• Bilawal asks people to hold political parties accountable for endorsing delay in elections
• Farhatullah Babar decries talk of poll delay based on negative ‘vibes’, says genuine democrats must be ready to face voters
• Ex-PM Gilani seeks level playing field for all, pins hopes on election watchdog
KARACHI: The Pakistan Peoples Party on Monday called out its former allies for apparently endorsing a delay in general elections, vowing that the party would not rest until a date for general elections is announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
After publicly criticising the PML-N multiple times over the past few weeks for allegedly accepting a delay in general elections beyond three months, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari took exception to a statement recently issued by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, wherein he had questioned the possibility of elections in the winter season.
Addressing local bodies’ representatives at Bilawal House in Karachi, Mr Bhutto-Zardari, who served as the foreign minister during the previous regime, said only the PPP was consistent in its demand for timely elections.
“One [PML-N] says that fresh delimitation is crucial for the next elections and the other [JUI-F] questions the possibility of polls in January and February due to harsh winter. The people of Pakistan now should know and identify all those who are running away from elections,” he said.
“Let me be very clear, we won’t sit by idly. We will keep raising our voice for timely elections,” the PPP chief said, also asking people to hold those political parties accountable who were trying to run away from elections.
‘Vibes’ are off
The PPP chairman’s doubts and frustration about the general elections were also echoed by the second tier of the party leadership, which questioned the timing of different incidents, suspecting they would cause further delays in the democratic process.
The latest protestation came from veteran PPP leader and spokesman Farhatullah Babar, who took to social media to share his thoughts.
While reacting to a recent statement by the JUI-F chief, he said: “Some say winter not conducive, others say fix economy first & then polls. This is running away from polls. Hold free & fair polls, without engineering, to resolve problems. Genuine democrats must be ready to face defeat if that is what people decide,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
“There’s no evidence but vibes say no elections. Denying people free choice is inviting disaster. So-called popularity surveys non-sense, like Zia’s referendum flaunted as [sic] his popularity. Hold free, fair elections. Don’t play with fire. Federation [is] at [the] brink, don’t push it into [a] pit.”
The PPP chairperson also aired his grievances against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), saying that the ban imposed on development schemes in Sindh was “discriminatory” in nature.
He said the PPP would approach the commission for the reversal of the ban. In case, the ban remained, the party would use legal options, he said, adding if that failed, the PPP would take to the streets as a last resort.
“You should talk to the caretaker Sindh CM and chief election commissioner [to demand removal of the ban] and let me know about your feedback,” he said.
“If this doesn’t work, then the option of courts is open. Even if this legal option doesn’t work, we know the politics of the streets. We know how to get our rights.”
Although the ECP has repeatedly said that there is no ban on development projects, a PPP leader told Dawn that in August 2023, the commission had stopped the execution of already-announced development schemes and restrained the government from announcing new projects.
“Even the funding and execution of schemes in flood-hit areas of rural Sindh were banned,” he said.
“However, that particular ban was lifted only after the PPP raised objections as it could have badly affected the rehabilitation of the flood-affected people. Otherwise, the ban is there. Currently, only those projects are ongoing which are funded by the international donor agencies. The projects approved in the budget 2023-24 are at standstill,” the leader claimed.
Level playing field
Separately, speaking to media persons after his visit to a newly-established university in Multan, PPP leader Yousuf Raza Gilani said Nawaz Sharif should come back to Pakistan and play his role in strengthening democracy in the country. He said all politicians should be given a level playing field to launch campaigns in the lead-up to general elections.
“The political parties should approach the Election Commission of Pakistan if they had any reservations regarding participation in the upcoming general elections and the commission would address their grievances,” he said.
In response to a question about political differences with other stakeholders, the former PM said the PPP central executive committee had tasked former president Asif Ali Zardari to approach relevant quarters to address the issues of their party. He added the PPP was not running away from elections.
Mr Gilani said the PPP had nominated its candidates for polls when the Punjab Assembly was dissolved and now the parliamentary board of the party was holding meetings to issue tickets to candidates for general elections.
Imran Gabol in Lahore also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2023