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Different poll dates?

January 02, 2013

THE rules governing how and when elections are to be held can sometimes throw up surprises, if only because an often-interrupted democracy has rendered the rules not well under-stood. As reported in this newspaper yesterday, the secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan, Ishtiak Ahmed, has acknowledged that if the Punjab chief minister does not request the Punjab Assembly be dissolved around the same time the National Assembly is, the country could have separate poll dates: one for the National Assembly; another for Punjab. The seeming anomaly is because the life of a particular assembly is counted from the day the first session is convened — not when the election is held. Because the National Assembly convened first in 2008, the Punjab Assembly has several weeks extra before its own five-year term expires.

The PPP and the PML-N are aware of the seeming lacuna and the PML-N has quietly indicated that it will not give up its advantage — a political government at the helm in Punjab after a neutral caretaker government is installed in the centre can give the PML-N an electoral edge in the province — without some concessions from the PPP. While loath to share what quid pro quo the party is demanding, the PML-N likely wants a say in when the National Assembly elections are called and the selection of a caretaker prime minister acceptable to it. The negotiation is confined to Punjab because while the other provincial assemblies also first convened after the National Assembly in 2008, the PPP is part of the government in the other provinces. A uniform date for elections would help the cause of free and fair elections, and prevent a repeat of 1988 when the IJI made suspicious inroads in the provincial assembly elections after being swept aside by the PPP in the National Assembly election days earlier.