Pakistan hobbles towards May 11 polls

Islamabad, April 28 (IANS) Pakistan, which has seen its first full-term civilian government, is headed for an election which has drawn a former military strongman back home, will test a former cricket icon’s political agility and see a large number of eager first-time voters – all under the shadow of terror.

Pakistan’s elected government completed its full five-year term March 17, an unprecedented development in a country that has seen four military dictators, the last of whom was Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The country of 180 million is headed to general elections May 11 that will see 84 million voters, including 36 million women, exercising their franchise.

But, there are only 36 women candidates for the 272 National Assembly general seats, prompting a Pakistani daily to note that parties had once again relegated women’s participation in the transition of power to the sidelines.

“Now that tickets have been awarded for the May 11 polls, it’s clear that while political parties may court the female vote for its strategic value, they cannot bring themselves to consider women as viable candidates for general seats,” Dawn said in an editorial.

The elections are going to be held under a caretaker government with Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, a former judge of the country’s top court, being made the caretaker prime minister.

The past five years have seen political uncertainty with Yousuf Raza Gilani being forced to step down as prime minister and Pervez Ashraf succeeding him over the issue of writing to the Swiss courts to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan’s parliament, according to the 1973 constitution, is bicameral. It consists of the president and two houses – the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly has 342 seats, including 60 reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims.

The youth will be the driving force of this election, figures released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) show.

A significant proportion of the electorate is made up of people under the age of 35. Nearly half of the 84 million registered voters – 47.8 per cent – are aged between 18 and 35, while 19.77 percent, or 16.88 million voters, are under the age of 26.

The youth of Pakistan will be the deciding force in the elections, experts say.

“And much of the rising popularity enjoyed in the last year or so by Imran Khan, a cricket hero who until recently was a politician of little note, is due to support by urban youths,” strategic analyst David J. Karl wrote in the foreignpolicyblogs.

Imran Khan, who leads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, held a mammoth rally in Lahore in 2011 that stunned foes and admirers alike.

The parties battling it out include the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party. There are others too like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami Muslim League and the Pakistan Muslim League (Q).

The ever-lengthening shadow of terror is a cause of concern for the caretaker government.

Security should have ranked higher in the government’s priority list, a Pakistani daily said as the country witnessed a string of bombings ahead of the general elections.

“We seem to be seeing another security failure – right when we needed it least,” said an editorial in the News International.

On April 22, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off near an election office of the MQM in Karachi as people gathered around to look at a torn campaign poster. At least two people died and dozens were injured. The same day saw four blasts in different parts of Quetta. A day later, another bomb went off in the city.

The general elections saw Musharraf returning to Pakistan March 23, after over four years of self-imposed exile. Though he was keen to contest the elections, his nomination papers were rejected from four constituencies. He was subsequently arrested on graft charges and is under guard at his luxurious country villa just outside Islamabad, which has been declared a sub-jail.

There could be worry ahead for Pakistan as a group of military officers Friday protested before a parliamentary panel about the treatment being meted out to Musharraf. The delegation of 75 officers from Command and Staff College, Quetta, led by Col. Saqib Ali Cheema, met the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production Mushahid Hussain Sayed at the parliament house to express concern over Musharraf’s arrest.

That may not be good news in a country where the military is all-powerful. The army is currently in the barracks, but for how long, is the question.

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