Home Muslim World News Pakistan poll campaign may now take off

Pakistan poll campaign may now take off

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) announcement that it would begin full-fledged campaigning for the Feb 18 polls could add colour to the lacklustre political activity since the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari, who has remained in the Bhutto home in Sindh since her death Dec 27, has announced: “I’ll go to Punjab and my base would be in Lahore.”

“I request the people of Pakistan, particularly from Sindh, to take revenge for Bhutto’s martyrdom by voting for the PPP in the elections,” Zardari urged the gathering of more than 40,000 at Bhutto’s mausoleum to mark the end of the 40-day mourning Thursday.

The election campaign was at its peak when Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack. The election activity ground to a halt in the wake of the widespread violence that engulfed the country following her murder. The death of the two-time prime minister also forced the government to push the scheduled Jan 8 elections to Feb 18.

Zardari, who was named the party’s co-chairperson along with his 19-year-old son Bilawal according to Bhutto’s will, is yet to address an election rally. However, he has been talking to party officials and workers at meetings.

He may not possess the charisma of his slain wife but is hoping to attract sympathetic supporters of Bhutto.

Another reason for the lacklustre political activity was that none of the main parties made any clear announcement about their candidates for the prime minister’s slot.

The three major parties, PPP, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and its breakaway faction PML backed by President Pervez Musharraf, have said that their executive councils will announce the decision, but none has given any timeframe.

Since Bhutto’s, death more than 400 people have been killed in bomb blasts and the ongoing military operation against Taliban and Al Quaeda militants in areas bordering Afghanistan in the north-west.

The PPP after Bhutto’s death said that party senior vice-president Makhdoom Amin Fahim would be candidate for prime minister, but last week Zardari announced he was hopeful for the government’s top position. Later, the party said they would decide on this issue “later”.

On the other hand, another former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been barred to contest the elections, is leading his PML-N in the national polls but has not made clear who would be the party candidate for prime minister.

Under the constitution, the prime minister in Pakistan has to be a member of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament and both Zardari and Sharif are not contesting the Feb 18 polls.

Some PPP leaders have been saying that Zardari would go for elections in the by-polls that are likely to be held towards the end of March. The Election Commission has also postponed polling in two constituencies from where Bhutto was standing. “Zardari will be our candidate in place of Bhutto in one of the seats,” his top aide told IANS.

Sharif’s supporters are also hopeful that he may not be barred in the by-polls as his nomination papers were rejected on technical ground.

Pervez Elahi, the former chief minister of Punjab, is leading the PML campaign. He has never said that he will head the government if his party wins the polls. His campaign mainly moves around attracting the anti-PPP votes especially from Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehrik-e-Insaaf cadres who have boycotted the polls.

Small parties like Mutahidda Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, Jamtia Ulema-e-Islam, PML-Functional and others are restricted to their respective regions. None of them is hoping to win more than 15 seats in the parliament and would possibly ally with any of the three major parties to form the government.

However, the fear of a hung parliament, uncertainty about polls despite the fact that they are just nine days away and the fear of terror attacks are keeping people away from the election activities.