Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Elections Over: Time for a New Political Landscape in Pakistan

The results from Monday's election are official - not only did the opposition win, but elections were relatively free and fair, there was little reported violence, the Karachi Stock Exchange finished at significantly higher levels, and President Pervez Musharraf and the political party that backed him, the PML-Q, accepted defeat. These developments alone should be recognized as progress, especially in regard to prior fears of poll rigging and security concerns. Today, the Washington Post piece, entitled, "Pakistan Remakes its Political Landscape," reported, "By Tuesday evening, with most of the vote counted, the two major opposition parties had won 154 of the 272 elected seats in the National Assembly, compared with 38 for the PML-Q. In all, the assembly has 342 seats."

Even more notable was the voter turnout. According to Pakistan's Daily Times today, "The most remarkable showing was in Rawalpindi, repeatedly targeted by the terrorists in the past year. Voters came out much above the national average of 40 percent to vote for the PML-N, paralleling the reactive vote for late Ms Benazir Bhutto in rural Sindh." The Times added, "Unsurprisingly, the decline of the MMA in the NWFP has allowed the secular ANP to make a remarkable comeback, opening up new possibilities of repairing the cultural fabric of the province presently threatened by suicide-bombers." Prominent lawyer and PPP member, Aitzaz Ahsan further underscored the significance of the results, and told the Washington Post, "General Musharraf represents the rule of man over law, and the resounding verdict of the people is that they yearn to be ruled by laws, not men."

I tend to be a realist, especially when it comes to Pakistan, and while I recognize the great achievements this week, I also acknowledge that the elections left the political landscape far from clear. As the Post noted, neither the PPP or the PML-N gained a clear majority and neither has put forth a concrete PM candidate, "thus opening the door to complicated coalitions and deals." And lest we forget the political failings of both parties while in power in the 1990s. The NY Times reported, "American officials were particularly skeptical of Mr. Zardari, who has faced corruption charges in Pakistan and abroad and has come to his current position of leadership only through his wife’s death." Former PM and PML-N head Nawaz Sharif also faced corruption charges during his two terms in power. Although both leaders agree essentially on opposing terrorism and cooperating with the U.S., the two parties have been long-time political rivals. Therefore, their recent talks of a Coalition government is both significant and remains contingent on whether they can put their historical differences aside for "a greater good." So far, they have announced that they will take a new approach to fighting Islamist militants, "pursuing more dialogue than military confrontation," reported the NY Times. They also pledged to undo the crackdown on the media and restore independence to the judiciary.

And what about the fate of Musharraf? The AFP reported Wednesday that the President has rejected demands to quit, calling instead for a "harmonious coalition." The news agency added, "Musharraf was making his first official comments since Monday's crucial parliamentary vote, which left him fighting for his political life after his allies suffered a heavy defeat." Despite his call for this "harmonious" alliance, both Sharif and Zardari have called for his resignation.

The bottom line? The elections were only the first step - whether or not these parties can successfully address Pakistan's multitude of problems remains to be seen. [Image from the NY Times]


Fahad said...

Great post and assesment of the situation.

I agree-- the parties have given us hope but now they must deliver. The coalition has to understand that their platform of restoration of the judiciary helped them get elected-- and now they have to follow through.

The ANP victory is great and very much needed to stabilize the frontier. I wonder how credible it is though-- because voter turn out in NWFP and Balochistan was supposed to be close to record low's! However, I am very happy about the ANP victory over the Jamaat.

The EU monitors accepted that the elections went better than expected but noted that there were serious election violations which were let to a bolstering of the President and his allies (PML-Q). I seriously wonder what the results would have been had the elections really been free and fair.

I agree with the people-- it's been time for Mushy to go for awhile. He has to go and will be lucky to avoid prosecution for tampering with the constitution, overthrowing the government, and leading the country to the brink of disaster. Lets hope the new government can lead us out of this situation (it's a tall order!)

Anonymous said...

Fahad, please take a step back. The CHUP readers should know that these elections were as free and fair as the could have been. There were many Mush fans out there who were not able to vote as they were stopped and controlled by the opposing parties as well.
- Uncle T

Anonymous said...

While everyone is quick to discredit Musharraf for everything he is done, we must acknowledge the establishment for holding relatively free and fair elections and accepting the results with dignity.

Pakistanis are rejoicing the return of Sharif and the PPP, but do we not remember that these are the same people that never set up a credible independent election commission despite having a majority in parliament because they were too busy stuffing their pockets with cash? They are the same people that blamed each other's parties for rigging everytime they lost an election. Let's hope for the best, while understanding our reality.

Kalsoom, you have done a great job of writing an unbiased and balanced post. Hats off to you.

Fahad said...

If the establishment had not held relatively free elections they would have had a full out civil war on their hands.

In terms of the elections, it was not my own assesment but that of the EU monitors.

I agree that the major party leaders have not done well in the past (however, if that is your logic you wold not support Mushy either because his cabinet was filled with the psychophants and lackeys of Nawaz and BB).

Pakistani's have no option but to support our current leaders because all Musharruf did was take them to the brink of breaking apart. The damage of the Musharruf regime might be lasting-- as his government has engrained the military in the civil society and government institutions (thus we have been set up for future failure by our current government).

