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Squashing rumours

July 31, 2012

ELECTIONS will be held on time, the president declared on Sunday. Among the many rumours doing the rounds about Pakistani politics, the latest has been that polls would be delayed, allowing the same parliament to vote Mr Zardari in for another five-year term. A section of the press had sparked off a buzz that overnight was being quoted by prominent politicians, with the PML-N issuing warnings against such a strategy. There was speculation that the MQM’s proposed national conference was designed to garner support for the move. In just a couple of days the unsubstantiated rumour became an example of the frenetic speculation about politics that has gripped Pakistan and the power the media now has to whip up anxiety about the country’s affairs. The president’s remarks should put this particular source of anxiety to rest.

When it comes to campaign issues, though, the party will have to step up its game. The president’s speech attacked the opposition in Punjab, didn’t own up to the government’s obvious failures, contained promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled in the next few months and focused on the PPP’s contribution to democracy. There may be merit to the last argument, but it will go only so far. The energy-related riots in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the weekend were just one indication of the anger that awaits the party outside Sindh. To give a national electorate something to vote for, it will have to make a more convincing case for itself.

Mr Zardari also said that polls will be free and fair. But to be truly representative they would need to reflect the state of the population today. Although new electoral rolls from Nadra are expected, the preliminary ones left out millions of people and listed millions of others at the wrong addresses, largely because of migration. Meanwhile, the Election Commission secretary said yesterday that a new delimitation of constituencies will not be possible in time for the polls, which means seats will continue to be assigned based on the 1998 census. At the root of this delay is the politicisation of the house listing of 2011, which should have formed the basis for a full-fledged population count. Sadly our political parties contributed little besides contesting the results, and the government failed to push the census through. All of which means the next polls will assign seats without accounting for the large-scale internal migrations of the last 10-plus years. Elections might just be held on time, if the ruling party sticks to its word. But as it stands, a general election may not represent the true demographics of Pakistan today.