Pakistan’s rigged elections must be rejected
Benazir Bhutto, Chair of the Pakistan People’s Party and a former Prime Minister, demonstrates the dangers of flawed polling results
Pakistan’s parliamentary elections held this October were part of a military promise to restore democracy in the country. The elections were marred by allegations of widespread rigging.
The American Human Rights Watch noted that the "decks were stacked" against the political parties. The European Union called the elections "flawed". The Commonwealth of Nations declined to restore Islamabad’s suspended membership to its organisation.
At best the elections could be called a transition to civilian rule.
The Pakistani elections were held against an international background of tension, turmoil and terrorism. Terrorism struck repeatedly across different parts of Asia as Pakistanis went to the poll. It struck in Indonesia, Kuwait and Yemen.
One year back, the terrorists were routed from Afghanistan. In the one year since their defeat, Islamabad’s military regime failed to play its part in controlling and containing the terrorists.
Islamabad’s military regime, through inability at best and deceit at worst, allowed the terrorists to escape during the bombing of Tora Bora. Now the terrorists have regrouped. Suicide bombers attacked churches, mosques and diplomatic missions in Pakistan during the early part of this year. Recently, they reached beyond from Indonesia to Kuwait.
Islamabad’s military dictatorship was the tinderbox that fuelled the regrouping of the forces of extremism, bigotry and hatred which endanger world peace in the twenty-first century.
There is talk in the world community about democracy in the Palestinian Authority as well as in Baghdad. However, talk of democracy in Pakistan is muted. The Pakistani dictator is viewed as an ally in the war against terror. The policy of keeping one dictator in hand while speaking against dictatorship in other places leads to confusion and cynicism in the Muslim world. The need is to speak consistently and clearly about freedom.
The Muslim people live largely in dictatorships. Often the choice they face is a Hobbesian one between military dictatorship and religious dictatorship. It is important to give the Muslim people a third choice, the choice of a free society based on fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
Instead Muslim countries find themselves in societies where women are discriminated against, where cronyism and nepotism demolish the vitality of free competition, where judges are bribed or coerced and political parties decimated.
Islamabad’s generals ruthlessly use the intelligence agencies to factionalise mainstream political parties. Their goal to undermine traditional political parties plays into the hands of religious extremists. They are free to campaign. Their leaders are released from prisons by compliant courts too afraid to free political prisoners belonging to democratic parties.
Extremism and terrorism were born in the bowels of war torn Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of that country in the eighties. It’s important to learn where the world went wrong in Afghanistan in order to weaken the forces of terrorism.
After the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul the world community, distracted by the fall of the Berlin Wall, turned its attention to Europe. In so doing, it failed to work for a democratic government in Afghanistan built on the principles of coalition, consensus and compromise.
The fundamental mistake, contributing to the tragedy of the World Trade Centers bombing, was the inability to uphold the values of freedom, democracy and self-determination that undermine terrorism. Democracy and human rights must be the centerpiece of Socialist policy to counter the forces of terrorism.
Those who support democracy abhor terrorism in all its murderous forms.
Pakistani democrats need the support of the members of the Socialist International in their struggle for fundamental human rights and free elections.
The October elections orchestrated in Pakistan were a mockery of justice. Five different laws were promulgated by edict to prevent the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party from freely participating. However, Mullah Omar’s tutor was allowed to participate. Today he is a member of the Pakistani Parliament.
General Musharaf promised new faces for Pakistan’s future. The new face can be found in Mullah Omar’s tutor as well as the large number of persons elected under the banner of the religious parties. A significant number of these are battle hardened veterans of the Afghan Jihad.
The critical Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan were handed to the religious parties in the controversial elections held by Musharaf and his men. This is the area where the remnants of Al Qaeda and Taliban are suspected of hiding. Moreover, control of the Senate now moves to the religious parties. They can veto legislation for the next six years. Their nominee is expected to become Senate Chairman and Acting President should military strongman Musharaf become ill, incapacitated or resign from office.
One day before the elections, it was reported on television that Islamabad’s generals planned giving the areas bordering Afghanistan to the religious parties. The information proved right.
As the Musharaf régime tampered with the election result, it deliberately gave the religious parties the power they now enjoy. The rigging of the elections was done in several ways, including tampering the vote count. The vote count announcement was delayed from three to thirty-six hours to change the results. The announced results contradicted each election poll showing the democratic forces triumphing in the elections.
When votes are fixed they show up in the numbers. The normal pattern of voting in the constituency is disrupted with huge discrepancies. In the constituencies where rigging has taken place, the turnout in the polling stations even exceeded one hundred percent.
Perhaps the Generals thought they could keep the West in line by threatening religious turmoil unless their dictatorship was backed. If so, they miscalculated. Both their earlier protégés, Prime Ministers Junejo and Nawaz, turned on them. There is every likelihood that their new protégés will do the same.
Dictatorship does not contain extremism, it provokes it. Building a democratic Afghanistan could have marginalised the Talibans and Bin Ladens of this world before they declared war on the world.
Back in 1996 when Pakistan was a democracy, it emerged as one of the ten leading capital markets of the world. Democracy in Pakistan was destabilised by military hardliners and religious extremists. Two years after the overthrow of the PPP government, Bin Laden declared war on the west from the soil of Afghanistan where he was harboured by the Taliban. The destabilisation of democracy in Pakistan continues to reverberate in South Asia and the larger world community.
Pakistani democracy is important for empowering the Pakistani people as well as for addressing the social issues affecting its poverty stricken people. But democracy in Pakistan is also important to the geo-strategic concerns of the world community as it battles terrorism in this century.
For those reasons, last October’s electoral farce must be rejected.
But Islamabad’s generals are betting on a different course. They are betting that the world is distracted by the violence in the Middle East and the weapons inspections in Baghdad. They are betting that the world community will sideline the cause of democracy in Pakistan. Maybe they are right. But if Islamabad’s nuclear armed military dictatorship is allowed to exploit the war on international terror to legitimise its domestic dictatorship, the threat from terrorists can only increase.
A democratic Pakistan is the best guarantee of the triumph of moderation and modernisation in a volatile region of the world.
To ensure the Pakistani people enjoy the choice of moderation and modernisation, the Pakistan People’s Party joined neither the military party or the religious party. We are the democracy party. The PPP is determined to symbolise peace, democracy and development to give the Pakistani people hope for a better future than they presently face.
Signed articles represent the views of the authors only, not necessarily those of Socialist Affairs or the Socialist International