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Elections of 1970
After becoming the President of Pakistan in 1969 General Yahya Khan announced that very soon the free elections would be held in Pakistan on an adult franchise and party basis 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. The elections which were initially due on 5 October 1970 for the National Assembly and on 19 October for the provincial assemblies 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 the National Assembly and eighteen for provincial assemblies in East Pakistan were held next year on 17 January 1971 because of a cyclone. From 1 January 1970, the political parties were allowed to start campaigning. A total of twenty-four political parties participated in the elections. Mainly there were two types of parties, religious and secular.
The religious parties included the convention Muslim League, Qayyum Muslim League, Pakistan Muslim League, Pakistan Democratic Party, Jamiat-ul-Ulama-e-Islam, Jamiat-ul-Ulama-e-Pakistan, and Jamiat-e-Islam Party among many others. These religious parties called for the Islamization of the country. Despite having a common attitude they differed on certain points from one another and could not unite on a single platform. The regime of Yahya Khan was supporting the religious parties for their conservative stance that seemed to uphold a strong central government. Among the secular parties, the two most prominent and popular political parties that received immense public support from the masses were the Pakistan Peoples Party being led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the Awami League of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman. Their prime focus was on economic issues. Both Bhutto and Mujib possessed extraordinary and charismatic appeals in their personalities for people of all ages and professions. However, the popularity of Bhutto and Mujib was restricted within West Pakistan and East Pakistan respectively.
The East Pakistan Student League played a major role in promoting the AL party program to educational institutions. It was based on 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 for abolishing jagirdari, zamindari, and sardari system. Like AL, PPP also became popular mainly because of Bhutto and remained restricted to its region, West Pakistan, mainly provinces of Sindh and Punjab with its widespread appeal of Islamic Socialism. It was a modified type of Socialism with Islamic traits. The PPP was also a great advocate of the Kashmir cause, unlike AL. With a slogan of roti, kapra or makan Bhutto promised economic prosperity to the nation and amassed commoners under the PPP’s flag.
Drastic differences between the two leading political parties became even more obvious and their regional outlook became prominent with the election campaign. The Awami League popularized its Six-Points and declared that at the cost of the eastern wing’s products the western wing was prospering but was depriving them of their due share. They argued that Bengal was being treated as a “colony” of the west wing. 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 West Pakistanis.
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 reserved for East Pakistan, 85 for Punjab, 28 for Sindh, 19 for NWFP, 5 for Baluchistan, and 7 seats were allotted to the tribal areas. It was decided that the 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 of registered voters cast their votes.
The results, however, brought dire changes in the political setup of the country. The religious parties were washed up because the public was more concerned with their economic problems. The results also confirmed the provincialism of Pakistan politics. The two major winners were the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami League (AL). The AL secured 160 seats of the National Assembly out of which only seven candidates belonged to West Pakistan. However, the AL could not win a single provincial assembly seat from any of the west wing provinces. The PPP won got 81 seats out of 130 allotted to the western wing but achieved no seat from East Pakistan. According to the LFO, the National Assembly was responsible for making a constitution within 120 days before government power was liable to be transferred to the elected members. But unfortunately, both Bhutto and Mujib failed to maintain the unity of Western and Eastern wings; they couldn’t do away with the huge differences over the Six-Point formula that led to the tragic division of the country with the result that a separate sovereign state of Bangla Desh emerged on the globe.