pushed for judges and PPP didn't'
The people have spoken. But did they not speak before? Whenever given a chance, they did. This, of course, has been a more intelligent verdict than ever before. That it rejects the old order and reflects people's will is clear from the very fact that no one -- not even the media -- used the word 'hung' for the new parliament just because Sheikh Rashid predicted it to be so.
Hung it indeed is in the strict sense of the word. But here was an election that was not being fought between the political forces. People clearly understood that it was a battle between them and the non-political forces and that is why the victory celebrations ignored the fact that there was no simple majority -- one that can be effective on its own terms -- for any single party anywhere. People thought they had been humiliated for far too long. This was their chance to pay back and they did. A nation most fit for democracy, they proved.
That the decision to contest the elections was right and the boycotters were fighting a losing battle became clear on Dec 29 when the PPP declared it was ready for the polls then scheduled for Jan 8. Mian Nawaz Sharif did well to take the lead. The despondency that surrounded the country got a jolt by this sudden show of resilience, though fears lurked.
They still do.
The technical question of holding the polls has been addressed. But it has not been a flawless exercise. Allegations of rigging, results notwithstanding, remain a serious concern because a jittery run-up is not something one would like before the next election, again.
The presumption of course is that a fair election is a right one wants to exercise on one's own terms -- not as a gift by the charitable establishment. And that is where the more important structural issues come into play. With all the cathartic value that it contains, this election must lead to a meaningful sharing of power between the real representatives of the people. It must strengthen the parliament, define the role of military in Pakistani polity, restore the 1973 constitution, ensure maximum provincial autonomy and independence of judiciary.
One hopes that the leaders, the winners of Feb 18, are aware of the challenges ahead.
The verdict, intelligent is how we qualify it, clearly shows that the people of this country now want to solve the country's problems on their own. ANP may not like the Islamists' way of tackling militancy in the tribal belt but they do not necessarily agree with Musharraf's (or US') military solutions either. As true representatives of the province they must now be allowed to implement the political answers they have in mind.
Those who see this election as a referendum against Musharraf's eight years now demand that he must quit. To his credit though Musharraf foresaw what was coming and did all he could to get himself elected by an outgoing assembly. He must face the new parliament nonetheless. And this is what makes this election, as all others, so important.
Leaving the happy ending of the play aside one may try to see as to how real the prospects of change are
By I. A. Rehman
The result of Monday's polling generated so strong a euphoria among the regime's opponents and election watchers, both of whom were expecting a different outcome, that some elementary questions were wholly put aside.
These questions are unlikely to be taken up seriously now because, on the one hand, the winners will not like it and, on the other hand, public interest has shifted to matters related to transfer/sharing of power. The old film has been taken off and a new one released.
It should, however, be worth somebody's while to examine whether a master-designer charged with the task of making the electoral exercise credible could have wished the outcome to be any different. The election could have invited criticism if the turnout had been very low, if the king's party stalwarts had won despite the voter hostility they faced during their forays in their constituencies, if the strong pro-PPP wave in Sindh was not reflected in the voting pattern, and if MMA and Balochistan's nationalists had won a substantial number of seats despite the boycott of polls by their parties.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, an event management company had been commissioned to ensure that the poll result did not attract doubts on the grounds mentioned above. Could the tender-winning concern have delivered?
The beauty of the polling lay in the happy convergence of the following factors. While the Q-League heavy weights, who had carpeted the streets in their constituencies with crisp currency notes, could not even become runners-up to winners, the smaller fry had little problem in attracting more supporters than ever. The crowds of voters, suggested by heavier than 50 per cent turnout, were not visible to poll-watchers who stayed at their post throughout the day. Heavy vote-fall was possible at polling stations where the lunch interval was extended beyond a couple of hours. Finally, kind-hearted presiding officers made little fuss about identity cards and won kids' hearts by allowing them to stamp the ballots, and nobody was surprised when the butcher's cat, who was quite a normal vote-eating rig till the eve of polling suddenly became vegetarian on the day of balloting.
Leaving the happy ending of the play aside one may try to see as to how real the prospects of change are.
The most significant shift in the balance of power has been reported from the Frontier province. The clerics have paid for becoming too big for their boots and for forgetting the factors of their 2002 triumph. The nationalists have taken the driving seat. The political benefit is evident. The process of the Pakhtun's alienation from the federation should be arrested and the ANP leadership has the potential to revise the sticks-only policy followed so far in dealing with the militants by putting some carrots on offer. The voters have been sensible and realistic both. The ANP has to rely on co-pilots who should be able to ensure compliance with flight safety measures. The cold fact that the nationalists do not have a majority in the legislature by themselves is a fairly safe insurance in favour of the status quo.
