Zardari vs Achakzai: Pakistan Votes For New President

JUI-F and GDA have boycotted the election, as PTI terms it controversial, while Senator Ijaz Chaudhry has not been allowed to travel to the Senate to cast his vote despite his production orders

Zardari vs Achakzai: Pakistan Votes For New President

The country on Saturday went to the polls to elect its 14th President. 

However, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) have announced a boycott of the elections even as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) termed the elections from incomplete assemblies with a question mark hanging on the reserved seats.

The ruling coalition has put forward its joint candidate, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari. The opposition has put forward its candidate, Pastunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chairman Mahmood Khan Achakzai. 

Unlike for parliamentarians, the presidential election takes place via secret ballot in the four provincial legislative assemblies, the national assembly and the Senate.

Polling began at around 10 am, and lawmakers started casting their votes. 

The presiding officers appointed for the elections include the Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamir Farooq, who will preside over the elections in the Senate and National Assembly. 

The member of the Election Commission for Islamabad is the designated presiding officer for the Punjab Assembly. The chief justice of the Sindh High Court is the presiding officer for the Sindh Assembly in Karachi. At the same time, the Peshawar High Court Chief Justice is the presiding officer for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. 

In Quetta, the Balochistan High Court Chief Justice is the designated presiding officer for the Balochistan Assembly.

The polling agents of the two candidates are also present in the respective assemblies. In the National Assembly and Senate, Zardari's polling agent is Sherry Rehman. At the same time, Senator Shafique Tareen is the polling agent for Achakzai.

Voting formula

The President is elected by an electoral college, which consists of the members of the Senate, National Assembly, and the four Provincial Assemblies.

The electoral college consists of 706 assembly members who elect the President. Each provincial assembly is allotted equal 65 votes in the electoral college. This means that the vote of each assembly member carries a different weight depending on the total number of assembly members.

Currently, there are 95 eligible voters in the Senate, 302 in the National Assembly, 116 in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, 339 in the Punjab Assembly, 163 in the Sindh Assembly, and 62 in the Balochistan Assembly.

In the Senate, National Assembly and Balochistan, the votes cast by each member carry the weight of a single vote. 

With 65 votes ascribed to each of the remaining three provinces in the Punjab Assembly, each vote has ascribed a weight of 0.176 votes. 

In Sindh, the weight ascribed to each vote cast by an elected representative is 0.387 votes.

Similarly, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the weight ascribed is 0.524 votes.

The Chief Election Commissioner will announce the election results after collating and computing the results from the provinces, the National Assembly, and the Senate. The newly elected President will take the oath of office on Sunday.

Reservations and controversy 

The JUI-F and the GDA have boycotted the elections for President by deeming the elections that have helped constitute the new assemblies a sham.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and senior lawyer Senator Ali Zafar said the elections will be considered controversial. He said that despite a stay order issued by the Peshawar High Court (PHC) and an injunction by the Lahore High Court (LHC), which stopped the reserved seat members from taking an oath while a similar petition is pending before the Sindh High Court. However, he noted that some reserved seat members took oaths despite the court's orders; now, it is controversial if these people vote in the presidential elections.

He added that if tomorrow the courts void the oath of these reserved seat members, would the elections for the President take place again? He termed the elections unconstitutional.

Separately, PTI General Secretary Omar Ayub suggested that the presidential elections should have been postponed until the courts decided on the matter regarding the reserved seats. 

An application by Achakzai to postpone the elections until the matter of reserved seats is decided was rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Achakzai had pointed to the incomplete electoral college. However, the commission pointed out that since the general elections were completed on February 8, they were constitutionally bound to hold elections for the President within 30 days. Moreover, the commission said that Achakzai, along with other candidates had filed their nomination papers as well and did not raise this objection during scrutiny of nomination papers.

The commission further said that an election cannot be rejected by terming the electoral college as incomplete, adding that having an electoral college means national and provincial assemblies are functional.

In the Punjab Assembly, the PTI filed an objection with the presiding officer on the oath-taking of some members on reserved seats despite injunctions from the Lahore High Court. However, the presiding officer refused to entertain the objection, noting that those who have taken oath are eligible to cast their vote.

PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Ali Khan said that adopting unconstitutional means to elect people to constitutional posts is an affront to the Constitution.

Separately, PTI Senator Ijaz Chaudhry could not travel to Islamabad to cast his vote. Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani issued production orders on Friday for Chaudhry, who is in jail, so that he could come and vote in the Presidential elections.

Meanwhile, during the elections in the Punjab Assembly on Saturday, controversy erupted when Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) Member Sonia Ali showed her vote to the SIC polling agent and the presiding officer before casting her vote.

Zardari's polling agent in the Punjab Assembly, Ali Haider Gillani, objected to this act. He wrote to the Presiding Officer to formally complain against Ali for violating the principle of a secret ballot when casting her vote.