February 18, 2008

Vote Is Expected to Further Weaken Musharraf

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 4:31 am
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FEBRUARY 18, 2008
February 18, 2008 Monday Safar 10, 1429

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Election workers in Lahore waited for ballots. Monday’s vote was delayed after the death of Benazir Bhutto in December.

Musharraf predicts majority seats for PML-Q, MQM
By Our Special Correspondent

LONDON, Feb. 17: President Pervez Musharraf who has been rejecting all recent polls showing him and the PML-Q losing popularity has predicted that on Monday the former ruling party and its coalition partner MQM will “certainly have the majority”.“Whether they will be able to form a government is a question mark,” he was, however, humble enough to admit to Imran Khan’s former wife Jemima Khan in an interview published in the Independent on Sunday.

“He seems to have lost both height and swagger (after retirement from the army). And his body language seems just a touch defensive. The immaculate hair also troubles me. Boot-polish black, artfully grey at the temples, it shows signs of some work,” reflected Ms Khan who found that somehow his civilian clothes have diminished him.

She said he saw himself as a father figure to the next prime minister and in any case “I won’t have to see for weeks”.

(President Musharraf’s spokesman, meanwhile, has denied that he made some comments on the upcoming elections in an interview with Imran Khan’s ex-wife, according to AFP.

“At no stage did President Pervez Musharraf say this or predict victory or a majority for a particular party,” Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi said.

“She asked the president whether he could predict what is going to happen in the polls, to which the president said nobody can predict what is going to happen,” he added.

Musharraf’s spokesman added: “She is no journalist. She just wanted to meet him and in the meeting asked him a few questions initially related to Imran and then she said could you predict what is going to happen. “… (T)he president said it will be very difficult to predict because it is the choice of the people, whoever they vote for will win.”)

When questioned about Nawaz Sharif’s vow to reinstate, if elected, the judges he dismissed on November 3, Musharraf is said to have retorted incredulously: “It is not a dictatorship here! How can you reinstate judges if you become prime minister? How”?

Ms Khan says: “This rhetorical question comes from a man who on November 3 dismissed 60 per cent of the superior court judges, including three chief justices, in anticipation of their ruling against his re-election as president while still head of the army. Many remain under house arrest.”

Recalling her last encounter with him three days before the 2002 elections, Ms Khan said both were disappointed with each other; Musharraf was disappointed in her because of her opposition to him and she in him because the corrupt got off scot-free. “And now it looks as though he will shortly be doing business with the very same politicians he wanted to get rid of.”

“Disarmingly he agrees — something he does a lot of. And I sense it’s genuine rather than appeasement. He argues that he had no other choice but to deal with the existing leaders of the main parties. This is a little disingenuous. The national reconciliation ordinance which he promulgated in October 2007 effectively guaranteed life-long immunity from prosecution to corrupt politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Ali Zardari and others, and enabled her to return to Pakistan to contest elections. He asks if he is being recorded. I say yes. He hesitates, then answers tellingly: “Yes, I agree with you (that charges should not have been dropped). But then Benazir has good contacts abroad in your country, who thought she was the future of the country’.”

He tells her if he had not agreed to the NRO “they would have all joined and then I would have been out”.

At this point, according to Ms Khan, he looks a bit wild eyed. He quickly adds that, of course, being in power has never been his ultimate goal. How much easier it would be, he adds wistfully and a touch unconvincingly, if he’d just resigned to play golf.

“Often he fails to see the irony in his own words, which can be unintentionally comic. Several times I have to suppress a smile. When confronted with the suggestion, for example, that he will have to work with a coalition government consisting of some the most infamous crooks in Pakistan; he responds with great sincerity, ‘I’m not running a martial law here. What can I do?’ He adds: ‘My role as a president is simply the checks and balances — the seatbelts”.

Ms Khan says the image he paints of himself as a benign, legitimised dictator is at odds with the recent Human Rights Watch report that accuses his regime of hundreds of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, harassment, intimidation and extra-judicial killings.

To Ms Khan, Musharraf seems to be someone who feels painfully let down and misunderstood. She says this is particularly the case when he talks about her ex-husband, Imran. “You know, I liked him. But he is the most unrealistic person. I wanted to support him.” He mentions him a few times in the interview.

