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Twists and turns in the cantonment elections

Twists and turns in the cantonment elections

RAWALPINDI: Today’s elections to the cantonment boards are unique because this is the first time in the history of the country that they are being held on a party-basis.

This was mandated by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on March 31. Before the court’s decision, the ruling party did not appear interested in holding party-based elections as it had failed to amend the Cantonment Act, 1924, despite having a majority in parliament.

The over two-week campaigning process saw many twists. Before the announcement of party-based elections, the PPP had formed the ‘Awam Dost Group’, while the PML-N formed ‘Khushaal Pakistan’, JI fielded the ‘Khidmaat Group’ and PTI stepped into the fray with ‘Naya Pakistan’.

All four major political parties also fielded their candidates. PML-N and PTI fielded candidates for all 20 wards in both Rawalpindi and Chaklala, while the PPP could only manage 14 and the JI ended up fielding eight candidates.

Many parties also tried to form electoral alliances as well. The PPP wanted to join forces with the PTI, but resentment within the party over the proposal, as well as a PTI refusal to work with the PPP meant that this plan fell through.

The PML-N also tried to get support from the Jamaat-i-Islami, but both sides failed to reach any agreement and stuck to their candidates unconditionally.

The PTI faced criticism from allies such as Awami Muslim League President Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s Dr Tahirul Qadri, isolating it even further.

Sheikh Rashid said his and Dr Qadri parties would support each other’s candidates in the cantonment elections. He said that Imran Khan had asked his party to contact him, but the local chapter failed to reach out.

During campaigning, both the PML-N and PTI allegedly violated the code of conduct as several lawmakers were seen canvassing for their party’s candidates in the cantonment polls. The ECP had strictly barred public office holders from campaigning for cantt board candidates.

According to the ECP notification of the election schedule on March 20, the prime minister, any chief minister, Senate chairman and his deputy, the National Assembly speaker and deputy speaker, as well as the federal and provincial ministers or advisers to the PM and CMs could not visit any cantonment area or announce any development package, canvass or campaign for any candidate or any political party.

On the other hand, since the PPP and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had no representation in the assemblies and the Senate from Rawalpindi, they did not involve central leaders in the campaign. However, they repeatedly pointed out code of conduct violations, but the ECP took no action because no one submitted a written complaint.

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) District Emir Shamsur Rehman Swati told Dawn that the ruling PML-N and PTI were violating the code of conduct for their election campaign for cantonment polls.

“The law in the country is meant for the weak and influentials from political parties do not follow it. The ECP should take notice of violations when MNAs and MPAs visit areas for election campaign, they definitely make promises,” he said.

PPP City President Amir Fida Paracha told Dawn that the Punjab government was using provincial machinery to influence voters in cantonment areas and the ECP should take notice of this.

The polls were also derided for the fact that no party fielded any women at any stage, despite assurances from the PTI that women would be prioritised. Among the more than 280,000 RCB voters and the over 126,000 CCB voters, nearly 56 per cent are women.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2015

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