Essentially-- I am saying that we have to be cautiously optimistic. The elections were better than expected but turnout was low except for in Punjab and the monitors have cited some signs of partiality (these include public election commission funds being used for the Mush parties and not the others)

There is no road to democracy-- you are either committed to it or not.

Fahad said...

Also-- if Mushy really had dignity and grace he would recognize the people's mandate and resign (he even insinuated that he would only stay on if the PML-Q won-- and almost guranteed their victory in an interview 3 days before the election).

I like that the people finally have a say--- hopefully the politicians won't let them down again... I know that Mush has!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are too young to understand the dissilusionment we felt with the leaders who were leading us on this so called "road to democracy" in the 1990s. We were termed a failed state before Musharraf took over. For several years after Musharraf took over, Pakistan gained respect in the international community and reaped the benefits of a booming economy.

I agree wholeheartedly that things have gone horribly wrong in the past year. but the solution this election has provided does not leave me hopeful for our future.

Yes, if there were new parties and new leaders that were voted into power instead of PML-Q I would have had a reason to rejoice, however, as far as I can remember, the saying is NOT out with the old and in with the older.

Anonymous said...

In addition, since the PPP has a majority in the parliament, I'm interested in knowing who the readers of this blog think is the deserving candidate for the PM position.

Since a lot of the comments seem to be posted by extremely idealistic individuals, I'd like to see who they think is capable of running the country AND able to convince the ruling party that they deserve the top spot (since Mr. Ten Percent and Mr. Hair Transplant are not qualified).

Musharraf's powers have already been stripped. There is a new parliament and a new chief of army staff (who is already taking military personnel out of civil positions) therefore, the future remains with our new PM and those controlling him.

Do you think that the incredibly corrupt Zardari is going to allow someone to lead the country out of the mess we are in? Will he not be a puppet master behind the scenes?

The people have supported the PPP in this election and as the chairperson of the party is Zardari, do you feel that he actually is concerned with the independence of the judiciary?

I look forward to reading people's views on this blog and thank Kalsoom for creating a space where we can discuss the current state of our country.

Fahad said...

You would be mistaken to consider our hope in the democratic process to be idealistic. In fact, I (and many of the idealistic youth that you mention Uncle T) are so jaded by our experience with the army that we consider any democratic option better. We aren't naive to the charges of corruption and incompetence that have dogged the previous governments-- we are just so jaded and dissillusioned by Mush that many of my generation have become cynical of the army's role in politics.

In fact, we have become so cynical that we would rather rejoice the election of questionable democrats than help Musharruf further ruin this country.

You are right-- Nawaz had his fair share of problems. However, in my opinion Pakistan's role in the geo-political would have been the same whether Nawaz or Mush because Pakistan only had one viable option post-9/11 (that was to listen to exactly what the US was saying).

Under Mush Pakistan is facing 3 civil wars... AND WE ONLY HAVE 4 PROVINCES! Does that not alarm people!

Perhaps in your elder age you have still not realized that in its 60 years of existance, Pakistan has never experienced democratic evolution because the army has never let it happen. The problems that mire Pakistan's future have been dumped on us by the dissapointing performance of the previous generation.

Also-- Mushy's powers have not been stripped! Even though we have a parliamentary system he has changed around the Constitution and has retained many undeserved powers. He has retained the right to dissolve the assemblies, amongst others-- which is what he might have to do if they try to impeach him (as they should).

Both PPP and PML-N have capable young leaders, as well as principled experienced ones--- such as Aitzaz Ahsan and Ishaq Dar.

Either way-- we have no way to go except up.

The sooner the army leaves politics-- the more chance of survival we have.

Like Churchill said-- "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Maria said...

We all understand the points you are making, Anonymous, and can even somewhat agree that Nawaz and Zardari aren't exactly the answer. But as someone who IS, in fact, old enough to remember the disillusionment with the leaders of the 90s, I wholeheartedly agree with Fahad. They are a damn better option than what we have had for the past few years.They may not be righteous and just leaders, but they are leaders of our CHOICE. Pakistan has too long been under the mercy of generals like Ayub, Yahya, Zia, and now Musharraf. We have had enough. We are NOT a military state. We were established as a democracy, and no one has the authority to take away our right to chose who should be in office, whether they are corrupt or not, whether they are fit to rule or fit to be committed.

And remember, Anonymous, that it is the idealists of this world that have ultimately made a difference where most needed. It is the Ben Franklins, the Martin Luther King Jrs., the Mohandas Gandhis, the Quaid e Azams of the world that have stirred the people with their idealism and propelled change. Without these idealists, The US would probably still be a part of Great Britain, and Pakistan would still be a part of India, or even worse the British Empire, thereby making this website pointless. We may be idealists, but ultimately so are you, or you wouldn't be here reading and responding, trying to make a change, either :)

Uncle T, I think I'm not alone in saying I'm a bit confused as to the point you were trying to make. You say the elections were fair and free, and then go on to say that Mush supporters were held back from voting. I may be wrong here, but are you trying to say the elections were free and fair because there was mutual cheating across the board, thereby making cheating justifiable? Or was your comment just the victim of a typo?