With each passing day, the nation hopes it is inching closer to elections early next year, but political parties in Pakistan seem to be holding their breath over the polls. Some, frustrated over the fog that continues to surround elections, have started expressing doubts.
With around three months left until polls, political parties have yet to launch their electoral campaigns. Other pre-election activities have yet to take off, including contacts with potential candidates, electives and seat-adjustment plans.
Political parties have yet to finalise their plans to shift political activities from the drawing rooms into the public domain in the form of rallies. They have been content with small and sporadic corner meetings. So much so, politicians say parties have yet to ask party workers at the grassroots level to actively start working in union councils and wards, found an independent survey in different constituencies conducted by The Friday Times.
Political pundits suggest that the continued fog of uncertainty enveloping the general elections is impacting electoral and political activity in the country. Statements from politicians about possible delays in polls or those suggesting a measured delay in polls were adding to the uncertainty surrounding elections. One statement, in particular, came from Pakistan Democratic Movement president and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman recently, who pointed out that holding elections at the peak of winter in January would not be ideal for residents of many areas of Pakistan due to the cold temperatures and the elements.
They said some early exploratory talks have occurred between major political bigwigs. Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has held meetings with Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) chief Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman in recent weeks. Similarly, former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif has met with Rahman as well, but there are no indications that something has been achieved thus far.
This fog, they said, will remain until the schedule for the general elections is announced, party symbols are allotted, and parties start awarding tickets to candidates.
Even though the party's top leadership remains fairly active with a flurry of activity taking place behind the scenes, PPP’s Farhatullah Babar expressed his frustration over the long-drawn electoral process and continued uncertainty over polls.
He shared with The Friday Times his "serious doubts whether elections will be held at all."
"It appears that some people are running away from it," he said.
He added that some quarters had suggested fixing the economy and then holding polls without specifying who. Others, he said, first seek accountability and elections later, a hark back to the Zia era.
In a veiled swipe at Rehman and the likes of PML-N's Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Babar said some have made the "ridiculous suggestions that winter is not suitable for holding polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
He further pointed out how the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had failed to hold elections in KP and Punjab within the constitutionally mandated period of 90 days.
Consequently, Babar suggested, the apex poll body felt emboldened to delay general elections beyond the Constitutionally mandated time period with impunity.
By not announcing a schedule for elections, doubts over the polls have been strengthened.
The general disinterest expressed by numerous political parties in launching electoral campaigns has lent a modicum of credibility to these doubts.
He suggested that the first step in resolving this scenario was to announce a schedule for elections with a definitive date and put to rest misgivings over polls.
Senior lawyer and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shoaib Shaheen admitted that their party is currently far too preoccupied to focus on elections, with Farrukh Habib, the latest party leader to quit the PTI in a news conference on Monday and reports of raids to apprehend on-the-run leader Murad Saeed, Shaheen said that the PTI’s primary leadership remains scattered. They are either in jail, have left the party or remain in hiding.
Shaheen conceded that the rest of the members have yet to start working on an election plan due to the uncertain situation.
On the other hand, JUI-F’s Maulana Ghafoor Haideri said that the upcoming elections would differ from the other polls.
He reiterated concerns surrounding the holding of elections in winter. He pointed out that within the prospective window identified by the ECP for polls, the temperature in these areas would be freezing, with some areas experiencing snow. This, he explained, was the basis for party chief Rahman's criticisms of holding elections in January.
Other major parties, including the Mutahhida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Istehqam Pakistan Party (IPP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Balochistan National Parties (BNP) have yet to launch major electoral campaigns. They have yet to start considering possible seat adjustments in their constituencies. However, some have started electoral activity at the local level.
Meanwhile, senior PML-N leader Riaz Hussain Pirzada said their party's electoral campaign would likely gain momentum with the arrival of the deposed prime minister and the party’s supremo Nawaz Sharif, at the end of this week. Following his return to Pakistan, Pirzada hoped Nawaz would kick-start the party's election preparations in earnest.
Has the weather stopped elections?
A cursory glance at the history of general elections in the country from 1970 to 2018 shows that elections have been held in extreme summers and winters. At least four elections were held in the winter seasons.
The general elections in 1970 were held in winter, December 18; elections in 1977 were held in spring, March 21; 1988 elections were held on the cusp of winter on November 16; elections in 1990 were held in late autumn on October 24; in 1993, polls were held in autumn on October 6; polls in 1997 were held close to January, February 3; in 2002, elections were held in autumn on October 10; in 2008, elections were held after a delay on February 18.
The last two polls, the 2013 and 2018 editions, were held in extremely hot weather in May and July.
It has to be mentioned here that the ECP has yet to confirm a final date for polls.