Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Dec 6, 2012

Electoral landscape By-elections are indicative of political trends, but by no means conclusive proof of the future. In the electoral contest for nine vacant seats, two National, six provincial in Punjab and one provincial in Sindh, the results and the manner in which polling was conducted bear comment. First the outcome. On the face of it, winning five provincial and one National seats outright in Punjab while bagging another provincial seat by backing an independent candidate would appear to give great comfort, if not triumphalism, to the PML-N. The PML-Q can still lick its wounds by pointing to the one provincial seat it managed. But what of the PPP? It faced a whitewash in Punjab, reducing to the dirt heap the claims that newly appointed Punjab PPP chief, Mian Manzoor Wattoo, would restore its long dormant prospects in the province. In fact the party even lost a seat it had won in 2008. The PPP has tried to put a brave face on the debacle by arguing the new leadership needed time to show improvement. Considering these were the last by-polls before the general elections, that leaves the party with no way of assessing whether this will indeed come to pass. Given the zero result in Punjab, perhaps even the one seat won by the PPP in Sindh would not compensate. On the face of it therefore, the electoral results reflect the existing incumbency patterns. However, perhaps a closer look may reveal other factors that impacted on the results. First and foremost, it must be remembered that the by-elections were being held because of the vacation of these nine seats after the Supreme Court’s ruling on dual nationals not being allowed to stand for election. The by-elections in Punjab were confined to central Punjab, well known as the stronghold of the ruling PML-N. And so it has proved. However, the other claimant to central Punjab strength, the PML-Q, has much cause for worry, especially because it even lost in its traditional home constituency Gujrat. The lone seat the party won has not prevented heartburn and questioning of the advantage of the alliance with the PPP. The PTI has not had a bad run in a couple of Punjab constituencies, even if its candidates did not win. This has encouraged the PTI to claim that the general elections will produce a different result. Whereas both the PPP and PML-Q have accused the PML-N of using state resources and violating the code of conduct laid down by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which included aerial firing and physical violence against rivals in some constituencies, it must be conceded that the by-polls passed relatively peacefully. However, the display of arms in both Punjab and Sindh and the instances of code violations are cause for concern and a big challenge for the ECP and its recently appointed Chief, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim. The ECP has stated all such incidents will be investigated and be dealt with. This is critical if confidence in the conduct of the coming general elections is not to suffer erosion. Be that all as it may, a political analysis of the respective strengths and weaknesses of the contending parties may shed some more light on the results and what they portend for the general elections. The PML-N, despite no great record in incumbency, did not suffer any negative effects. On the contrary, if its accusers are to be believed, it used the ‘advantages’ of being in control of the state machinery to great effect. The PTI bases its argument about different results in the general elections on the fact that there will be a caretaker government in power and the present ‘advantages’ therefore would disappear. The Chaudhries of Gujrat have been handicapped since their traditional methods of patronage are not available in quite the way they have been in the past, despite having gone into a coalition with the PPP and had Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi appointed Deputy Prime Minister. That may be the real basis of their angst about the alliance with the PPP proving inefficacious, since it has not fulfilled their desire for ‘sufficient’ patronage clout. But it is the PPP that shows all the signs of continuing disarray in Punjab. Not since 1977 has the PPP managed to come to power in the largest and most powerful province. Since this government took office in 2008, the Punjab PPP has appeared rudderless and without effective leadership. The Wattoo 'weapon' has failed at the first test to reverse that long-standing reality. All the players will now have to return to the drawing board in preparation for the general elections in the light of their pluses and minuses in this ‘dress rehearsal’.

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