In Balochistan, on the other hand, the nationalists obliged the status quo camp by not boarding the bus on time. There the discredited king's party, relatively free from media meddling, may be allowed to carry on business as usual. In any case, people out there do not qualify for change. Quite simple.
The political landscape of Sindh pleases the establishment as well as the challengers. Both the PPP and the MQM have nibbled at the cake surrendered by the king's kitchen. The voters have been careful about protecting the socio-economic inclinations of the entrenched elite in both urban and rural areas. Those who swear by change can be happy with appearances and the establishment can merrily continue as before.
The decisive battle for change had to be fought in Punjab and the voters here have been at their calculating best. Without challenging the Pakistan People's Party's claim to be the largest single group at the national level they have entrusted the levers of power to the Pakistan Muslim League as it stood before October 12, 1999. Restoration being the clarion call, the process may not stop at judges. Why not status quo ante? The voters stood for change. They replaced PML-Q with PML-N as the power core in the citadel of Right ideology. It would have been too much to respect the opinion polls and allow the PPP the pre-Zia position in Punjab. All praise to the voters for saving Punjab from the rebellious rabble.
The voters have apparently been keen to salvage the reputations that were at stake. Even before the polling ended President Musharraf was receiving praise for not interfering with "free and fair polls". The argument was: "You cannot go for a person who is quick to concede he has lost! The Election Commission was forgiven the mess it had made all along since 2002. A wonder of wonders, those who cried themselves hoarse with calls for boycott with the plea that the new parliament would be autocracy's maid came out to demand that the newly elected legislators should first of all oblige them. The mood of celebration was so infectious that Aitzaz Ahsan was alone in pointing out that the PML-Q had won more seats than it could if the polls had been transparent.
Everybody who matters is now happy that Tariq Azim betrays no trace of embarrassment while offering the PPP help in forming a new government. Nawaz Sharif is wining plaudits for not forgiving the PML-Q and being generous to the sheep that had strayed away from the flock. They are welcome to join the flock. True reconciliation, indeed.
The game the establishment loves most has now begun. The PPP will make a push for power and those advising it to strengthen democracy by allowing the lion of Punjab to take the reins of authority are likely to fare no better than they had in 1988. A similar dilemma may be haunting the PML-N. The lure of power is stronger than the love of democracy. It is likely to continue like this for many more years.
The joyous crowd had barely dispersed when the demand was made for President Musharraf to quit and it was dismissed as brusquely as ever. Did anyone talk of admission of defeat? Restoration of judges? That's not on, comes the rejoinder. The President remembers his powers and all and sundry must know the National Security Council is still around. We may hear of 58 (2) (b) before the legislature has its first meeting. Hopes centre on a long term PPP-PML (N) understanding. The answer is that the two parties do not see eye-to-eye on the restoration of judges, on the fate of Abdul Qadeer, on militancy, and then PMN (N) is not clear about the PPP's distance from the United States and General Musharraf. Thus, quite a stack of cinder is available to the permanent establishment to prevent the new front-persons from gunning for it.
It is possible the Devil's advocate speaking through the foregoing is off the mark, as somebody has said, and that change takes place even when nothing seems to change. It may also be useful to recall that when the people seemed to have said goodbye to autocracy in 1970 and 1988 it displayed sufficient reserves of strength and made transition to democracy impossible. The parties that won on Monday last may not be found strong enough to roll back the decades Pakistan has lost thanks to authoritarians. That may be possible only if the ordinary citizens have the will and the capacity to demonstrate that they are not the community about whom it is said, "the more things change, the more they remain the same".
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
The Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) expectedly staged a strong comeback as the disunited Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) went down in the Feb 18 general elections in the NWFP. The electoral gains made by the two secular and progressive parties were almost entirely at the expense of the Islamic alliance.
The outcome of the elections reflected the urge of the electorate for a change. The MMA after five years in power lost its popularity because it had failed to deliver on its promises. Its religious-minded supporters were unhappy due to the MMA's inability to enforce Shariah in the province. The common people were dissatisfied due to insecurity and on account of the MMA's failure to bring improvements in their socio-economic conditions. There was also disappointment among many people due to the chronic disunity in MMA ranks. As the voters wanted to punish all allies of President General Pervez Musharraf, the MMA also received drubbing at the polls for having facilitated constitutional amendments that bailed out the military dictator and indemnified all his actions.