And the strange thing is, she adds: “I detect hurt. President Musharraf, dictator, despot, guardian of the West against Al -Qaeda — and all I can see are the wounded eyes of a betrayed lover when he talks about my ex. Under his regime, in the past year, Imran has been held under house arrest, jailed, then released and has had his movements restricted. Hell hath no fury like a general scorned.”

Discussing the recent polls he dismisses them saying: “They are biased, conducted by local organisations that are against me. They have been abusing me right from the beginning and you will never get good results from them.”

According to Ms Khan, Musharraf seems increasingly paranoid as he tells her: “The media have let me down … The NGOs are against me. I don’t know why. I think I have been the strongest proponent of human rights …”

In fact, the only people who are not against him, he tells Ms Khan, are the Western leaders who he says are “absolutely supportive” and “express total solidarity”.

“If anything, the impression (she gets of Musharraf) is one of amateurishness and of a naivety that would be endearing if it had not been so profoundly damaging to his country. And in recent months he has become belligerent with local journalists.Ms Khan said Musharraf denounced the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, as “the scum of the earth — a third-rate man — a corrupt man”.

And the lawyers’ movement? “With hindsight,” he replies solemnly, “it was my personal error that I allowed them to go and express their views in the street… We should have controlled them in the beginning before it got out of control.”

According to Ms Khan, Musharraf mentions democracy a great deal. He seems sincere. He is genuinely likeable. But it seems he just can’t help himself. You can take the general out of the army but not the army out of the general, she says and adds, it reminds her of the Aesop fable about the scorpion and the frog. The frog gives the scorpion, which cannot swim, a lift across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings him. “Why did you do that?” asks the frog. “Now we’ll both die.” “I’m a scorpion; it’s my nature.”

While parting both agreed that it would be the saddest day for Pakistan if Benazir’s “crooked” widower is in power by Monday.


FEBRUARY 18, 2008

Vincent Thian/Associated Press

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Published: February 18, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistanis began to vote Monday morning in parliamentary elections that are expected to diminish President Pervez Musharraf further and present Washington with a challenging new political lineup here as it pursues its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the region.The vote, which was delayed after the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto nearly two months ago, comes amid anxiety of further political turmoil if the government manipulates the results or enters a battle with the opposition parties over forming a government.

At least four candidates, including Ms. Bhutto, and nearly 100 other Pakistanis have been killed during the campaign. Parties have reported kidnappings and arrests of candidates and attempts to intimidate their families, according to Sheila Fruman, director of the National Democratic Institute’s office in Pakistan. The opposition has threatened street protests if the vote is perceived to be unfair, but has also called for a government of national consensus.

American officials and others here hope that the election provides a fresh opportunity for a new civilian government to rally Pakistanis behind the fight against the militants who now threaten the security and stability of the country.

After growing frustration with eight years of military rule, opposition politicians and analysts argue that Mr. Musharraf has lost the support of the people and cannot fight extremism effectively without it.

With the country facing a growing insurgency by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, rising prices and escalating violence, the nationwide vote will now serve as a kind of referendum on Mr. Musharraf, who has grown deeply unpopular.

No matter which party prevails, Mr. Musharraf, who has been Washington’s partner in the campaign against terrorism for the past six years, is almost certain to emerge further reduced in the post-election skirmishing.

He is already much weakened after resigning as army chief in November, and a popularly elected prime minister with the backing of Parliament will emerge as a competitive new force.

The party that has supported Mr. Musharraf for the past five years, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, is expected to fare considerably worse than it did in the last election.

The party of Ms. Bhutto, the Pakistan Peoples Party, is riding a wave of sympathy after her death and may emerge as the largest party in Parliament, analysts say.

Ms. Bhutto’s party, which is now led by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League-N, are moderate parties opposed to terrorism.

They argue that only a popularly elected government can bring the country together to oppose militancy. For his part, Mr. Zardari has also called for a government of national consensus after the election and has not ruled out working with Mr. Musharraf.

The insurgency remains at the top of the Bush administration’s agenda here, and American officials have started to prepare for Mr. Musharraf’s eventual exit. In a series of high-level visits in the past month on how to stem the militants’ efforts to destabilize Pakistan, Washington officials have focused on the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, an implicit recognition of the shifting balance of power.

