Insight News

Pakistan Elections - Uncertain Fate of Democracy


25 November 2002

Pakistan in its fifty five years of existence has been largely ruled by military dictators, who had kept the religious fundamentalists in good humour for their existence. Right from Yayah Khan to General Zia-ul-Haq, the religious parties had a major say in the govt. But the present military dictator was forced to annoy this powerful element of Pakistan's society under US pressure when after Sept. 11 he had to join US led war on terrorism. The recently held elections (Oct. 10) are an attempt by this present military regime to gain the favours of this powerful lobby besides becoming the unchallenging authority in his efforts to consolidate his powers after becoming the president of the country through the heavily rigged referendum of April 30, 2002.

The elections were massively rigged by the military regime, which produced a hung parliament. The army had attempted to create a parliament that was unable to question it domination of the political scene. But the scheme back-fired.

The army's ISI has been trying to give the PML-Q and its candidate for Prime Minister-the Baloch politician Zafarullah Khan Jamali-a work able majority before the assembly is summoned. The postponement of convening the meeting of the national assembly is a result of ISI failure to secure Jamali, a majority.

The politicians are having endless meetings in Islamabad over the past few days. There have been conflicting claims of having a majority sometimes by PML-Q and sometimes by the opposition coalition. General Musharraf is also in favour of a postponement because opposition parties have refused to accept amendments to the constitution that would give the army a permanent and powerful role in running the country.

Musharraf is also under pressure from Washington, which is concerned at the opposition candidate for Prime Minister, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, an Islamic fundamentalist, is a leader of Muttahidda-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA)-a six party Islamic alliance which won an unprecedented 45 assembly seats. He is anti-American, has been an ally of Taliban and was once sympathetic to al-Qaeda. He was locked-up last year after he denounced America's war in Afghanistan and wanted all US bases in Pakistan to be closed down.

The MMA is sure to form governments in the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan provinces bordering Afghanistan, arousing fears that they would provide a safe haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda activists.

Western observers are slowly coming to terms with me fact that a man who once called on his followers to wage a "holy war", against President Bush could soon become Prime Minister of the world's newest nuclear power. "We are watching carefully", one Western diplomat said.

Nasrullah Khan, the head of the fifteen parties Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), which includes PPP announced that it had reached an agreement with the leaders of the religious groups. The arrangement is a devastating blow to General Musharraf and returns his archenemy Benazir Bhutto, into the heart of governance. Musharraf had barred Bhutto from standing in the elections.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Ms. Bhutto said the new government would reverse a series of controversial constitutional amendments enacted in the run-up to the polls. They formalize the military role in the government and give Musharraf the right to sack the new Prime Minister. "Musharraf must be a very worried man", Mr. Babar told the Guardian. He over manipulated the elections, and as a result the military government is now in trouble. He claimed the new coalition "had the numbers" to form a majority in the 342 seats National Assembly.

The MMA is unlikely to try to impose radical Islamic reforms because of opposition from Ms. Bhutto, political observers believe. The Alliance's leaders have repeatedly complained that they were not fundamentalists and had been wrongly caricatured by the Western Media. In an interview with the Observer, last month, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the MMA's Vice-President said that Pakistan religious parties had been "misunderstood". "We are not extremists. We would like to make bridges with the West." But he added, "The only thing we want is justice."

But Benazir is also pursuing a secret deal with the military regime, whereby the PPP would support a PML-Q govt. if her husband Asif Zardari is released from Jail and the numerous corruption cases pending against the couple are quashed. Sources revealed that Benazir has even agreed not to oppose Musharraf's amendments in parliament and not to return to Pakistan until at least the next election. But the deal floundered because she failed to give her promises in writing.

Having failed to elicit iron-clad guarantee, the government has now threatened to break the PPP. Musharraf's negotiators have informed Benazir that they had created a 'Forward Bloc' of 23 legislators that would support the government even if she did not. Heading the forward bloc is prime ministerial hopeful and PPP parliamentary leader Fahim who is on very cordial terms with Musharraf. Fahim's double game became evident when he managed to scuttle, through delaying tactics, a deal put together by Nasrullah Khan which would have seen MMA secretary general Maulana Fazlur Rehman as the Prime Minister, with important posts going to the PPP.

Whether Fahim would become Prime Minister is still uncertain. He may have to contend with the PML-Q's reluctance. But by playing a double game herself, Benazir has made it easier for the military to win.

The post-poll election scenario is the result of General Musharraf's badly executed plan. Right from the beginning, he has been trying to consolidate power in his hands since the time he dislodged the democratically elected govt. of Nawaz Sharief in Oct. 1999. First he consolidated power through massively rigged Referendum of April 30, 2002, wherein he secured almost hundred percent votes and became the President of the country. He resorted to amendments in the constitution to suit his personal interests like lowering the voting age, etc. But the October 10. 2002 elections were not crafted so finely. Prior to the elections Musharraf changed the country's constitution by presidential decree to ensure that former PMs Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto could not stand. He also imposed high education qualifications on candidates ensuring that many people would be rendered ineligible.

He tried to win back the religious fundamentalists by making various concessions to them. Whereas, the candidates of other political parties were required to have a graduate degree for contesting the elections, for religious parties' candidates, a Madrassa certificate was enough. The idea was to debar a large number of influential political parties' candidates from the electoral fray. The religious parties benefited from the move. It is for this reason that they have been able to secure a respectable number in the new Assembly.

Musharraf also annoyed the religious fundamentalists by joining the America's war on terrorism after September 11 and subsequent withdrawal of support to militant groups active in Kashmir. By making concessions to religious parties, the president tried to bring them back in his favour by giving them assurance that they would be given a free hand in Kashmir affairs and also share power at the domestic front. It is precisely for this reason, he utilised their services in thwarting the elections in J&K by resorting to violence to dissuade the Kashmiris from casting their votes. But the peace loving people of Kashmir cast their votes in large number ignoring militants' threat.

The fate of democracy in Pakistan is uncertain today. While Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of the PML-Q has been made the prime minister, the PML-Q has yet to get the numbers to prove its majority in the National Assembly. But one thing is certain that Musharraf and his military regime are determined to win, come what may. The outcome of the elections has been favourable for only the General who remains without any true opposition to his authority.


Return to the Insight Page

Return to the Home Page

This site is maintained by Mhd. Sadiq and friends.