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PML-N leaders relieved as LHC sets aside election schedule

PML-N leaders relieved as LHC sets aside election schedule

RAWALPINDI: The Lahore High Court (LHC) decision to set aside the election schedule for reserved seats in the local government setup in the province has been welcomed by Rawalpindi’s PML-N leaders, who were facing divisions due to the old schedule.

The LHC, led by Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on August 23 asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to issue a fresh schedule, after a PML-Q petition challenged local government elections on reserved seats on the basis of the old schedule.

The ECP had previously announced that polling for reserved seats on September 1. Elections were to be held on 10 seats for women and two each for technocrats, peasants or workers, minorities and one youth seat.

In the garrison city, the party had divided into groups have candidates from the party were not issued party tickets despite having an absolute majority in the Rawalpindi Municipal Corporation (RMC).

On Dec 5, 2015, the ruling party won 40 union councils in Rawalpindi, while the opposition parties won six.

However, the majority dragged the party into a mess. For the reserved seats, 22 women from the PML-N ran for 10 seats, all as independent candidates because they submitted their nominations in February.

The elections were previously scheduled for February, but the PML-Q and PPP moved the courts against amendments made by the Punjab government to the Local Government Act and increased the number of reserved seats.

The Punjab government withdrew its amendments and the ECP issued a schedule for local government elections on reserved seats.

A senior party leader told Dawn the PML-N was divided into three groups in Rawalpindi since it won the local elections.

“Sardar Naseem, Sajjad Khan and Sheikh Arslan Hafeez emerged as candidates for Rawalpindi mayor and began lobbying UC chairman to elect likeminded candidates to reserved seats so they would vote for them for mayor,” he said.

He said the party’s provincial chapter, led by Shahbaz Sharif, had been silent on the matter and given the local leaders a free hand to show their worth among the house of 46 members on reserved seats. UC chairman are also trying to cash in on the situation by lobbying mayoral candidates to get votes for likeminded candidates.

“This situation has created problems for local leaders, who wanted the provincial chapter to intervene and settle the matter,” he said.

A PML-N UC chairman who asked not to be named told Dawn that after winning an absolute majority in the RMC, the UC chairmen’s worth had fallen because they were not consulted on local level policymaking.

“The party should take suggestions from the UC chairmen for Rawalpindi mayor instead of giving three candidates free hand to run their election campaigns,” he said.

Another party leader speculated that among the three candidates, the party preferred Sardar Naseem because he struggled for the party under the Musharraf regime.

He said Sheikh Arslan Hafeez was relatively younger than the old guard, but was loyal to the party, while people had reservations regarding the loyalty of Sajjad Khan – a former PML-Q tehsil nazim during retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s tenure.

“On Tuesday night, a group of UC chairmen from PP-14 went to former MNA Hanif Abbasi and MPA Raja Hanif to ask them not to support Sardar Naseem for mayor and introduce the ‘minus one’ formula in the elections. Basically, they supported Sheikh Arslan Hafeez,” he said.

When contacted, Sardar Naseem, the PML-N metropolitan president, said the final decision on mayor and the reserved seats would be made by the party leadership, who gave him the go-ahead for the remainder of the local government elections.

He added that UC chairmen who violate the party’s decision would lose their seats under the political parties act, because the elections are held on a party basis. Mr Naseem also said difference of opinion is a regular part of the democratic system, and he respected the views of those who opposed him.

“But let me be clear that the party is united under the leader of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, and the party decisions will be accepted at any cost,” he added.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2016

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