People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 23, 2007
But Turmoils May Remain
THIS was admittedly one of the rarest moments in history. The (so to say) military president, who is now a civilian one, has kept his promise. Yet, if you think, there is nothing in it worth chuckling over. After a string of many broken promises, many a dictator had had to concede something, perforce…... lest a storm wipes him out! General Yahya Khan must have been an object --- and abject --- lesson for General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf.
YET this Yankee inspired move, as is widely suspected, has left many desirables behind. Figures like Ms Benazir Bhutto have of course welcomed the lifting of Emergency even while saying that much needed to be done towards the restoration of democracy in the country. But most of the political commentators, leave alone the opposition political parties, cannot afford to be so generous.
The first thing to note is that the step taken on Saturday, December 16, was preceded by a whole gamut of other and dubious steps, with their motive being very obvious --- and pointed in just one direction. These orders and amendments were meant to do the following, among other things:
(1) To protect Mian Musharraf’s re-election as president,
(2) To protect the steps taken since the November 3 imposition of Emergency (“martial law by another name,” to use the words of The Indian Express editorial on December 17),
(3) To preclude some of the opposition leaders from contesting polls,
(4) To preclude any restoration of the non-PCOed judiciary,
(5) To transfer all the powers Musharraf has assumed since October 12, 1999, to himself in his new incarnation as a ‘civilian’ president,
(6) To annul the constitutional provision that no armyman would be able to contest a poll within two years of his retirement.
While the last-mentioned move may cater to several retired army personnel’s ambitions, it appears that it was primarily meant for Mian Musharraf’s own protection. It is another thing that he ‘contested’ and ‘won’ the presidential no-race much before this move was made.
This gives rise to a peculiar situation --- the 1973 constitution has been restored, and has not been restored at the same time! Mian Nawaz Sharif was not very wrong when he said that Musharraf “is a dictator who takes illegal steps and then gives them indemnity himself.”
As The Dawn editorialised December 17, “All of these actions remain highly controversial.”
Coupled with all this is the fact that Musharraf has, in a way, compelled the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to take part in the elections. And this despite the fact that its leaders like Nawaz and Shahbaz have been debarred from contesting and its chairman Zafar Ali Shah has opted out of the race. As for the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), its biggest constituent --- the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Pakistan (JU) --- has decided to contest the polls and several smaller constituents thought it prudent to follow in its footstep instead of queuing behind the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI) that wanted to stick to the earlier decision of poll boycott.
In sum, to his thinking, Musharraf got himself fortified against all possible winds and whirlwinds, before proclaiming from a high pedestal his democratic credentials to the world.
HOWEVER, as The Dawn editorial says, “As far as the January 8 election is concerned, there was precious little in the president’s Saturday night speech to allay the opposition’s fears as to the polls’ transparency….” At the same time, he has made it clear hat he would not allow agitation of any kind, nor allow anyone to reject the poll results. All this boils down to the bitter fact that, to quote the same editorial, “The people of Pakistan had never been this helpless in shaping their political destiny.”
Such fears about the transparency of the coming polls are indeed very common --- among the political parties as well as media commentators. In fact, if we go by a recent survey published by the International Republican Institute (IRI) on December 12, as many as 58 percent of the respondents expressed fears that the polls might not be free or fair. Significantly, this coincided well with the support extended to the recently formed (and now virtually dead) All Party Democratic Movement (APDM). While 55 percent expressed categorical support for the APDM and 5 percent said they might do so, only 26 percent were opposed to the formation while 14 percent were in the DK (don’t know) and NR (no reply) categories.
According to this survey, in which 52 percent respondents belonged to the urban middle class with their earnings ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 10,000, 76 percent opposed the crackdown on lawyers, restrictions on the media and the house arrest of Supreme Court judges. As many as 70 percent opposed the Emergency and the ban on political activities, and 66 percent felt the Emergency was intended to save the president’s own neck and was not an aid in fighting the terrorists.
Another finding of the survey was that, overall, Benazir’s PPP enjoyed 31 percent support followed by PML(N) with 26 percent. While Benazir was seen widely popular in Sindh and Balochistan, Nawaz Sharif led the popularity rating in Punjab. He also led the popularity rating in the NWFP, followed by Imran Khan, though this part of the survey is open to questioning in view of the hard fact that the JU has got a significant political base in this province.
The key issues highlighted by the same opinion poll are like this. Inflation and unemployment were the main worries of 68 percent of the respondents, and an equal number felt the performance of the Musharraf government has been very poor. As many as 72 percent disapproved Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as president.
In the meantime, the government sought to highlight an opinion poll’s result that 74 percent of the Pakistanis supported the Musharraf regime. But the International Public Opinion Polls (IPOP), which claimed to be US based and was credited with the said opinion poll, has turned out to be a fake organisation, neither existing in the official registers nor having a genuine address.
THE widespread sense of fear was all the more augmented when the Election Commission of Pakistan came out with a new voters list. The first thing about this list is that it has about 81 million names while the total was barely 50 million a few months ago. This may give one satisfaction that maybe the “missing voters” have been brought back to life, officially, yet there remains some doubt about the veracity of the document. As The Dawn says, women outnumber men in a few districts, which seems to be an odd fact as “the gender ratio in Pakistan’s population tilts heavily in favour of men.” On the other hand, similarly, “men have an unbelievably high representation” in some areas. Such facts give rise to serious doubts. “With all kinds of allegations being levelled about bogus voters being registered by those who were in the government and are still in the local bodies, it is not very reassuring that such discrepancies should be there. They only detract from the credibility of the polling process which must be fair and free if the January elections are to resolve the crisis the country finds itself in.”
