MQM supremo Altaf Hussain has called for a 30-day postponement of the polls for thorough scrutiny of the candidates. He made this demand on Friday in the course of a telephonic press conference on Friday at Lal Qila Ground. One effect of this demand was PTI chief Imran Khan’s statement on Friday that it was not known whether the elections would take place. Throwing the polls into doubt at this point is very unfortunate, and benefits only two groups: the members of the caretaker governments, who would remain in office, and politicians facing defeat, who would thus be shut out of power at least until the next election. There would be other means available to Mr Hussain of protesting the questions asked by Returning Officers of MQM candidates about their knowledge of Islam and Pakistan Ideology. That he made this protest even though the Lahore High Court had on the same day forbidden District Returning Officers and Returning Officers from asking ‘random, intrusive and inquisitive questions’ indicated that candidates could expect relief from the election tribunals set up in the high courts from any excesses or abuses that might have been committed.

It should not be forgotten that the last poll, that of 2008, was postponed. That had been because a former Prime Minister, and the head of one of the main contesting parties, was assassinated. However, that seems to have set an unfortunate precedent, as Mr Hussain seems to be equating that assassination with the questioning, and with the fresh delimitations in Karachi, which, Mr Hussain’s speech showed, still rankle. There must be a firm adherence to the principle that nothing will cause a postponement of the poll. Besides, there does not seem a particularly good justification for Mr Hussain’s demand. His repetition of the old demand for scrutiny does not enthuse, because it is very late, and comes at a time when the nation is gearing up to vote.

However, it should be noted that the same day as Mr Hussain’s statement, the caretaker federal cabinet in its meeting decided that the polls would be held on time. This commitment is more welcome in view of the fact that the entire nation is gearing up for polls, and is looking to the government emerging from them as liable to solve the many problems confronting the nation. Even if everything that Mr Hussain said is conceded, which it is not, postponement of polls is still not indicated.