Democracy and Elections in Pakistan
Game of Numbers
ISHTIAQ AHMED (IDN)
46-percent voter turnout in spite of the fear of suicide bombers, the
elections being conducted peacefully, and in a free and fair manner –
all these are great gains for the people of Pakistan. President
Musharraf and his PML-Q do not enjoy the confidence of the people of
Pakistan. Had he waited for the new assemblies to be elected first he
stood no chance of being elected president of Pakistan for the next five
the BJP for the first time in 1996 won most seats in the Indian
Parliament, it was short of a majority to form a government. It tried
for 13 days to muster a coalition but could not. On that occasion Prime
Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee uttered this famous sentence:
"Democracy is a game of numbers, and we do not have numbers on our
side." He therefore resigned. Musharraf should also consider an
honourable exit. I see no way how the deposed chief justice of Pakistan
and other honourable judges of the Supreme Court can any further be
denied their right to return to the benches.
it is in place to pay compliments to Musharraf for making some very
correct decisions. By joining the war on terror he made it impossible
for the United States to direct its wrath against Pakistan. His other
noteworthy achievements include the abolition of separate electorates
for non-Muslim Pakistanis.
electorates was supplanted by a progressive reform whereby 10 seats for
non-Muslims and 60 for women were reserved, but the parties in
parliament shared these seats in proportion to their strength in the
national and provincial assemblies. This way integration rather than
segregation of non-Muslims and women was instituted. Perhaps even more
important has been the decision to reform the rape law, which was based
on the ludicrous practice of the victims -- women -- being disqualified
to give evidence.
he did not move decisively and resolutely to reform or repeal the
blasphemy law, which has served no purpose but to embolden fanatics to
attack the already beleaguered Christians and other minorities.
Musharraf's failures included a lack of ideas and initiatives to tackle
poverty and illiteracy. Although the economy grew impressively, the rich
got richer while the poor were crushed by inflation and lack of
PPPP has secured most seats in the National Assembly, but not a
majority. It will be able to form the government in Sindh, and has done
impressively in Punjab, the NWFP and even Balochistan. The tragedy of
the PPPP is that it is led by Asif Ali Zardari, whose reputation as
Pakistan's most corrupt politician may come to haunt the party.
second party to win mass support is the PML-N. It was always expected to
do well in Punjab, and that has been confirmed beyond any doubt.
Elsewhere it has won only some seats, as in the NWFP. I have had the
privilege of going to the same school in Lahore as Mian Nawaz Sharif:
The St Anthony's High School. I must confess, however, that I don't
remember him because he was a year or two junior, and in the B section
while I was in the A section. His friends tell me he is fond of music,
adores filmstars, and can sing quite well. He is also a keen cricketer.
All that should cut him out to be a liberal, with a strong sense of
humour and a weakness for amusement.
the NWFP, the secular ANP has done very well, while the Islamist MMA has
been wiped out. However, the PML-Q's emerging as the main winner in
Balochistan is somewhat surprising. In India the two main rivals, the
Congress and the BJP, are now used to forming coalitions with smaller
parties in opposition to each other, but the two Pakistani rivals, the
PPPP and PML-N, will have to do it together. This may not be easy as
their relations in the past have been essentially confrontational. The
Charter of Democracy agreed by them in 2006 could serve as the minimum
basis for forming a national government, however.
would be in Pakistan's interest to wind up jihad outside its borders,
including that beyond the Line of Control. All disputes with our
neighbours should be resolved in a spirit of give and take and through
negotiations. Now is the moment to build peace within and without
Pakistan. Times and circumstances have changed fundamentally and
irreversibly. We better be a part of successful and prosperous Asia that
is emerging to our east.
article was first published in the News
International . The author is a visiting senior research
fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National
University of Singapore on leave from the University of Stockholm.