Despite the complaints about violence in the campaign and the potential for fraud, the Bush administration has appeared determined to validate the election as a satisfactory exercise in democracy. Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, recently told a Congressional committee that he was looking for “as fair an election as possible.”

International observers, including several United States senators who arrived Sunday, have already warned of serious flaws in the pre-election process. They have said that at best the election would be deemed “credible,” rather than free and fair.

The biggest question will be to what extent the government apparatus will try to manipulate the results in favor of the pro-Musharraf party. If the elections are skewed too far in its favor, the government risks large protests and violence.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said after arriving in Lahore on Sunday night as an election observer that he was “mildly optimistic” that the election would be “fairly credible.”

But Mr. Biden said that if the election turned out to be seriously flawed, he would seek to curtail United States military aid to Pakistan. Two other members of the foreign relations committee, Senators Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, and John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, also arrived to observe the election.

Ms. Fruman, of the National Democratic Institute, described a litany of complaints, mostly from opposition parties, of bribery and the use of state resources for campaigns. The production of counterfeit identity cards was uncovered in the town of Quetta when a package of 3,000 fake cards split open, Ms. Fruman said. Millions of names were found to have been missing from voter rolls, including, in one case, an entire village where support was strong for the Pakistan Peoples Party, she said.

“We cannot verify them, but in many cases the same complaints have come from different parties,” Ms. Fruman said. The irregularities were consistent with the trends described in the institute’s pre-election mission report, she said. Any one such incident, she added, “would be enough to stop elections in the West.”

Mr. Musharraf has promised free and fair elections and has warned parties not to protest if they lose. “I assure you that the elections will be fair, free and transparent and peaceful,” he said at a seminar in Islamabad, the capital, last week, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

“Let there be no doubt that anyone will be allowed to resort to lawlessness in the garb of allegations about rigging in the elections,” he was quoted as saying.

Yet even the attorney general, Malik Muhammad Qayyum, seemed to acknowledge government interference in a telephone conversation with an acquaintance, which was recorded by a journalist in November. “They will massively rig to get their own people to win,” Mr. Qayyum said, apparently referring to the government.

Mr. Qayyum has since denied that the conversation occurred, but a transcript was released by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization. Mr. Qayyum had taken the call from his acquaintance while still on the line with the journalist, who had been interviewing him.

In a first for Pakistan, an estimated 20,000 volunteers have fanned out across the country to monitor polling stations, as well as the critical counting process that will be conducted by election officials at district courthouses after the polls close. But as many as 4,000 of them were denied accreditation to monitor the vote by government officials in Punjab, the most important province in the election.

The small army of volunteers is organized by the Free and Fair Election Network, which is financed in part by the United States Agency for International Development. Many of the monitors are in their 20s and 30s, eager to help make the election process fairer. They will conduct a parallel vote count Monday night in 264 of the 272 parliamentary constituencies.

A report by the Free and Fair Election Network released Feb. 5 said mayors had been supporting certain candidates by urging voters to vote for them, attending their rallies and allowing them to use resources like official cars and premises. “Most support is reported to have been in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q,” Mr. Musharraf’s party, the report said.

The most sensitive hours of the election, according to experts, will be the counting of the ballots. The 272 officials who will count them are lower-court judges chosen by the national election commission, and many are in thrall to high-court judges appointed by the Musharraf government.

The IFES (formerly the International Foundation for Election Systems), a nonpartisan group, had advised the Pakistanis to change the counting system to make it less vulnerable to fraud, Western diplomats said. The changes, which would have involved requiring the returning officers to announce the constituency results polling station by polling station, had been rebuffed, they said.

Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the former chief minister of Punjab and Mr. Musharraf’s candidate for prime minister, sounding more optimistic than even most officials of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, said he expected the party to win “100-plus seats” of the 148 parliamentary seats in Punjab.

The party dominated local government in Punjab, and local mayors would bring voters to the polls to vote for the Muslim League-Q ticket, he said. Most analysts say that even though Pakistani parliamentary elections turn on local politics, Mr. Elahi’s projection is exceptionally generous.


1 Comment »

  1. i believe it is sheer stupidity to think that mush will leave his post so long as bush protects him

    Comment by ravi bhushan — February 21, 2008 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

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