On Monday, Pakistan’s Election Commission (EC) announced that the by-elections scheduled for June 18 are now postponed for two months until August 18. According to the NY Times, “Election officials said the postponement was necessary because of security concerns in North-West Frontier Province and the presentation of the federal budget in June.” Although this reasoning was perhaps further validated by a suicide bombing in the NWFP that killed three people on Tuesday, the EC announcement nevertheless spurred protests from the country’s ruling parties. Dawn newspaper reported, “So sudden and abrupt was the move that it provoked a universal condemnation from the prime minister’s office and ministers to senior members of the ruling coalition, Asif Zardari and Mian Shahbaz Sharif included, and opposition members. Some of them even went to the extent of terming it part of a conspiracy against the new set-up.” The NY Times specified that Siddiqul Farooq of the PML-N called the delay a conspiracy by President Pervez Musharraf, and the Daily Times quoted the official stating that “the EC had not taken the ruling coalition into confidence, adding that it would evolve a unanimous strategy on the issue.”
Pakistani news sources today reported the NWFP’s information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussein went on record to claim that the provincial government had sought the postponement “only after Rehman Malik, the prime minister’s adviser, made a request.” The News reported, “NWFP Chief Minister Haider Khan Hoti claimed that he ordered his home secretary to write a letter to the Election Commission for putting off the by-elections after he received a call from Rehman Malik.” ANP Central Information Secretary Zahid Khan also demanded a swift inquiry and an action from the federal government against Rehman Malik and Kamal Shah, the Federal Secretary of the Interior who has been accused of telling the NWFP provincial government to call off the by-elections.
Following the reported outrage over the two-month delay, PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PM Yousaf Raza Gilani announced the by-elections will still be held in June, following a meeting on Tuesday. However, reported The News, “the leader of Awami National Party (ANP), Zahid Khan said no matter when the central government holds the elections the fact remains that ANP being a member of the ruling coalition was not consulted before reaching any decision on the matter of holding by-polls…” The “he-said-she-said” accusations that flew over the past few days further highlights the fragility of this coalition government, and I have a feeling this won’t be the last we hear about “conspiracy theories” and “whodunnit” mysteries.