Islamabad: The main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Friday boycotted the impending presidential election in protest over rescheduling of the polls on the order of the Supreme Court,
Announcing the boycott, PPP presidential candidate Senator Raza Rabbani said the Supreme Court on Wednesday advanced the election date to July 30 on a plea by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) without hearing the other parties.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had originally fixed August 6 to hold the polls but changed it in accordance with the order issued by the top court after hearing a PML-N petition.
PML-N had approached the top court after the ECP rejected its request for changing the presidential election date.
The ruling party had sought the change saying many members of the electoral college made up of federal and provincial lawmakers would be in Saudi Arabia around August 6 for religious rites in the current holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad, Senator Rabbani said that scheduling and holding election was the responsibility of the ECP.
The apex court made a “one-sided decision” leaving no option for the PPP but to boycott the presidential election, he said. “Our boycott of the presidential is part of PPP struggle against military and civilian dictatorship,” he said.
On the heels of the PPP announcement two other opposition parties – PML-Q and Awami National Party (ANP) – backed the PPP stance and said they would also boycott the election.
Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), which is the second largest opposition party in the National Assembly after the PPP, remained in the field. Its presidential candidate, former judge Wajihuddin Ahmad said boycott was not a good move.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday criticised the boycott of the July 30 presidential election by the Pakistan People’s Party, saying it was contrary to democratic norms.
At the same time the prime minister lauded the decision of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) of cricket hero-turned-politician Imran Khan to take part in the election.
Mr Sharif, who was talking to a delegation of Parliamentarians from southwestern Balochistan province in Islamabad‚ said the election boycott “is against the norms of democracy,” according an official report.
He said PPP should have demonstrated sportsman spirit by participating in the election and thus contributed to further strengthening democracy in the country.
A veteran PPP leader and eminent lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan came up with harsher criticism of the Supreme Court and the ECP, accusing both the institution of favouring the ruling party. ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan said the chief election commissioner should be sent home if the task of scheduling election was to be performed by the court.
PML-N presidential candidate Mamnoon Hussain as well as leaders of two influential religious parties, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema Islam-F (JUI-F) regretted the PPP boycott.
Mr Hussain, already well-placed to win the presidential election because of PML-N majority in the electoral college, said PPP had shown “undemocratic attitude” and was finding excuses to run away from the contest.
“The PPP decision is not understandable,” said JI chief Munnawar Hussain and JUI-F leader Maulana Fazluer Rehman said the PPP has over-reacted.
Most analysts saw the PPP boycott as a move aimed at preparing the party for strong opposition as the PML-N government completes its first hundred days in power, struggling to tackle terrorism, overcome energy crisis and revive the economy.
The ECP held scrutiny of nomination papers and accepted candidatures of candidates of PML-N and PTI while the PPP nominee stayed away from the proceedings.
The ECP will announce on Saturday a final list of contestants in the election being held to elect a successor to President Asif Ali Zarari whose 5-year term expires on September 8.