Articles on Pakistan
Diplomats say Judges Issue Pak Internal Matter
in Pakistan Might Bring Tension with Washington
election results in Pakistan were good news, about the best that could
have emerged, but what kind of democracy is it that puts the fate of the
country in the hands of a Nawaz Sharif and an Asif Zardari? My lord! How
weird! Help me understand...,” beseeched an American journalist, who
has lived and worked in Pakistan, in a recent email to some journalist
spontaneous response: “It’s surely not worse than a democracy which
puts the fate of America — and the world — in the hands of a George
didn’t mean to be rude or flippant. I don’t like George W. Bush
(because of his foreign policy) any more than my friend likes Mr Zardari
or Mr Sharif, although he thinks that the overall election results were
about the best that there could have been. However, we agree that
democracy is an ongoing process and that it is the right of the people
to bring in whom they choose.
lobbies in Pakistan mirror my American friend’s reaction and are
suspicious of both Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari because of their past
reputations and records. Both leaders, with the mature and responsible
positions they are taking, have so far justified the confidence reposed
in them by the electorate.
can be inconvenient when you don’t like the leadership it throws up.
It can be deeply damaging when it brings in leadership whose stint in
power leads to negative, far-reaching and long term consequences—like
President Bush, who is responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands
of human lives – American, Iraqi and Afghan. And,
by extension, Pakistani, when the Pakistan army under US pressure
attacks its own people in a bid to win the ‘war on terror’. (The Pakistan government can take sole credit for the military
action in Balochistan).
governments need to deal firmly with violence enacted by militants of
any hue. However, history teaches us that a heavy-handed military-only
approach leads to more violence, hatred, and militancy.
not just Mr Bush. The democratically elected rightwing BJP government in
India backed by religious militants caused enormous damage to India’s
secular polity. Human rights groups hold the BJP responsible for the
Gujarat massacre that was made possible by the party’s patronage to
right-wing extremists. This, despite the relatively soft face it
presented through prime minister A.B. Vajpayee,
the poet-politician who had the grace to visit the Minar-i-Pakistan when
he came to Lahore in February 1999 at the invitation of then prime
minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif too was an elected leader despite the flawed electoral process
and irregularities that brought him to power. He acted in the most
undemocratic way when in power, muzzling the media and trying to pass
‘religious’ laws that would give him absolute power.
Pakistani people were not given the satisfaction of showing him the
door; in October 1999, the military snatched that prerogative as it has
done so many times before.
America, Mr Bush was able to play upon the fears and nationalist
reactions in a post 9/11 world to get voted in for a second term. In
India, the people exercised their right to boot out the right-wing
forces that they had elected in the previous polls.
the Palestinians made the ‘mistake’ of voting for Hamas in January
2006, the US and Israel immediately began “discussing ways to
destabilise the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas
officials will fail and elections will be called again” reported The
New York Times (Feb 14, 2006). The intention, according to the report,
was “to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international
connections to the point where, some months from now, its president,
Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The
hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that
they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement”.
by Western powers, the Algerian army cracked down on the winning Islamic
Salvation Front (FIS) and postponed subsequent elections after the FIS
bagged over half the votes cast in municipal elections of June 1990 and
was leading in the first stage of national legislative elections of
December 1991. The result in both cases was increasing militancy in the
area, instead of less.
a previous era, of course, such crackdowns were geared not against
‘Islamic militancy’ but against anything that smacked of communism,
socialism or anything ‘left-wing’.
people of Iran, and indeed the world, well remember the role of the
Western powers after the Iranians elected the socialist leaning Mossadeq
as prime minister who promptly nationalised the nation’s oil
list is long. At this point in time, we in Pakistan are concerned with
the transition to democracy that genuinely reflects the will of the
buzz from above reflects other priorities. The people, by rejecting the
Musharraf-backed parties, have clearly indicated that they do not want
him in power. But Western powers dismiss this verdict because they find
it convenient to deal with him. They fear that his removal would lead to
‘instability’. And so they will continue to prop him up.
