scene of the Opposition strike on Friday, Sept 9
Royale or the Farce Called Elections
M. Afzal Khan
September 13: The most excruciating stage of local government
elections, the grueling contests for city and district nazims,
a battle royale of sorts, is cutting across party lines, bringing
to forth divisions and factionalism within parties and causing
strains within and among alliances.
every entity has been affected, nowhere the cleavage is more evident
than in the ruling coalition. While the vanquished opposition
is smarting under the blows dealt it by pre-poll rigging and polling-day
fraud, the triumphant coalition partners are experiencing the
pangs of victory.
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) claimed landslide successes in
Punjab and Sindh while its ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement
(MQM), swept through urban Sindh in the first two phases. Sindh
Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim who discovered his latent charismatic
qualities after entering the exalted office he occupies now, boasted
to have performed the unthinkable feat of annihilating PPP from
fruits of his triumph, however, seem to have been soured by an
unlikely challenge from Pir Pagara who is unwilling to let him
have an unbridled sway over the province and has not demurred
from coalescing even with the PPP in many districts.
of the PPP (Patriots) have been badly battered in most of their
constituencies in Punjab while Sherpao’s group is struggling
to find strange partners in order to seize control of some districts,
despite making somewhat better than expected showing. The Wattoos
and Legharis of the PML who, in a command performance, meekly
merged their parties in the PML, are being meted out an equally
The MMA finds itself embarrassingly divided in its strongest bastion,
the NWFP where some of the oddest alignments have taken place.
The Jamaat Islami, with single-most obsession to get Qazi Hussain
Ahmed’s son elevated to be boss in Nowshera district, abandoned
its ally the JUI and conceded Peshawar to the ANP in the hope
of a payback in Peshawar, Its gambit appears to be faltering as
a resurgent ANP is eying Nowshera as well. The PPP and the PML-N
who were at the receiving end of a blatantly manipulative electoral
exercise, are currently facing a campaign of attrition amid desertions
In the first flush of victory, the MQM claimed some of the major
cities of Sindh including Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Khairpur
Sukkur etc. where it was confident of forming government either
independently or with the help of allies. Soon it had to come
down on earth and face a new reality in utter disbelief.
The power brokers at the center who had handed down, during past
three years, some unbelievable gains to the group despite its
narrow ethnic appeal, now appear to have different ideas. There
is now talk of an outsider being imposed as city nazim in Karachi
while Pir Pagara has stepped in to take away some of the towns
in the interior Sindh which the MQM was claiming. No wonder Altaf
Bhai seems to be a worried man and has called an emergency meeting
in London inviting dozens of followers from Pakistan.
It is, however, in Punjab where we are witnessing the incredible
manifestation of factional politics that has put the PML in real
soup. The mischief started when chief minister went about nominating
officially backed prospective candidates in every district long
before the elections. There was no consultation with interested
parties in the districts who were expecting the PML leadership
to leave the competition open at least for the top slot of district
government and then claim allegiance of whosoever wins.
After all that was the purpose behind holding the overall elections
on non-party basis and exclusively making that of district and
tehsil nazims as indirect and out of reach of common voters who
could have proved to be unpredictable. But the arbitrary nominations
continue till to date leaving a whole mass of disgruntled elements
within the party who believe that the leadership is arrogantly
imposing its will to bring a particular set of favorites in power.
The chief minister has also demonstrated an obsessive proclivity
of enticing PML-N and PPP leaders and offering them the lucrative
district job in preference to his own party men. Many, particularly
in the PML-N, have caved in to the temptation or some time arms
twisting to desert the party.
Thus we see Rafique Leghari being named candidate in Rahimyar
khan, Cheema in Bahawalpur, Mumtaz Matiana in Bahawalnagar, Shujaat
Husnain in Mian Channu, Hameed Sultan in Jhang, Sardar Abbas in
Chakwal, Jameel Sharqpuri in Sheikhupura, Piracha in Sargodha
For once the disgruntled elements within the party appear to be
up in arms and fiercely challenging the unilateral decisions.
Jehangir Tareen and Ahmed Mahmood in Rahimyar Khan, Riaz Pirzada
in Bahawalpur, Dr. Sher Afgan in Mianwali, Sardar Farooq Leghari
in D.G. Khan, Amin Aslam and Allahyar in Attock, Wattoos and Rao
Sikandar Iqbal in Okara, Faisal Saleh Hayat in Jhang, Tariq Kiyani
and Raja Nasir in Rawalpindi, Tawakkal Virk in Sheikhupura, Variyos
and Ghummans in Sialkot, Daniyal Aziz in Narowal/Shakargarh, Anwar
Cheema in Sargodha and above all the senior most party vice president
Lt. Gen. Majeed Malik in CHakwal, all have a common grouse.
President Musharraf has intervened in certain cases to settle
factional disputes. In his absence abroad his surrogates in the
institution would do the job. There is also ample use of carrot
and stick to settle infighting.
Sargodha, for instance, Anwar Ali Cheema seems to be winning the
favor for his daughter much to the dismay of Piracha who have
shelved plans to quit the PPP. Sardar Farooq Leghari facing certain
defeat against Maqsood Leghari-Dreshak-PPP combine, has probably
secured federal support to escape the humiliation.
One device being contemplated to paper over internal strife is
to leave the contest open like in Mianwali, Chakwal etc. But it
evokes little comfort and trust among those who had challenged
chief minister’s decision. The local police and the administration
know who is the favorite and can always tilt the balance.
writer is a senior Islamabad-based journalist who writes for The
Nation and Dubai-based Khaleej Times