Polling begins in legislatures to elect 13th president of Pakistan

A joint sitting of the Senate and the newly elected national and provincial assemblies — together known as the electoral college of Pakistan — will elect the country’s new president via a secret ballot today.

Polling has started inside the National Assembly hall (where MNAs and senators are voting jointly) and Punjab Assembly, while voting is expected to commence at the other provincial legislatures shortly.

In the running for the post are Dr Arif Alvi of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI); PML-N backed chief of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Fazlur Rehman; and senior PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan.

The presidential election will be held simultaneously at the Parliament House, Islamabad and the four provincial assemblies between 10am to 4pm. The NA and Senate members will vote at the Parliament House, whereas the MPAs will do the same in their respective provincial assemblies.

With the Constitution requiring the presidential election to be held at least a month prior to the outgoing president’s final day in the office, the exercise taking place today should have been held by August 9, as incumbent President Mamnoon Hussain’s term will expire on September 9.

However, since the electoral college was not complete by the Constitutionally set deadline, the presidential election was subjected to delay.

The exercise today will mark the end of a lengthy poll season that began with the July 25 general elections and was followed by various speaker, deputy speaker, prime and chief ministerial ballots.

Tussle over opposition candidate

After the Election Commission of Pakistan set September 4 as the day of the 2018 presidential elections, four candidates were nominated and had subsequently filed their papers.

While the PTI and its allies have seen their candidates stave off any upsets in all the post-general election polls this summer, its presidential candidate, the PM-nominated Dr Arif Alvi, could have had a tougher task since the PTI does not have a majority in the Senate, whose members are also going to vote today.

Moreover, the presidential election is held via a secret ballot, which keeps the door open for horse-trading.

However, Dr Alvi’s presidency bid was given a huge boost due to disagreements within the opposition camp.

Explore: Alvi, Rehman, or Aitzaz — who will be the next president of Pakistan?

The PPP claims it’s “suggestion” to nominate Aitzaz Ahsan as the opposition’s candidate was misconstrued as a finalised nomination, which did not sit well with the PML-N as Ahsan had been a front line critic of the its leadership in the past.

The episode reopened old wounds, and despite efforts to reconcile, a middle ground was not to be reached. PPP o-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari did not budge and stuck with his nomination of Ahsan. Meanwhile, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who had been given the task to mediate between the two parties, ended up garnering the joint opposition’s support for himself; he was nominated by PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif.

A fourth candidate, PML-N’s Ameer Muqam had also filed his nominated papers but withdrew from the race at the eleventh hour, possibly in Rehman’s favour.

How is the President of Pakistan elected

As mentioned above, the electoral college of Pakistan comprises six leading elected bodies of Pakistan: the Senate, the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies.

Of the sextet, the Senate and the NA’s members are given one votes each. However, the four provincial assemblies are assigned an equal weight with the smallest of them all — the Balochistan Assembly — serving as the base.

Read: How PTI is poised to take President House in upcoming election

The Balochistan Assembly has 65 members while the strength of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly is almost double this number, i.e. 124; so the vote of a member of the KP assembly has half the value of the vote of a member of the Balochistan Assembly.

According to the rules, the votes polled by a candidate in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies are multiplied by 65 and divided by the total strength of that house, i.e. 124, 168 and 371, respectively. The values obtained are then rounded off.

Published in Dawn