there is talk of the general dislike in Washington’s corridors of
power for Nawaz Sharif: Mr Bush, even as his second term ends (plenty of
time to do more damage yet), is not happy at the idea of an alliance of
the PPP and the PML-N. We hear of pressure being exerted on the PPP to
ally not with Nawaz Sharif but with the disgraced and discredited PML-Q.
would be unrealistic to expect all these pressures to be magically
lifted just because the people of Pakistan have willed it so. The
electorate, which in no uncertain terms rejected the ‘religious’ and
the Musharraf-backed parties at the polls, can only hope that their
support is enough for Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari to stay strong and
hold the interests of the people above all else.
Sarwar is a journalist and documentary filmmaker from Pakistan,
focusing on human rights, gender, media, and peace with extensive
experience with the print media and television in Pakistan and abroad.
She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, where she returned a
Fellow at Harvard University's Carr
Center for Human Rights Policy, working on a book about democratic
struggles in Pakistan. The article was first published in Dawn.
AYESHA SIDDIQA (IDN)
other day I was talking to a prominent economist from Pakistan who was
extremely uncomfortable about the future of democracy in the country
despite the excitement amongst the common people at the defeat inflicted
on the King and his party. Her view was that now we are back to square
is the same politicians who stole millions of the tax payer’s money
and would probably do the same if they were given a chance again. The
economist’s conclusion was that given a choice she would prefer a
military dictator over a corrupt politician.
perception is not odd. There are a number of Pakistanis who feel that
way. They believe that the current set of politicians do not represent
the people or middle class values. In fact, the middle class is seen as
possessing the magic to transit the country to democracy while ensuring
steady economic progress as well.
not get too upset with this view because it represents one of the many
views on political and socio-economic development in a country.
Incidentally, this approach, which views democracy as being necessarily
correlated with better financial management or lack of corruption is
what was passed on by the prominent international financial institutions
such as the World Bank, the IMF, etc.
view does not take into account the decision-making practices in other
countries such as the US and West European states where better record of
democracy has not necessarily restricted corruption. Although the
argument here should not be deemed as defending corruption of
politicians, the point which is being made here is that there is no
direct co-relation between the two concepts. Accountability and
transparency, of course, are ideals which are expected to be prominent
in a democratic setup. But greater democracy does not necessarily ensure
far as primacy of middle class values is concerned, again, there is no
direct co-relation between ascendancy of this class in a society and the
strengthening of democracy. In fact, the middle class in a country can
have as much of authoritarian tendencies as the ruling elite. The middle
class tends to be authoritarian because it is the class that is most
likely to replace the ruling elite.
Pakistan’s case, for example, where the economic redistributive
process depends on association with the state and state bureaucracy,
even the middle class can support authoritarian politics. The role of a
dominant state bureaucracy helps in cutting across the process of
consensus building which is the hallmark of democratic decision-making.
is linked with the process of globalisation and international capital
that creates opportunities for a select few in the name of better
re-distribution of resources. The middle class begins to support the
case for better distribution or for creation of institutional
mechanisms, which are a vital part of democracy, mainly due to its own
interests such as creating greater space for themselves vis-à-vis the
the Pakistani economist mentioned above was flabbergasted by the fact
that hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis voted for politicians she was
not enamoured with. A common argument is that the majority of
Pakistanis, especially those from the rural areas, are too illiterate
and poor to make a better judgment.
why are common Pakistanis so dumb? Why can’t they get rid of feudal
land owners? A lot of the people who make this argument have rarely gone
to the rural areas or their visits are restricted to implement NGO
projects. What they do not notice is that the common man does exert his
judgment while making a choice. It is not necessarily the death of a
leader or some other tragedy which makes them decide. Of course, symbols
of sacrifice are important but then what we witnessed during these
elections was that those who generally had a reputation of being brash
and oppressive feudals did not manage to get votes or ride the tide of
the politicians and the people in the rural area are tied together in an
intense process of negotiation which manifests itself in the form of the
winning margin of a candidate. The people punish those who do not
perform by not voting for such people. The shift in attitude of a
constituency is apparent from the wining margin of a candidate. So, even
if a bad politician would win, he would get lesser votes which is an
indicator of how people feel. In an electoral process this means that in
a future competition the candidate would have to deliver more. Many a
prominent people from all parties were wiped out because they failed to
perform. Many won by smaller margins.
the question that comes to mind is that why can’t the people just dump
the old politicians and bring in working class people? The answer is
that selecting a person who has a good network with the people as well
as the state or authority is necessary to get access to resources. For
instance, the choice would be for a person who could help with the state
machinery in times of need.
we all emphasise the need for devolution of democracy there is very
little thought given to making the state bureaucracy responsive to the
common man. The police constable, the revenue officer and other state
representatives, or the legal system primarily respond to the elite. To
give another example, despite several judgments by the superior courts
which ban the police from keeping a female in a police lock-up
overnight, the decision is rarely implemented. Surely, this is not to
condone the powerful rural elite that manipulate state machinery, the
fact is that the system is not geared towards a cold-blooded
implementation of laws.
results of the 2008 elections or the fact that these were relatively
free and fair does not necessarily mean that it would not be an uphill
task for the politicians or that the traditional pattern of politics has
become redundant. In fact, there are issues which might strengthen the
system of patronage yet again.
of the crucial issues that will confront the next government is price
adjustment. The Shaukat Aziz-Pervez Musharraf regime left at a time when
they needed to do price adjustments to meet the international prices,
especially in oil and electricity. Even the interim government failed to
do so which means that the burden of price adjustment will fall on the
incoming regime. They will have two options: (a) keep the prices stable
and low by offering subsidies which will invoke the wrath of the
international finance institutions (IFIs) or (b) increase the cost of
electricity and oil by another 20-30 per cent. This would naturally push
up commodity prices.
on how generous is the international community in dealing with a new
political dispensation, there could be a problem of scarce resources.
Under the circumstances, there is a possibility of politicians reverting
to the old methodology of providing indirect subsidies to their support
base which will again raise the issue of corruption.
option to check financial mismanagement is to strengthen the judiciary.
The restoration of judges, hence, is a necessary move. This is not about
individuals but about people who symbolise better accessibility to
justice. More important, continuation of electoral democracy is a bare
minimum requirement for strengthening the political system.
writer is an independent analyst and the author of the book
‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’. This article
first appeared in Dawn. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Diplomats say Judges Issue Pak Internal Matter
BY HAMID MIR (IDN)
ISLAMABAD: The United States has now decided to respect the wishes of
Pakistani voters and has finally given a go-ahead to the two main
winners to resolve all the issues according to the wishes of their
voters, including the issue of the deposed Supreme Court judges.
US diplomats, who met some top leaders of PPP and PML-N on February
21/22, have conveyed the view that the restoration of the deposed judges
was an internal issue of Pakistan and the US would not interfere in any
internal political or legal issue.
Spokesperson of the US Embassy in Pakistan, Elizabeth Colton, made it
clear on February 22 that US diplomats were meeting the politicians just
to understand the ground situation and for supporting the democracy.
She said: “The US ambassador and other US Embassy officials regularly
meet with representatives of various political parties, and continue to
do so. We continue to express our support of the democratic
When The News asked that why US considered Musharraf indispensable for
its interests in Pakistan, she responded: “Through the electoral
process, the Pakistani people have expressed their views. It is up to
those elected to form a government. We hope that Pakistan’s political
leaders will work together to advance a common agenda and meet the
challenges ahead. We look forward to working with that government,
whoever its leaders will be.”
Observers said it was clear that the Zardari-Nawaz alliance announced on
Feburary 21 night had forced the US to change its position on supporting
Musharraf, who had announced a few days ago that restoration of the
judges was not possible.