Defeat for the MMA in both NWFP and Balochistan had increasingly become evident in the run-up to the elections. One of its main components, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), had boycotted the polls. It hadn't formally quit the MMA even after formally joining the rival, pro-boycott alliance, APDM, which was mostly made up of Baloch and Pashtun nationalist parties along with cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf. To vindicate itself, the JI not only actively campaigned for boycott of the elections but also tried overtly and covertly to ensure the defeat of candidates fielded by its former MMA ally, the JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. The success of JUI-F nominees, who were contesting on the MMA ticket and symbol, book, at the polls would have embarrassed the JI and exposed its claim of having votebank not only in NWFP but also in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
As it turned out, the MMA that contested the polls comprised the JUI-F only as the remaining four small Islamic parties didn't have any real support in NWFP, Balochistan and Punjab. Only the JUP had pockets of support in urban Sindh. With the JI in the opposite camp, it was left to the JUI-F to seek votes from an indifferent electorate. The party leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman was unable to help his candidates as he couldn't tour their constituencies after being advised by the government's security agencies that he was on the hit-list of the militants. Thrice in recent months, his house and those of his brothers in Dera Ismail Khan came under night-time rocket attacks. Though the Maulana insisted that he faced no such threat, he was restrained by his family members and party activists not to campaign publicly even in the two National Assembly constituencies in his native Dera Ismail Khan and in neighbouring Bannu district where he was a candidate. He managed to briefly campaign in some villages under maximum security.
But it wasn't enough to convince the skeptical voters to vote for him again. He lost to the young PPP candidate, Faisal Karim Kundi, who was backed by all parties including PML-Q and ANP, in Dera Ismail Khan by a big margin of votes and was barely able to win from Bannu against former Pakistan hockey player, Malik Nasir Khan. In Bannu also, all the parties and groups joined hands against him and asked the voters not to vote for an outsider who had lost the trust of his own electorate in Dera Ismail Khan. In the end, the unprecedented development work done by Akram Durrani as the NWFP chief minister in Bannu paid off and saved the day for Maulana Fazlur Rahman. Durrani and his son Ziad Durrani were also elected MPAs though the JUI-F still lost the two other provincial assembly seats that the MMA had won in 2002 polls.
The MMA managed to win only four National Assembly seats compared to 29 out of 35 in the 2002 general elections. It won 10 seats in the provincial assembly out of the 96 for which polling was held. Its tally would rise slightly once elections for the three remaining seats are held and those reserved for women and minorities are distributed among the winning parties. The JUI-F had almost 40 seats, including those reserved for women and minorities, in the previous assembly. Together with the JI and other components of the Islamic alliance, the MMA had a comfortable majority with almost 70 MPAs in the 124-member NWFP Assembly. Now the remnants of the alliance would be a marginal player in provincial politics.
The MMA, or JUI-F to be precise, also lost its electoral dominance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In 2002, it won seven out of the 12 National Assembly seats from FATA. Six of those seats were won by JUI-F candidates and the seventh by JI's Haroon Rasheed from Bajaur Agency. This time the JUI-F won only one seat through Maulana Abdul Malik in South Waziristan out of the 10 for which elections were held on February 18. A JUI-F dissident, Kamran Khan, emerged victorious from North Waziristan and one of the losers was the official party nominee and former MNA, Maulana Nek Zaman. As in the past, most parliamentarians from FATA would support the ruling coalition in the Centre.
The MMA's downfall brought a windfall for the ANP and to a lesser extent for the PPP. The ANP won 10 seats in the National Assembly compared to none in the 2002 polls. It grabbed 32 seats in the provincial assembly and the tally would move above 40 once the reserved seats for women and minorities are filled up. Some independents, 20 of whom were elected in the NWFP, would also drift toward the ANP now that it is in a position to form the provincial government. This was ANP's best performance in elections considering the fact that it contested on its own without becoming part of any political or electoral alliance. Buoyed up by its impressive electoral gains after a disastrous performance in 2002, the ANP demanded maximum provincial autonomy, renaming the NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa and the right to nominate the chief minister. It also backed the war on terror, though the ANP method to fight extremism was to find a political solution to the problem and formulate an economic package to put the under-developed and militancy-hit areas on the path of progress.
