PML-Q Unification Bloc leader Dr Tahir Ali Javed has caused a controversy by proposing the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly, and though the PPP takes this as an attempt to deny it its expected victory in the coming Senate polls, not enough attention has been paid to the fact that Pakistan has never yet witnessed elections in one province. The PPP treats Dr Javeds statement as treasonous, though his proposal is just unprecedented. The PML-N must see advantages in a process which would have an election in the countrys largest province take place with its own caretakers in office. There are two other elections due, local body polls and National Assembly elections. The absence of sitting local councillors means one pressure less in awarding provincial and national tickets, but also that the party stalwarts satisfied with local body positions is zero. There will also be no balancing act possible between national and provincial tickets. Though the British Raj contemplated direct provincial elections (on a limited franchise), central elections were supposed to be indirect. This has been retained in the Senate, which represents the provinces, and in which all provinces, whether Punjab or Balochistan, have equal representation, and for which the electorates are the provincial assemblies. However, in the National Assembly the people are represented, with seats distributed according to population. This House is where Punjab has a simple majority. While Punjab would always be important, this has two implications. First, whoever wins in Punjab may form the federal government. Second, half the ministers would come from Punjab, no matter if the federal government, as at present, has been formed by the party losing in the Punjab. Pakistan has not yet experienced provincial elections only since 1951. It might seem that that experience was so bitter that national elections have been held alongside ever since, initially with a gap of a few days, and now on the same day, with voters being issued two ballot papers at the polling stations. Administratively, it is more convenient to hold elections on the same day, as the staff is temporary and drawn from the pool of government servants. Since 1973, provinces have been free to hold elections separately, but it has never actually happened. Perhaps, one result of the presidential power of dissolution was that Provincial and National Assemblies go at the same time. In 1988, the President dissolved the National Assembly, and the provincial Governors dissolved the provincial. In 1990, the President dissolved the National Assembly, and the Governors of the NWFP and Sindh Assemblies, but the Punjab and Balochistan Assemblies were dissolved on the advice of their respective Chief Ministers. This was significant, for presidential or gubernatorial dissolutions have to be for cause, but the PMs or CMs advice is purely political, and assigns no cause. Since, in 1990, the President disapproved of the PPP, he sacked its government and assigned reasons, reasons which were also applied to its provincial governments in the NWFP and Sindh, but reasons which were not supposed to be applied to Punjab or Balochistan, where the governments were in opposition to the PPP. In 1993, the National Assembly was dissolved by the Prime Minister, and the Provincial Assemblies on the advice of the Chief Ministers. By then, Manzoor Wattoo had become Punjab CM, and his dissolution advice, which preceded that of the PM for the National Assembly, became the subject of a case in the Lahore High Court. In 1996, there was again a presidential dissolution of the National Assembly, and of the Provincial Assemblies. Then came the Musharraf Martial Law, and with the assemblies all completing their terms, it was only natural for elections to be held on the same day. Parallel to Pakistans is the Indian experience. This is not just relevant because India too is a federal Westminster-style democracy, but because it too has a single federating unit which bulks large on the national scene, in Uttar Pradesh (UP). However, UP never bulked as large in India as the Punjab in Pakistan after 1971, and now, after three more states have been carved out of it, its national power is less. However, it is still considerable, shown by the fact that Prime Ministers are elected from that province, or State. With a larger number of federating units, it was perhaps inevitable that India would go through this experiment earlier, with the big difference is that it has happened often in India that State elections have been held separately from national, but it has never happened in Pakistan. It should be noted that elections in India have been a means of a change of government, which only happens in Pakistan when a government leading the transition from martial law has given way to the PPP. In India, there are a number of states with strong presence there, but not in the rest of the country. They also win national seats, but have used them to join one alliance or the other, and have left the Congress and BJP to look after national politics. While Pakistani parties are concentrated in one province or the other, and such parties as the ANP are perfectly happy as junior partners at the Centre so long as they can hold power in 'their province, though there is also the MQM, which wants to become national after two decades as an essentially sub-provincial party. It should be noted that the members have a particular horror of dissolutions, which will entail a fresh election for them. It is because of this, as well as the desire of ministers to remain in office for as long as possible, that dissolutions are viewed with such dislike by members. This creates pressure on CMs not to dissolve, except with the National Assembly, and is probably the reason why Dr Javeds suggestion has met with so much anger among the PPP. Even if the Assembly is dissolved, that will not really affect the Senate, for if a new Assembly was to elect Senators, the PPP would have to suffer a wipe-out as in 1997 for the results to be very different in Punjab. As it is, the Punjab alone will be affected, and the other provinces will elect Senators as usual, and the Punjab Assembly will conduct what will technically be a by-election for 10 Punjab members. This is unlikely to affect the already existing PPP majority in the Senate. This means that Dr Javeds suggestion, though it may not be adopted, is only a harbinger of things to come, and an expression of something that will happen sooner or later. If the dissolution of a provincial assembly is meant to signal national elections, that would mean that one person, the PM, alone does not have the power to call fresh elections, but five. While this might not be according to the canons of Westminster-style democracy, it implies that a central government should hold fresh elections in one province only, rather than dissolving itself. The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of The Nation. Email: