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Smooth sailing for PTI candidate in presidential race

Updated September 04, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other leaders of his party meet Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Monday.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other leaders of his party meet Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Monday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: As many as 1,121 lawmakers from the country’s all six legislatures are set to vote for the top constitutional office of the president in a three-way — but an apparently one-sided — contest on Tuesday (today) with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led ruling alliance having a clear edge over the opposition candidates.

Having the highest number of party votes in the 706-vote electoral college for the presidential election, PTI-backed candidate Dr Arif Alvi will be facing Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who has the support of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and other opposition parties except the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that has fielded Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan as its candidate.

The JUI-F chief, who was nominated by the PML-N and other opposition parties after the PPP’s refusal to withdraw the candidature of Mr Ahsan, made hectic efforts and used his connections with former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari to convince him to withdraw his party candidate for the sake of opposition’s unity and to give a tough fight to the government, but failed.

Opposition parties fail to agree on consensus candidate despite last-ditch efforts before today’s poll

The Maulana made a last-ditch effort in this regard on Monday night when he met Mr Zardari and other senior leaders before PPP parliamentarians’ meeting to finalise the party’s strategy for the presidential election.

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that the JUI-F chief also had a one-on-one meeting with Mr Zardari. But the PPP reiterated that it was not going to withdraw Mr Ahsan from the race, the sources said. Instead, they added, the PPP leadership requested the Maulana to withdraw his candidature as Mr Ahsan had ‘brighter chances’ to win the Sept 4 election.

Later, the Maulana talked to PML-N chief Shahbaz Sharif to apprise him about his meeting with the PPP, some TV channels reported in the late hours. Mr Sharif, however, declared that his party would not vote for the PPP candidate, Mr Ahsan.

A PPP delegation, headed by Mr Zardari, also met Balochistan National Party (BNP) chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal to seek his party’s support for Mr Ahsan.

Earlier on Monday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced that it had completed all arrangements to conduct the presidential election as per the Constitution.

Retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza, the chief election commissioner, would perform as the returning officer.

Polling will be held from 10am to 4pm in all the four provincial assemblies and at the Parliament House in Islamabad where members of the lower and upper houses of the parliament will cast their votes.

The ECP has barred the members from carrying mobile phones with them at the time of voting, which will be held through secret ballot. The ECP has also issued directives to the federal government regarding deployment of the Rangers and FC personnel around the Parliament House and the buildings of the provincial assemblies, which have been declared as polling stations.

The PTI is the only party with members in all the elected houses and it has the support of its allied parties — the Balochistan Awami Party, Grand Democratic Alliance, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan Muslim League, Awami Muslim League, Balochistan National Party, BNP-Awami and Jamhoori Watan Party.

Besides the MMA and the PML-N, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has the backing of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, National Party and Awami National Party.

Importantly, as the election of president is held through secret ballot and the post is constitutionally non-partisan, cross-party voting does not constitute ‘defection’.

Though in the present situation the ruling party can emerge victorious through its own votes and those of its allies, the votes polled by each candidate will have political meaning beyond victory in this election.

The newly-elected president will take oath of the office on Sept 9 after the expiry of the five-year term of incumbent president Mamnoon Hussain.

The grand opposition alliance, which had been formed by 11 parties shortly after the July 25 general elections, had fallen apart following the PPP’s refusal to vote for PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif in the election of the prime minister against PTI chief Imran Khan despite agreeing on a formula during a multiparty conference.

The PPP asked the PML-N to replace Mr Sharif with some other candidate, declaring that it could not vote for him as he had made some controversial remarks against Mr Zardari in the past.

Cracks within the opposition ranks deepened when Mr Ahsan’s name as PPP candidate for presidential election appeared in the media. The PPP drew ire of all other opposition parties for ‘unilaterally nominating’ the opposition candidate without consulting them. In a subsequent meeting of opposition parties in Murree on Aug 25, the PPP team headed by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani made all-out effort to woo other opposition parties to agree on Mr Ahsan’s nomination, but the efforts bore no fruits. The PML-N leaders said Mr Ahsan had passed some derogatory remarks against their party supremo Nawaz Sharif and his ailing wife.

While briefing the reporters after the meeting, the opposition parties announced that they had agreed to field a joint candidate and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif would announce the name of the joint candidate next day. However, Mr Sharif could not do so and gave no reason for it.

Later in a TV interview, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman accused the PPP of damaging the opposition’s unity while admitting that their failure to field a consensus candidate would provide a walkover to the ruling coalition candidate.

The JUI-F chief, who had been playing the role of a mediator between the PPP and PML-N, presented himself as a candidate and managed to muster support of all opposition parties other than the PPP.

The Maulana after submitting his nomination papers told the media that if the PML-N and PPP could accept him as a mediator, there was nothing wrong in becoming a candidate.

After scrutiny of his papers by the Election Commission of Pakistan, Mr Ahsan had expressed the hope that not only the members of other opposition parties, but those belonging to the ruling PTI would also vote for him. The PPP stalwart was of the opinion that since secret voting would be held during the presidential election and there was no constitutional bar on lawmakers for voting against the party line, all assembly members could vote according to their “conscience”.

He said had the PML-N nominated persons like Ayaz Sadiq or Raja Zafarul Haq as presidential candidate, the PPP would have considered withdrawal of its candidate from the race despite the huge difference between his world view and the Maulana’s.

PTI’s Dr Arif Alvi vigorously ran his campaign by visiting the provincial metropolis to seek votes for him. Upon his request, former PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen also cut short his foreign visit and returned to the country in order to run his election campaign.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2018