February 16, 2008


Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 4:23 am
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FEVRUARY 16, 2008


Pre-poll rigging is a fact. Evidence: I have been disenfranchised. My name had been in the voters’ list for more than 37 years and I exercised my right to vote at all the elections held so far. Yesterday when I contacted the Punjab office of the Election Commission, I was told after scrutiny that my name did not exist in the Final Electoral Roll. Was this done because of my known views about the establishment? I wonder.
Yesterday, The Nation reported the findings of FAFEN – Free and Fair Election Network, headed by a seasoned NGO leader. FAFEN’s June 2007 report had found 27 percent of households (mentioned in the people-to-list audit) missing in the draft electoral rolls. In the February 2008 follow-up study the CNIC numbers of 6721 eligible voters list were checked. More than 17 percent of eligible voters were found missing in the Final Electoral Roll. There is more. The FER 2008 includes at least 9.3 percent duplicate records. In some constituencies in Karachi one person is found to have 12 votes in different polling stations. Even if one-fourth of the findings are absolutely correct, impressive spadework has already been done for rigging on the day of the polls.
To add to the perception created by these findings, one may cite a number of points aired by political parties and the media. How come, for instance, that Sharif brothers have been debarred from contesting the election while according to Shahbaz no such bar was placed in 2002. Many nazims who owe their creation to the Musharraf’s regime are openly working for the PML-Q candidates and using district government resources. Quite a large number have personal stakes in the election as their wives or brothers or other close relatives are contesting for provincial or national seats. There are also reports of nazims stepping up development works to win over voters in certain areas. A large number of postings and transfers of government officials have taken place during the last few weeks. News of more such steps keep coming in. The Election Commission says it is helpless in dealing with the nazims. In a few cases it has asked for reversal of transfers. What has happened to such directives is not known.
Little attention has been paid by (generally conceived weak) Election Commission to thousands of complaints about irregularities lodged with it. One may also mention the generally talked about work being done by the “agencies” to queer the pitch for the king’s party and its coalition partners.
Musharraf keeps assuring that elections would be free and fair. But even his friends in Washington are not willing to accept his word. After Boucher’s dubious remarks the most recent statement has come from Condoleezza Rice: “We have to keep pressing and encouraging and insisting that this is an election on which a lot is holding. They have got to inspire confidence that people got to vote freely.” Twelve Congressmen including Gary Ackerman have addressed a letter to Rice saying: “We write to express our concern that the United States is not doing enough to prevent the Government of President Pervez Musharraf from manipulating the upcoming February 18 elections in Pakistan…We urge you to ask that the Election Commission be reconstituted so it enjoys the confidence of all major political parties.” Human Rights Watch, too on Tuesday warned that Pakistan’s Election Commission had failed to investigate reports of campaign violations.
If there was one message which came from the November 3 Emergency, it was this: have no doubt whatsoever that your president is determined to legitimise his position and rest assured that he has every intention of continuing as such and wield power for the next 5 years. No institution not even the Supreme Court can block his path to power. The objectives set have to be achieved with what ever it takes so to do.
If this be read as a correct understanding of his intentions and his determination, can one expect the polls to be free and fair?
What kind of results will come out of the polls on February 18 and with what consequences?
If the general perception is that large scale rigging has taken place and the PPP fails to muster the expected number of seats, there is bound to be widespread protests triggering a lot of unrest. If post-Benazir assassination outburst is any indication, will the government be able to cope or control the ensuing disturbances? Musharraf says he would not permit any post-election protests. Will there be use of force? What the consequences of it could be, may well be imagined.
Because of the international pressure exerted by the presence of foreign observers, by political parties’ watchdogs and the media monitors, it is possible that rigging on the polling day may remain restricted. If in this case PPP bags a large number of seats, PML-N too does well and PML-Q has a sizeable number, what kind of scenarios will emerge regarding the making of the governments at the centre and the provinces.
Scenario One: PPP may like to forge a consensus or national government as hinted by Zardari. Scenario Two: PPP and PML-N coalition government is constituted. Scenario Three: Depending on the seats strength of PML-N and PML-Q, on Musharraf’s advice Zardari may be persuaded to make a coalition set-up with PML-Q.
Now some relevant questions and implications thereof.
One: How Musharraf will conduct himself after the elections? Will he continue to throw his weight around and seek to call the shots used as he is to exercise absolute power? Or will he realise his limitations – reduction in his authority (sans uniform) and his steep fall in popularity ratings indicated by local and foreign opinion polls. Will be adjust himself to the new realities and sincerely abide by his restricted constitutional role?
Two: How will the coalition government address the civil society national demand for the restoration of deposed judges or at least for an independent judiciary? Differences about this issue already exist between the PPP and the PML-N – the latter having totally committed itself to bringing the “removed” judges back. How will Musharraf relate himself to this crucial question, considering his personal involvement in the matter?
Three: Will a consensus emerge about the way the war on terrorism and action against extremism is to be addressed? If not what will be the fall out for the government? Taking into consideration the scope and probability arising out of differing perceptions and stands on contentious issues, the possibility of break up of the coalition arrangements and a call for another election cannot be ruled out. It is also possible that Musharraf may at some stage dissolve the parliament using the 58(2)(b) weapon.
Four: In the emerging democratic set-up failure to meet peoples’ pressing demands for relief from the inherited oppressive shortages of atta, gas and electricity, failure to control lawlessness, to reduce prices of essential goods and to provide employment opportunities, is bound to add to the complexities of the many daunting challenges faced by the government. Will it be able to cope with such pressures?
Finally if there is increasing instability escalating unrest and failure on the part of the government to manage affairs properly, will the new army command continue to resist the temptation to get involved once again to put things right?
One only hopes that Musharraf who has enjoyed long innings, persuades himself to ease himself out, letting politicians fend for themselves. General Kayani mercifully is treading the right path. A professional soldier as he is, it is best for him to retrieve the fair name of the army and follow the straight path (Sirat-e-Mustaqeem) as enunciated in the constitution. This will indeed be a historic contribution on his part to the rebuilding of the country’s institutions.


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