In response to a question as to why the US is opposing the restoration
of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and some other judges,
spokesperson Colton said: “The United States has stated its support
for an independent media and an independent judiciary. Pakistan’s
judicial issue is a matter for Pakistanis to address.” It is learnt
that Bush administration conveyed serious reservations about Justice
Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to the leadership of the PPP when late
Benazir Bhutto had announced her support for the deposed CJ.
After the surprising election results, US officials started meeting PPP
and PML-N leaders and listened to their views on the restoration of
judges. PML-N said that if some American judges could release prisoners
from Guantanamo Bay, then why a Pakistani judge could not order the
release of a person who was thrown behind bars many years ago and no
charge was proved against him.
Initially, the restoration of judges became a hurdle in the way of a
coalition between the PPP and the PML-N but finally wisdom prevailed and
PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari saved the boat from being rocked. It
is no secret in the capital that some intelligence agencies and their
collaborators in media tried their level best to create
misunderstandings between the PPP and PML-N but the leadership on both
the sides proved that they had learnt their lessons from their past
mistakes and confrontations.
Zardari and Nawaz Sharif agreed to restore the judges through parliament
and forced the US to accept this democratic decision. The US government
still has some reservations on the suo moto powers of the judges but PML-N
leaders have clearly said to them that this was also our internal issue.
A joint press conference of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on
February 21 gave the impression that both of them were not ready to play
in the hands of their enemies. They agreed that the restoration of
judges would provide some immediate credibility to the new coalition
government and after that they would start fighting with inflation and
Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari will soon meet again and discuss about
a joint meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. They will request
Saudi Arabia to help in stabilising the oil prices for two to three
years so that the new elected government could have some relief.
Mir has covered all the major Wars and Conflicts in recent years. He
has received many National and International Awards. He has presented
many papers on terrorism and conflict resolution in International
Seminars held in Pakistan, India, USA, UK, Germany and other Countries. (Adventure
in Las Vegas). Currently Hamid is working with GEO TV and writing
Group of Newspapers. This article was first published in the News
in Pakistan Might Bring Tension with Washington
elected politicians want to end extremism, not use it as bait for US
am beginning to doubt the usefulness of convincing people in thinktanks
or even in congress, about our needs. It seems that the various arms of
the US govt. that actually deal with Pakistan (Pentagon, State
department, CIA) are so anti-democratic at heart that NO MATTER WHAT THE
DEMOCRATIC PARTIES ARE LIKE, they would prefer a dictator in every
allied country. Their model of ideal ally is Hosni Mubarak, not Manmohan
Singh. And to some extent, we cannot blame them.
all, when Mexico and India went to the polls, the US ambassador was
sitting at home watching the returns on TV and hoping for the best. When
Pakistan votes, all the players are running back and forth between the
US embassy and the British embassy. The "president" is writing
op eds in the Washington Post, begging for help. Consul Hunt is driving
around in his armor plated car as if he is the president of Pakistan.
This must be a heady feeling and its a feeling that Hunt and Patterson
will not enjoy for too long if even imperfect democracy comes to
Pakistan. So, to the last possible minute, they are going to try and
arrange for their Hosni Mubarak clone to hold on....
Omar Ali, President of Association for Communal Harmony in Asia
(ACHA) and Moderator of Asiapeace,
one of ACHA’s three Electronic Discussion Forums.
notion that somehow Zardari and Sharif can stand up to pressure from the
U.S. is simply ridiculous. At some point, if they cross the line and
confront the army, the generals will take over again. Wash has actually
bribed our generals more than we bribing their visa officials which may
amount to petty cash. So, let’ be honest.
all depends on Kiyani. He is the blue eyed boy of the Pentagon,
literally in their pockets. The fact is that he is still beholden to the
interests of the army and retaining its predominant role. If he ditches
Mush, that’s the end. But again he is taking cues from the Pentagon.
Moreover, the State Dept and the Pentagon are converging in their view
that Mush is still their man.
Nadeem Ahsan, Member of ACHA