP’s refusal to vote for PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif as a joint opposition candidate for the PM office despite agreeing on a formula during the previous multiparty conference that had authorised the PML-N to nominate its candidate for the PM’s election. Later, the PPP nominated Aitzaz Ahsan as its candidate for the president.

The PML-N leaders, who claimed that they had come to know about Mr Ahsan’s nomination through the media, stated in categorical terms that Mr Ahsan’s candidature could not be supported as the PPP had not consulted any other opposition party before making the decision and also because of his ‘nasty remarks’ over the illness of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kulsoom Nawaz.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018