Pakistani Elections: New Slogans, Same Players - Same Games
By Adnan Gill
First time in Pakistan's history a democratically elected government finished its constitutionally mandated time of 5 years. First time in Pakistan's history people are about to elect a successive civilian government without the interruption from the military. For his part, President Musharraf has fulfilled his promise of bringing ‘true democracy’ to Pakistan, a self-professed 3-phase process he started after October 1999 coup. So would it seem that way! However, reality begs to differ with what Musharraf government would love everyone to believe.
President Musharraf, then the Army Chief, unconstitutionally mounted a military coup against a democratically elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Angels of mercy smiled on the much castrated General and he became the poster boy of the Americans in a post 9/11 era. 9/11 which brought pain and sorrow to the Americans became a saving grace for the General.
Suddenly, every world leader wanted to pose for a picture with him and wanted to look away as General Musharraf changed the rules of game to consolidate his power. He tinkered with, ripped apart, trashed, bent, added, and slashed Pakistani constitution at will to disqualify any candidates of his disliking and to quantify candidates of his choosing for the 2002 elections.
As a result, he successfully broke Pakistan's two largest political parties, namely the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). The opportunist party deserters formed their own government with the blessings of General Musharraf. This was also the first time in Pakistan's history that any religious party was able to secure enough seats to form their own governments in 2 of 4 Pakistani provinces.
It was a time when everyone wanted to scratch everyone else's back for their own selfish motives. General Musharraf saw a golden opportunity to legitimize his military rule. He pounced on the opportunity by securing a two thirds majority vote that legalized him as an elected President. Religious parties played a big role in legalizing his military rule in return for his promise to vacate the Chief of Army Staff office in 2004. The promise was effectively broken by the General in due time. Meanwhile, Musharraf's party, PML-Q became the king's party under the patronage of Chaudhry Brothers and in alliance with Pakistan's third largest political party, MQM.
General Musharraf did not need the alliance with the religious parties, as by that time, these parties managed to fall off the graces of the powers to be, Americans to be precise. But luck would have it; the General once again found himself alone at the crossroads and needed political allies to get him reelected for the second term. He knew certain factions in religious parties would not leave him high and dry, so he once again turned to his trusted ally Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Maulana, who was by then a member of All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM)/opposition, saw an opportunity for his own personal benefits and decided to backstab the APDM by giving an opportunity to get General Musharraf reelected.
By that time, only one hurdle remained in Musharraf's smooth sailing of rest of his second term. At the cost of General's popularity, the restored Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had gained a popular rock star status. Even worse, the Supreme Court was in the process of deliberating on the legality of General running for the office of the President. General Musharraf fearing an unfavorable verdict mounted a second military coup through a Legal Framework Order that effectively suspended the already disfigured Pakistani constitution. General Musharraf took that opportunity to settle political scores by gagging the free-media, by suspending country's highest judiciary, by arresting and jailing opposition party leaders, lawyers, human rights workers, and anyone else he deemed undesirable. At one time, there were approximately 4500 political prisoners rotting in the Pakistani jails.
At the same time, increasingly unpopular General was also coming under tremendous pressure from the West, UK and US in particular, to accommodate PPP's leader Benazir Bhutto in the Pakistani political system. The pressure was so tremendous that he publicly signed a "National Reconciliation Ordinance" with Ms. Bhutto, effectively forsaking and unforgiving any or all legal cases and investigations against her and other Pakistani elites. It was widely believed, that Ms. Bhutto had also struck a seat-adjustment deal with PML-N’s leader Nawaz Sharif. At the time, there was another rumor going around that together PPP and PML-N would sweep the Pakistani elections easily securing at least two third majority; which was the magic number required to remove President Musharraf.
But nature had other plans for Ms. Bhutto, who lost her life in a terrorist attack. Then and even now Ms. Bhutto’s party is widely believed to be in position to win the elections in a landslide. Even though, there are foreign observers, including 112 European Union observers present in Pakistan to monitor the elections, popular belief is 2008 elections are going to be anything but fair and transparent.
To give credence to the popular belief, just a few days ago, the Human Rights Watch released an audio recording allegedly of Pakistan's Attorney General Malik Qayyum in which he too admitted that there would be massive rigging of the elections.
Political pundits believe, virtually everyone up for reelection from King's party, the MQM, religious parties, and the President himself severely lack popular support to be reelected; so rigging the polls is their best chance to return to the government. President Musharraf knows if the opposition would happen to win with two third majority, his days of presidency will be numbered. For him, the best scenario would be a hung parliament.
When all is said and done, PPP along with PML-N, with or without sympathy vote for Ms. Bhutto, are at the verge of massive victory in the polls. But that would spell the end for the king's party, and most probably for the king himself too, which in its all likelihood they will not allow to happen; so what if it takes massive rigging to save one's own skin?
Most formidable political challenger is dead, while some are in jails. Opposition’s political rallies had been systematically bombed and sabotaged, while government machinery remained at king’s party’s disposal; who said, Pakistani elections are going to be anything but fair and transparent?