The PPP won nine National Assembly and 17 provincial assembly seats in the NWFP. It was a far better electoral performance than the one it gave in 2002, when the PPP failed to win a single seat in the National Assembly and only 10 including reserved seats for women in the NWFP Assembly. The party's provincial president Rahimdad Khan was hailed as the next chief minister in his campaign posters in his native Mardan. With the PPP poised to form the government at the Centre, the PPP appeared keen to reach an agreement with the ANP for sharing power both in the federal and provincial governments.
The PML-Q was cut down to size as it won only six provincial assembly seats compared to 10, which included two women elected on reserved seats, in the previous assembly. However, its performance in the elections for the National Assembly was better as it won five seats compared to four in the 2002 polls.
Aftab Sherpao's PPP-S won six provincial assembly seats, which was almost half down from the 2002 polls. Its lone winner in the elections for National Assembly was Sherpao, who edged out ANP's Bashir Umarzai in Charsadda.
The PML-N did well in the elections for National Assembly by winning four seats. In 2002, it had failed to win any seat. For the provincial assembly, it managed to increase its strength from four in 2002 to five in 2008 polls.
An ideal combination to rule the province would be a coalition between the ANP and PPP even though the two parties didn't go along well when they jointly ruled NWFP for some months after the 1988 elections. The ANP is keen to reach an understanding with the PPP on issues such as renaming the province and provincial autonomy before making a coalition in the NWFP and at the Centre. The PML-N too may be offered share in the NWFP government once Nawaz Sharif is able to sort out the matters concerning restoration of the pre-emergency judiciary and President Musharraf's fate. In that case, the PML-N and PPP would share power in Punjab and also in the federal government. Thus the PPP, PML-N and ANP would become part of a grand alliance of democratic forces. However, the situation could take an unexpected turn and the three parties may not agree on modalities of their alliance or their coalition could have a short life. The role of the US, President Musharraf and Pakistan Army would also be crucial in determining the post-election developments and the formation of the new government in Pakistan.
By Muhammad Ejaz Khan
The Pashtoons and Baloch nationalist groups boycotting the elections 2008 has dealt a major blow to PML-N in Balochistan as the party could not retain any of its National or Provincial Assembly seats that it had gained in the 2002 polls. PML-Q, on the other hand, re-emerged as the single largest party by securing 18 PA and 4 NA seats.
However, the Pashtoon and Baloch nationalist groups believe that the low turnout in elections proved that of the province had no faith in the veracity of the polls. They are also calling it their victory, since it was due to their 'effective' public meetings in all the four provinces of the country.
The Baloch nationalists have already held the government as guilty of pre-poll rigging. They say that the official machinery was used to rig the polls and the former ruling party also exercised its influence to affect the results of the elections.
However, one thing the nationalists avoid commenting on is that all the Baloch leaders who obtained NA and PA seats this time did so because they had contested elections from places that were their strongholds -- something which points to the fact that it is the personalities that count in the politics of Balochistan and not parties.
As for the boycotting parties (the APDM), both the Pashtoon and Baloch nationalist groups in the province have different things to say. The former are of the opinion that the masses placed all-out trust in the call of the APDM and its component parties, including Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), translating in low voter turnout.
"We have pledged to continue with our struggle for the reinstatement of judges/restoration of judiciary, the removal of President Musharraf and the restoration of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, on pre-Oct 12, 1999, position," says Pashtoon nationalist leader Syed Akram Shah, central secretary general of PkMAP.
The Baloch nationalist leaders also stand by their decision to boycott the elections. To quote Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo Central Secretary General, National Party (NP), "The country's situation changed abruptly following the cold-blooded murder of PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto and the doffing off of uniform by President Musharraf. These two major incidents completely changed the political complexion of the country. And this was one major reason why PPP secured a sizeable number of NA and PA seats in Sindh and Balochistan."
Referring to the statement the PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari made in a post-election press conference in Islamabad where the latter promised to resolve the issues of Balochistan, Hasil Bizenjo says, "It's quite encouraging, since Asif Zardari himself is a Baloch. But, at the same time, until the burning issues of the province are resolved, the situation cannot improve."
He also opines that the need of the hour is to end "military operation" in Balochistan, to free the political prisoners including Sardar Akhtar Mengal, to produce all the missing people and, last but not the least, to grant maximum autonomy to the province.
It seems most likely that Balochistan -- a province that is badly lagging behind in development -- is going to see a coalition between PML-Q and PPP. In this connection, the leadership of both parties has already become active and is trying to muster the support of the maximum number of members of the newly elected assembly.
