Written by Noman Ahmed
For the first time in the history of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan a sitting Ameer (chief) failed to clinch a second term in office despite being in the race. Syed Munawar Hasan will be succeeded by Sirajul Haq after JI’s electoral college picked him on Sunday to head the party for the next five years.
In all, there were three nominees: Syed Munawar Hasan, Sirajul Haq and Liaquat Baloch. Sirajul Haq polled the maximum number of votes and was declared the winner. The electoral college for the Ameer’s election comprises 31,301 Arakeen (members) of the party. Of them, ballot papers were issued to 30,759. The election committee received 25,533 filled-out ballots on Sunday. Thus the overall voter turnout was 85%.
The result was announced by the election committee head, Abdul Hafeez Ahmed, at a crowded press conference at the JI headquarters in Mansoora. He said the election was conducted through secret ballot according to the procedure. “The five-year term of Syed Munawar Hasan will end in April,” he said.
According to the JI election manifesto, the Markazi Majlas-e-Shoora nominates three candidates for the slot of Ameer although the Arakeen can also vote for other than the three nominees. Traditionally, the Shoora members nominate three candidates and then ballot papers are sent out to the Arakeen across the country. The Arakeen vote for candidates of their choice and return the ballots to the Shoora. The candidate clinching the maximum number of votes is declared winner.
Sirajul Haq, 51, will be the fifth Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami. The incumbent Ameer, Syed Munawar Hasan, was elected in 2009 and his term will end in April, this year.
Political observers see Sirajul Haq’s election as a ‘major shift’ in the party’s 73-year-old electoral tradition. “This is, no doubt, a significant shift in the JI. Never in the past had the Arakeen elected another nominee if the sitting Ameer was also in the race,” analyst Sajjad Mir told The Express Tribune. He attributed this change to “the significant change in the mindset” of the party as multiple external factors now influence its Arakeen.
Some JI officials also admitted that it was a departure from the party’s traditions. “From the time of Maulana Abulala Maududi till Qazi Hussain Ahmed, none of the sitting Ameer was in contest with his successor,” said JI’s Karachi chapter spokesperson Zahid Askari.
However, JI’s Sindh chapter Ameer Dr Merajul Huda Siddiqui interpreted it in a different way. “May be the Arakeen honoured the sitting Ameer’s desire even though it was turned down by the Shoora,” Huda told The Express Tribune referring to Munawar Hasan’s pre-election request that he should not be considered for a second term.
Notwithstanding, political observers say that Sirajul Haq’s election provides grounds for optimism in the JI members for reviving the party’s ostensibly diminishing political character to the centre-right political groups.
Sirajul Haq was born in December 1962 in the Samar Bagh area of Lower Dir district. He remained the Nazim-e-Aala of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of JI, from 1988 to 1991. Immensely popular in his constituency and known for his modesty among friends and foes alike, Sirajul Haq has been successful in parliamentary politics unlike his predecessors. He was elected to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhaw Assembly in the 2002 election from the platform of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and was made finance minister in the provincial cabinet. However, he resigned in protest against the deadly US drone strike on a Madrassa in the Damadolla area of Bajaur Agency. His party boycotted the 2008 election. In 2013, he again contested on JI’s ticket and was elected to the assembly. Currently, he is a senior minister and minister for finance in the provincial cabinet.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2014.