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 Nomination papers to be received from Nov 21 to 26
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) here on Tuesday released the general elections schedule, which calls for polling for the National Assembly and provincial assemblies on January 8. 

Issuing the schedule, the Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Qazi Muhammad Farooq said that nomination forms could be obtained from the returning officers from November 21 while November 26 would be the last date for the filing of papers.

It is ironical that the schedule has been thrashed out by an incomplete Election Commission, as two of its members – from the NWFP and Sindh – are yet to be appointed. Presently, Justice Nasim Sikandar of the LHC represents the Punjab while Balochistan High Court judge Ahmed Khan Lashari is a member from Balochistan.

The CEC said that scrutiny of papers would be held from November 27 to December 03, adding appeals against acceptance and rejection of the same could be filed till December 07. 

The Election Commission will announce its decisions on such appeals on December 14 while the last date for the withdrawal of papers is December 15, and the final list of candidates would be displayed on the very next day.

The Commission has announced on November 19 the schedule after approving the code of conduct for the elections. The process of finalization of the code was boycotted by all the opposition parties, expressing no-trust in the ECP. 

There are clear indications that the opposition parties could ultimately boycott the general elections for which they plan to meet shortly to take a collective decision on the matter under the banner of an all parties conference.

Opposition parties are not willing to be a part of the process under General Musharraf. They also have rejected the caretaker set-up as well as the present status of the Election Commission. 

However, the Jamiat Ulema Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman has again adopted a different course, announcing to take part in the general election, even if other players decided to stay off the 'pitch'. 

Interestingly, Pakistan Muslim League President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has called for the lifting of emergency, whereas President General Pervez Musharraf has said that the polls would be held under emergency. 

Several PML leaders have also advocated that the election should not be held in the NWFP, particularly in areas where the militants are actively disrupting routine life and resorting to violence. 

The CEC said that the commission had made all necessary preparations to conduct the electoral process in a free, fair and transparent manner.

"Transparent ballot boxes have been acquired while arrangements have been made to train the polling staff members in accordance with the international norms," he maintained. He noted that foreign election observers would not only be welcomed, but also given access to the polling stations and provided a booklet on the process. The CEC appealed to female voters to exercise their right to vote, cautioning that strict action would be taken if any political party or candidate tried to bar them from casting their vote. 
PML-Q sure of winning 110 seats from Punjab 
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) claims in its internal assessment that it will win around 110 out of 148 National Assembly seats from the Punjab in the upcoming general elections. 

"The Chaudhrys of Gujrat are convinced that they would clinch such a large number of seats from the majority province," an informed PML leader told The News, quoting the study. 

However, the number may look highly exaggerated to many, especially PML’s rivals, including the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) whose Chairman Benazir Bhutto cherishes to form the next government. 

In the constituency wise analysis, the PML has arrived at the conclusion that it has the most winnable candidates compared to all other political parties. 

The PML says that by having such candidates at its disposal, it has overcome the shortcoming of not having a charismatic crowd pulling leader, spearheading the party. 

"The PPP does not have suitable contestants and that is why it has not made public its nominees for all the constituencies," the former environment minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat claimed in a chat with this correspondent. 

An overly confident PML, especially the Chaudhrys, prevailed upon President Pervez Musharraf to hold the parliamentary elections as early as possible. They argued that even a minor delay would hurt the PML, which was now better-placed compared to its rivals. 

The PML leader said it was because of this point of view, President Musharraf recently told a foreign reporter that Benazir Bhutto did not enjoy much support in 70 per cent of Pakistan that was the rural area where the PML was in a commanding position. 

He said that Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi's campaign against Benazir Bhutto since October 18, the day of her return to Pakistan, had paid dividends to the PML and consolidated it. He said it was because of this that there were no defections from the PML, which were being widely speculated. 

The PML further claimed in its internal evaluation that its allies, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pir Pagara group and Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim would manage to get a substantial number of National Assembly seats from Sindh though they may not get a majority of seats. 

