Musharraf’s mother of all elections
By Malik Siraj Akbar
2007 is Pakistan’s year of elections. General-president Pervez Musharraf contends the upcoming polls would be “the mother of all elections”. When inquired in an interview on the Indian news channel, NDTV, as to why he chose to describe these elections so, Musharraf responded that he had derived the term from former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s “Mother of All battles’, as the later billed the Gulf War of early 1990s. It, however, seems General Musharraf forgot for the time being that the ‘Mother of All Battles’ never culminated in Hussein’s triumph. Would the general elections of 2007 have a similar devastating outcome for the Washington’s blue-eyed Pakistani president? Chances are rare.
President Musharraf has already kicked off his electoral campaign across the country, coaxing the masses to “vote for the green flag [read PML-Q] candidates” in the upcoming general elections. Likewise love and war, all is fair in Pakistani politics. Otherwise, one could at length debate whether or not the chief of the army, a serving government officer, should be entitled to seek vote for a certain political party against the rest. It has yet to be seen how General Musharraf would get himself re-elected though the current parliament.
In his public gatherings, General Musharraf has been persistently wooing the people to vote for the moderate, progressive and enlightened forces. His love-lost with the right wing Muthida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) seems to have faded away. He has been exhorting the people to shun ‘extremist and fundamentalist forces’ when they proceed to mark their ballots.
Ironically, commando-president’s wish-list is endless. If he has been, on the one hand, consistently seeking vote for the so-called moderate forces and rejection of obscurantist elements, he has, on the other hand, declared obdurately that Mian Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPPP), two of the country’s most popular leaders and also twice elected prime ministers, would be precluded by hook or crook from contesting the forthcoming elections.
As General Musharraf, who presently happens to be all and all in almost all affairs of the state, continues to act like a typical autocrat, one wonders how free, fair and transparent this year’s general elections would be. The legitimacy of such election in which two popular national leaders are deliberately barred from contesting, the army chief is directly seeking vote for the king’s party and the entire official machinery is being utilized for the victory of the ruling PML is evidently going to be questioned by the national and international political observers.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has hardly had any transparent and controversy-free elections in its history. Paradoxically, the only time when the country had free and fair elections in 1971, that too culminated in the dismemberment of the country. The news that General Musharraf is contemplating to hold the ‘mother of all elections’ this year should come as welcome news for all political parties. Understandably, every political organization would be ecstatic to contest the polls. But the question arises: Is the ground conducive for the ‘mother of all elections’ being earnestly prepared? No. Rather, the government is calculatedly making the elections highly divisive several months before their occurrence.
PPP president Makhdoom Amin Fahim’s announcement that his party would contest the elections even if Musharraf continues as the president is astonishing. This demonstrates the lack of unity, coordination and determination to fight dictatorship among the opposition parties.
As a matter of fact, corrupt and poor governance is not mainly due to the government itself. Rather it is the presence of weak and disunited opposition in a democratic set-up that encourages and paves the way for lotacracy [the government of sycophants].
Pakistan has witnessed enough of military rule and exploitation of political parties, particularly the ‘Pakistan-maker-party’, in the hands of the military rulers. Is enough not enough?
The opposition parties have a key role to play before the upcoming general elections. This is not only in the advantage of the opposition itself which is bent upon ousting the military from the political affairs of the state but it is also essential for the long-term cause of democracy in the country. The opposition parties ought to unite on a single platform to drive the military out of Pakistani politics. Further, a disunited opposition alliance would only promote lotacracy in Pakistan.
Once formed, a grand opposition alliance must press for undoing the government move to bar two former prime ministers from contesting elections. The installment of an autonomous interim government and independent election commission should be demanded. Furthermore, the government should be urged to release all political prisoners. This government has indulged in the worst treatment with the political opponents. Having killed one former Balochistan chief minister, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the military’s war against the Baloch people is still not over. Now, former Baloch chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal is being subjected to unprecedented political victimization. The PML (N) President Makhdoom Javid Hashmi is also being punished for this dissent towards junta’s policies.
In the meanwhile, if the opposition parties broker an abrupt deal with the military and reach some sort of compromise, it would be nothing less than a tragedy for democracy in Pakistan. It is not Musharraf but the opposition parties that have a role in holding the ‘mother of all elections.’ Democracy is essential for Pakistan’s development. Only sustainable democracy can guarantee stable state institutions and supremacy of parliament and rule of law.
The opposition, particularly MMA, is equally culpable for extending support to the military regime. Had it not endorsed the infamous 17th amendment bill, the military and its chief would not have such a protracted and dominating impact on the political arena of Pakistan.
Nonetheless, it is the time the opposition realized its responsibilities and refrained from committing old blunders. At a time when Pakistan is confronted with host of problems, such as terrorism, sectarianism and turmoil in Balochistan and Waziristan, genuine democracy holds much significance in determining the future of Pakistan. A united and well-organized opposition must move forward to coerce the government to release all political detainees, install an interim government and formulate an independent election commission. If the government gainsays to comply with these demands, the likelihood of mother of all elections meeting a similar fate that Hussein’s mother of all battles met cannot be ruled out.