Chief Martial Law Administrator General Yahya Khan after becoming the President of Pakistan in 1969 announced that very soon the free elections will be held in Pakistan on adult franchise to establish a democratic government in the country. For that purpose, a three member Election Commission was formed under the chairmanship of Justice Abdus Sattar as the Chief Election Commissioner.
The electoral rolls were printed both in Bengali and Urdu for East and West Pakistan respectively. Initially, the elections were due on 5 October 1970 for the National Assembly and 19 October for the provincial assemblies. But theses elections were postponed till December of the same year because of the severe monsoon floods in the eastern wing in August. The new dates announced were 7 and 17 December 1970. Still, elections for nine seats of National Assembly and eighteen for provincial assemblies were held next year on 17 January 1971 due to cyclone in East Pakistan. The elections were held on party basis and from 1 January 1970 the political parties were allowed to start campaigning. A total of twenty-four political parties participated in the elections. There were mainly two types of parties, religious and secular.
The religious parties included convention Muslim League, Qayyum Muslim League, Pakistan Muslim League, Pakistan Democratic Party, Jamiat-ul-Ulama-a-Islam, Jamiat-ul-Ulama-a-Pakistan and Jamiat-a-Islam Party among many others. These religious parties called for the Islamization of the country. But though having common attitude they were absolutely different from one another and that is why could not unite on a single platform. The regime of Yahya Khan was supporting the religious parties for their conservative attitude that was in demand of a strong central government.
The secular and most prominent political parties were two, among many others. They both were regional, Pakistan Peoples Party of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Awami League of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman. Their prime focus was on economic issues. They both got immense public support as compared to all other parties. Their supporters belonged to all the sections of the society. Consequently, these two turned into mass movements. Both parties owed their dominant positions and popularity in the massive political competition to their leaders. Both Bhutto and Mujib were gifted leaders and possessed extraordinary appeals in their personalities for people of all ages and professions.
Sheikh Mujib was the cause of AL’s supreme popularity of that time in the eastern wing. There was not one political leader at that time in the East Pakistan that had that much popularity enjoyed by Mujib. He was a lamp, a mentor for his people. But this popularity, both of Mujib and AL, was restricted to the East Pakistan and their demands held little appeal for the Pakistanis living in the western wing. At the time of elections, AL had a very strong base in eastern wing. Since it was a mass movement and not just a political party, it welcomed all those who showed inclination towards its program. The most active section of the eastern society for the AL was the Bengali youth. The East Pakistan Student League played a major role in promoting AL party program to the educational institutions. It was on the basis of the Six-Points Formula that the AL not only got support from the east wing Bengalis but also received generous funds from their Bengali brothers living abroad. The AL pronounced a system abolishing jagirdari, zamindari and sardari system. Similarly, Bhutto of PPP was also blessed with the same talent as that of Mujib. Like AL, PPP also became popular mainly because of the popularity of Bhutto. Like AL, PPP was also restricted to its region, mainly West Pakistan provinces of Sindh and Punjab. The PPP popularized Islamic Socialism in Pakistan. According to it, it was a modified typed of Socialism with Islamic features to it. The PPP was also a great advocate of Kashmir cause, unlike AL. This cause brought popularity to PPP by the west Pakistanis, since it was an emotional topic for them and had little appeal for east Pakistanis. Bhutto and his party promised economic prosperity to the nation. The slogan of roti, kapra or makan indeed brought commoners under the PPP’s flag.
With the election campaign, the drastic differences between the two leading political parties became even more obvious and their regional outlook became evident. The Awami League popularized its Six-Points and promulgated that it was by the dint of eastern wing’s products that western wing was prospering but east was not getting its due share. It also advocated that Bengal was in fact a “colony” to the west wing of the country. The PPP, on the other hand was emphasizing on economic problems of the whole country but at the same time it closed down its branch in East Pakistan and thus proved itself to be the representative of only the Pakistanis of the western side.
It was decided in the Legal Framework Order of 1970 that the National Assembly of Pakistan will consist of 313 seats with 13 seats reserved for women. Out of these 313, 169 seats were to be for East Pakistan, 85 for Punjab, 28 for Sindh, 19 for NWFP, 5 for Baluchistan and 7 seats were allotted to the tribal areas. And regarding the provincial assemblies it was decided that East Pakistan provincial assembly will have 400 members, Punjab 186, Sindh 62, Baluchistan 21 and NWFP will have 42 members. The elections were held peacefully and 60 percent registered voters cast their votes.
The results brought drastic changes in political setup of the country. The religious parties were totally a failure because the public was less concerned about being dictated by the government to spend their lives according to the teachings of Islam. The results also confirmed the provincialism of Pakistan politics. The two major winners were the PPP and the AL. The AL was first great majority party that secured 160 seats of National Assembly out of which only seven candidates belonged to the West Pakistan. However, the AL could not win a single provincial assembly seat from any of the west wing provinces. The PPP won second great majority in the National Assembly. It got 81 seats out of 130 allotted to the western wing but it did not have a single seat from the East Pakistan. The LFO had declared that the National Assembly was responsible for making constitution within 120 days. And only after the making of the constitution, the transfer of power to the provinces would take place. But the great differences between the two major parties especially on issue of Six-Points Program were a great hindrance in that process. Unfortunately these differences were never resolved and the end of the story was the division of the country into two sovereign states.