But much more serious than the voters list issue is the belief now gaining ground that the regime is prepared to rig the polls, if so needed. The Emergency Times is a website being run by a group of students through voluntary labour donation. In its Issue 29, dated December 13, the site says the government has already prepared an election result that may be foisted upon the nation in case the regime finds itself on a slippery ground. The ominous report, titled “Official Election Results Ready” and credited to M Ziauddin of The Dawn (the site does not say he is editor of the paper’s Islamabad edition), says both the PPP and PML(N) believe the elections may (be made to) throw a hung house. The belief is that, as per the poll results drawn by the government, the ruling PML(Q) may get 115 seats in a 342-member house while the PPP may get 90 and PML(N) 40 seats. The MMA (minus the JI) may get 45, MQM 20 and ANP 12 seats while the remaining 20 seats may go to the PPP (Sherpao), PML(F) and a whole beeline of smaller groups.
The tally has allegedly been made while keeping in view the candidates’ abilities, political affiliations of the nazims (administrators) in various constituencies and the strength of the contesting parties, and does not rule out some change in future.
If the report is true, then one may agree with its surmise that the combined strength of the PPP, PML(N) and ANP would come to only 142, still 30 less than the magic figure of 172. This group may still form a government in alliance with the MMA, but this may not be palatable to Uncle Sam. The only viable option in such a situation remains the one reportedly scripted by the US imperialists --- PML(Q) + PPP = 205, with both living happily thereafter, even without the wagging tail of MQM that was a partner in the out-gone government.
IN the words of the afore-quoted Indian Express editorial: “President Musharraf, even after the lifting of Emergency, remains extremely powerful. The onus is, thus, on him to conduct a free and fair poll. And he must know that even if January 8 passes well, he will be called upon to do more for anybody to believe that democracy has indeed been restored.” But here we are faced with the same old question: Will Mian Musharraf allow the citizens of Pakistan to have free and fair polls which are a must “to resolve the crisis the country finds itself in,” as The Dawn says?
There are indications that much more still remains to be desired. Apart from the safety precautions Mian Musharraf has taken before lifting the Emergency, restrictions on the media still continue, ban on agitations is in place and there are reports that security or intelligence agencies are still harassing the opposition candidates including those of the PPP.
But the biggest question that remains is about the independence and thus the credibility of the Election Commission, the judiciary and other such bodies. While the whole world saw how far the general went to get rid of an inconvenient judiciary, the regime stooped still lower in its vindictiveness to foist forced retirement on the seven non-pliant Supreme Court judges. Moreover, the celebrated seven are not only in house arrest to this day, a government notification, smacking of authoritarianism, has also divested them of pensions and other post-retirement benefits.
There is nothing exaggerated if one says that the fight for an independent judiciary is going to be a crucial issue of democracy in Pakistan. We have already seen how, in India, a pliant judiciary justified every unjustified action of the executive from June 26, 1975 to March 21, 1977.
Incidentally, while JI chief Qazi Hussain as well as JU leader Maulana Fazlur-Rehman have till a few days back been demanding the restoration of democracy in the country, both have refused to fight for reinstatement of the dismissed judges at various levels.
There is yet another talk doing the round --- that Fazlur-Rehman may again have another MMA (Mullah Military Alliance) with the regime, just as he had done in 2003 on the question of the (Il)legal Framework Order. Nor is a combination like the PML(Q) + MMA + MQM (115 + 45 + 20 = 180) being ruled out in view of the ‘projected’ figures given above.
The moral of the story is crystal-clear: Don’t believe the howsoever loud words of a fundamentalist if there is involved a question of democracy!
Be that as it may, there is little doubt that difficult days still await Pakistan. What to talk of the basic problems ranging from starvation to unemployment, to illiteracy, to lack of housing and potable water and on and on, Pakistan is still haunted by the scourge of extremism. It may be just a Musharraf-favouring propaganda hoax that the country’s nuclear arms may fall in the terrorist hands, but yet the threat of extremism no doubt remains. This may pose a far bigger problem in the coming days than the issue of legitimacy of the president’s powers.
The tragedy is further compounded by the fact that parties claiming to stand for a democratic set-up are either at the beck and call of the Musharraf regime or have little compunction in aligning with the fundamentalists. A movement genuinely fighting for political and socio-economic democracy for a vast majority of the people of Pakistan could no doubt develop into a countervailing force to the imperialist designs in the region as well as to the fundamentalist menace. But, given the badly fractured party system in the country and the absence of unity among the mainstream parties on a minimum set of agreed issues, the growth of such a movement appears to be a distant dream --- at least in the near future.
The nation unfortunate is, thus, likely to be torn by the various hues of strife --- mainly by the raging threat of terrorism but also by the forces (though still weak) of democracy raising the issues of political rights, civil liberties and as well as socio-economic equality on the other. In other words, the country is all set to undergo a period of turmoil as the cost of an individual’s and his patrons’ cynical desire of a strong presidency.