Miss Fatima Jinnah, popularly acclaimed as the Madar-i-Millat, or “Mother of the Nation” for her role in the Freedom Movement, contested the 1965 elections at the age of 71. Except for her brief tour to East Pakistan in 1954, she had not participated in politics since Independence. After the imposition of Martial Law by Ayub Khan, she once wished the regime well. But after the Martial Law was lifted, she sympathized with the opposition as she was strongly in favor of democratic ideals. Being the Quaid’s sister, she was held in high esteem, and came to symbolize the democratic aspirations of the people. The electoral landscape changed when Miss Fatima Jinnah decided to contest the elections for the President’s office in 1965. She was challenging the incumbent President Ayub Khan in the indirect election, which Ayub Khan had himself instituted.
Presidential candidates for the elections of 1965 were announced before commencement of the Basic Democracy elections, which was to constitute the Electoral College for the Presidential and Assembly elections. There were two major parties contesting the election. The Convention Muslim League and the Combined Opposition Parties. The Combined Opposition Parties consisted of five major opposition parties. It had a nine-point program, which included restoration of direct elections, adult franchise and democratization of the 1962 Constitution. The opposition parties of Combined Opposition Parties were not united and did not possess any unity of thought and action. They were unable to select presidential candidates from amongst themselves; therefore they selected Miss Fatima Jinnah as their candidate.
Elections were held on January 2, 1965. There were four candidates; Ayub Khan, Miss Fatima Jinnah and two obscure persons with no party affiliation. There was a short campaigning period of one month, which was further restricted to nine projection meetings that were organized by the Election Commission and were attended only by the members of the Electoral College and members of the press. The public was barred from attending the projection meetings, which would have enhanced Miss Fatima Jinnah’s image.
Ayub Khan had a great advantage over the rest of the candidates. The Second Amendment of the Constitution confirmed him as President till the election of his successor. Armed with the wide-ranging constitutional powers of a President, he exercised complete control over all governmental machinery during elections. He utilized the state facilities as head of state, not as the President of the Convention Muslim League or a presidential candidate, and didn’t even hesitate to legislate on electoral maters. Bureaucracy and business, the two beneficiaries of the Ayub Khan regime, helped him in his election campaign. Being a political opportunist, he brought all the discontented elements together to support him; students were assured the revision of the University Ordinance and journalists the scrutiny of the Press Laws. Ayub Khan also gathered the support of the ulema who were of the view that Islam does not permit a woman to be the head of an Islamic state.
Miss Jinnah’s greatest advantage was that she was the sister of the Founder of Pakistan. She had detached herself from the political conflicts that had plagued Pakistan after the Founder’s death. The sight of this dynamic lady moving in the streets of big cities, and even in the rural areas of a Muslim country, was both moving and unique. She proclaimed Ayub Khan to be a dictator. Miss Jinnah’s line of attack was that by coming to terms with India on the Indus Water dispute, Ayub had surrendered control of the rivers over to India. Her campaign generated tremendous public enthusiasm. She drew enormous crowds in all cities of East and West Pakistan. The campaign however suffered from a number of drawbacks. An unfair and unequal election campaign, poor finances, and indirect elections through the Basic Democracy System were some of the basic problems she faced.
Miss Fatima Jinnah lost the election of 1965 and Ayub Khan was elected as the President of Pakistan.
It is believed that had the elections been held via direct ballot, Fatima Jinnah would have won. The Electoral College consisted of only 80,000 Basic Democrats, who were easily manipulated. The importance of this election, lay in the fact that a woman was contesting the highest political office of the country. The orthodox religious political parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami led by Maulana Maududi, which had repeatedly declared that a woman could not hold the highest office of a Muslim country, modified their stance and supported the candidature of Miss Fatima Jinnah. The election showed that the people had no prejudice against women holding high offices, and they could be key players in politics of the country.
This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003