"We are busy getting together strong candidates in Sindh for this purpose," the PML leader said, adding this was the reason that every top government leader was visiting Pagara at the first-available opportunity.

During his first visit to Karachi as the caretaker prime minister, Muhammedmian Soomro met Pagara at his Kingri House. 

In Balochistan, the PML said its nominees and allies' candidates would be able to get a sizeable number of seats. However, it feels that the mandate would be split in this province as before. 

The PML is sure that elections in some districts of the NWFP hit by terrorism may not be possible along with polling in other parts of Pakistan in January. But it is confident that its nominees and the candidates of the PPP-Sherpao would make a good contribution. Its study said the NWFP would also throw up a split mandate. 

In the October 2002 general elections, the PML, despite all the state patronage, could not win a simple majority in the National Assembly although it had got massive vote in the Punjab Assembly. 

To make up the deficiency at the federal level, the "Patriots" were huddled together, by scaring them of the National Accountability Bureau files on them. They helped form the government, headed by Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. 

The Punjab has a total of 148 directly contested seats out of 272 such constituencies in the whole of Pakistan while this province would contribute 35 indirectly elected women, swelling its share to 183 in the 342-member Lower House of the National Assembly. 

A total of 60 women are to be elected to the Lower House – three from Balochistan, eight from the NWFP and 14 from Sindh. Members to the seats reserved for women, allocated to a province, will be elected in accordance with the law through proportional representation system of political parties’ lists of candidates on the basis of total number of general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly. 

Balochistan has a share of 14 general seats, the NWFP 35 seats, Sindh 61 seats, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) 12 seats and the Federal Capital two seats. 
Election Commission has no members from NWFP, Sindh 
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) responsible for holding the 2008 general elections is taking vital decisions without the representation of two key provinces of the country. 

"All the decisions are being finalized without the involvement of Sindh and the NWFP which do not have representation in the four-member body headed by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC)," said an official source here on Tuesday.

There is neither any urge on the part of the ECP to induct the two members from the NWFP and Sindh nor there is any apparent move to fill these vacancies by taking their respective representatives from the relevant high courts, the sources maintained. 

At the same time, the authorities concerned are confused over the appointment procedure but everyone at the ECP says President Musharraf's nod is compulsory to appoint the members of the commission. 

The ECP, presently headed by Justice (retd) Qazi Muhammad Farooq, has announced the code of conduct and the election schedule for the 2008 polls in the past few days without filling the vacant posts from these two provinces. 

According to the composition of the ECP, one sitting judge from each provincial high court is taken as the ECP member of the respective province. "Two members were missing in the October 6 presidential elections. But there is a world of difference between these elections," the sources said. 

The sources explained that the presidential election schedule and other relevant matters were handled by the person holding the office of the CEC but the general elections were supposed to be collectively conducted by all the members according to the Constitution of Pakistan. 

When contacted, top authorities at the ECP appeared confused over the appointment procedure for these members but they stated that new members would be in place within a week. "All the members will be appointed within a couple of days or less than a week’s time," said Secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad when contacted. "We have received information that the Chief Justices have sent the names to the Law Ministry for appointments." 

He said the law ministry and the chief justices of the high courts were supposed to propose the names. Director Public Relations Gul Akbar Khan, when contacted, said that the president would appoint the members taking them from the high courts. 

"The chief justices (of high courts) send the names for appointment to the president and then the president is the final authority to induct them." Khan was unaware as to when the previous members from Sindh and Peshawar High Courts relinquished their position as members of the ECP. "In the absence of the two members, there is no hurdle in the functioning of the election commission," he, however, maintained. 

He further said the law ministry or the Parliamentary Affairs Division had nothing to do with the appointment of the ECP members. Former law minister Wasi Zafar, when approached about the legal procedure, however, said that it was the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry which was supposed to send a summary to the president in consultation with the respective chief justices for appointments.

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