It is also believed that this government will be the weakest because it will have to face opposition on the city's roads itself rather than in the assembly.
It is the newly elected independent MPAs who have won a big number of seats from the province -- 10 in NA and three in BA -- that will now play a decisive role in the formation of the government in Balochistan. They will be the king makers or, shall be say, breakers?
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed and Aoun Sahi
The News on Sunday: Will you tell us about your current state of detention? How did you know that things were going to ease out for you?
Aitzaz Ahsan: I would say it's marginal freedom, as you can see it yourself. There's still police outside, and they prevent me from going out. The only difference is that the absence of the jail staff. Within the premises of my house I am free but I cannot move out. On Feb 18, my phones which had been blocked for a long time started ringing at about 9 in the night. Somebody had plugged them back in.
TNS: How do you see the election results and the way people have voted?
AA: I would simply say that by rejecting PML-Q and voting for democratic forces, the people of Pakistan have rejected Musharraf and his arbitrary system of governance. They have voted for institutions like the judiciary. And it's a resounding judgment. I think people today have become more aware of their rights.
In supporting Musharraf now, the West is pursuing a counterproductive strategy or policy. The apparent offer by the Americans that they will increase the aid is a slight upon the people of Pakistan. It disproves the notion that the people as a whole are 'purchasable'. We want our rights. We want an independent judiciary. We want a system in which no judge can be thrown out or detained by a military dictator.
TNS: The West is still supporting Musharraf and suggesting the victorious parties to establish a working relationship with him. What would you like to say on this issue?
AA: I have been telling the West and especially the Americans and the British for a very long time but they're not listening. They ignored the lawyers' movement completely, even though it was a movement which was liberal, progressive, moderate and plural. It was a movement for due process, for the rule of law, but they ignored it completely. Even now we beseech them: Please do not carry on with this; it's a deadly mistake you're making. Your policy is conceding too much territory to the militants and extremists. The people of Pakistan are not blind. The West may have its own perspectives and angers, but the people of Pakistan do not condone the detention of the children of the chief justice. It's a macabre sort of an act. I have beseeched senior dignitaries that I've met from the United States and Britain -- two parties that have tried to hook up People's Party with Musharraf, causing at least two casualties so far, one of Benazir Bhutto and the other of Musharraf. Whenever I met them or they met me, I would say you can go and meet the president on the hill. But if you meet the president on the hill, please go and meet or inquire about the prisoner on the other side of the hill, the chief justice of Pakistan. You can't be an ostrich. But they did not say a word about the detained chief justice. Picture him (the CJP) caged within the four walls of his house behind barbed wires. Anyone within 200 yards of his residence is baton-charged, tear-gassed and water-cannoned, and not a word of sympathy from the West nor from London or Washington comes through.
TNS: Have you ever thought that your decision to boycott the polls was wrong?
AA: Never. I think I've been vindicated. If I'd not withdrawn, the lawyers' movement would have petered out. It would have met with confusion and suffered a great setback. Besides, the issue of the judges would also not have become the focal point of the elections; it would have been diluted and the spotlight would have been off it.
Just look at the way PML-N pushed for judges and PPP didn't. I think that for this very reason Nawaz Sharif enjoyed an edge over other parties, including the PPP. It is right that PPP also wants an independent judiciary. But I think if PPP had had a clear-cut stance on the restoration of judges like Nawaz Sharif did, it would have won 20 to 30 more seats in NA and would have a simple majority.
TNS: What developments do you foresee in the next couple of days?
AA: As I'm a PPP man I hope there will be a prime minister from my party. Second, I hope that the PPP and the other major political party, the PML-N, will see eye to eye and work as coalition partners. The third thing I wish to see is the restoration of the judges illegally thrown out by a military commander. I also foresee that Musharraf is on his way out. Then the fundamentalists have been marginalised, and now army is under a professional commander. Musharraf is himself controversial and disliked. I think all people who are his friends should advise him that this is the best time to bow out gracefully.
TNS: Are you hopeful that next government -- likely to be formed by PPP -- will restore all judges? What will be your response if it fails to do so?
AA: Whoever will be the next prime minister shall have to restore judges until Mar 9, 2008 -- the deadline given by all lawyer bodies for the restoration of Judges. Otherwise lawyers will launch a countrywide protest.
TNS: If the judges are restored what will be the fate of those who replaced them?
AA: It will be decided by the Supreme Court.