Manufacturing a fig leaf of Democracy in Pakistan By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
The government of Pakistan last week stopped the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) from performing exit polls at February 18 general elections. Consequently, the institute, headed by US Senator John McCain, reversed a decision to send election observers for the polls. It was the only US group planning to send observers, although European teams still plan to be in place.
According to an IRI poll in September 2006, Musharraf had a 63 percent approval rating. But last October 11, IRI released a poll showing him at 21 percent. Thirteen days later, an official letter arrived, telling IRI that it was not possible to register the group in Pakistan “due to administrative reasons”.
Why the IRI was stopped from the exit polls? The reason looks very obvious. The government of President (Retired General) Parvez Musharraf does not want that the exit polls challenge the ‘doctored’ official election results.
To digress from the subject, General Musharraf was re-elected as President for five years in October last by a parliament whose term expired a month later. Just to refresh your memories, he was Chief of Army Staff when he sought the re-election and resigned from the army post only after the controversial re-election which saw many parliamentarians quitting and boycotting the election because constitutionally a serving general was not legible to stand for president.
Not surprisingly, popular perceptions about the integrity of the electoral process in Pakistan are dismal. Only 21% of the country's voting age population believes elections in the country are free and fair. This is one of the lowest in the World. In a Gallup International study of around 60 countries, Pakistan is ahead of only Philippines (19%) and Nigeria (9%).
According to Pakistan ’s Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP), past eight elections from 1970 to 2002 were marred by rigging in three phases: the pre-poll,
polling day and post-poll.
Pre-Poll Rigging refers to a deliberate attempt to selectively tilt the rules of level playing field in favour of or against any contestant.
Violation of constitutional requirements such as:
1. Neutrality of the caretaker government,
2. Independence of the Election Commission and related judiciary,
3. Neutrality of the election administration staff,
4. Violation of freedom of media to approach voters, and
5. Use of public resources to benefit some contestants and/or hurt others, including politically partisan use of development funds through various government agencies such as utility organisations (Electricity, Gas) and local bodies.
Polling Day Rigging refers to violation of the integrity (honesty) of the ballot box.
Tampering with/stuffing ballot boxes;
Impersonation and multiple voting:
Prevention of voting by certain persons or groups through unlawful means, including coercion;
Dishonest counting of votes, and Dishonest tabulation of results.
Post-Poll Rigging refers to the absence of fair play in the formation of a government according to popular mandate.
Use of public resources (in violation of Constitutional provisions) to influence, affect or alter the formation of government. This is particularly acute when the above is done to support the formation of government by those undeserving according to the will of people or to demolish government by those who are upheld by the will of the people.
President Musharraf has already completed the first phase of election rigging. In November 2007 he imposed emergency rule. One of the first steps Musharraf took under emergency rule was to replace Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who he had initially tried to dismiss in March 2007. He sacked dozens of independent mind judges. Musharraf then moved to crack down on the media, lawyers, social activists, and secular and religious political opponents. Under domestic and international pressure, he rescinded the state of emergency but the harsh measures remained eforced.
There cannot be two opinions on the fact that without independent judiciary and free media fair and free elections will not be possible. There is a popular demand to restore all sacked judges. However, the U.S. has declined to support popular demand for the restoration of independent judiciary.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a congressional panel on January 29 that Pakistan could deal with the dispute involving the judiciary after the elections as it’s important to hold the elections first. Tellingly, Boucher admitted that there will be rigging in the elections. "We don't necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but, if history is any guide and current reports are any guide, we should expect some," Boucher told the lawmakers.
The last general election of 2002 witnessed an unparalleled heights of pre-poll and post-poll rigging. In order to perpetuate the rule of General Pervez Musharraf, a number of illegal rules were framed. Since the country was practically governed under an extra-Constitutional arrangement, there was no concern with ensuring level playing field, neutrality of the Administration or independence of the Election Commission. To this extent the pre-poll partisan role of the state was a continuation of the previous unlawful practice, but the 2002 election carried it a step further by engaging a sizeable number of military officials, local government functionaries and other public servants to play an openly political role at the grass-roots.
Similarly, the Post poll interference with electoral process was massive. In no other election of Pakistan , with the possible exception of 1970 when the electoral result was totally turned down, the electoral outcome was disturbed as ruthlessly and unlawfully as in 2002. It was done through systematic use of rewards, punishments and intimidation by the state apparatus under the leadership of General Pervez Musharraf.
A rigged election (in 2008) would have serious consequences for domestic stability and regional and wider international security, says the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. In 2002 the military government rigged the ele c tions and was able survive with its power, if not legitimacy, intact.
This year opposition to centralised, authoritarian rule has grown considerably, particularly in the smaller provinces. To neutralise it, the government will be more dependent than ever on the most problematic of its civilian partners.
In Sindh, for example, it will have little alternative for countering Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party and its predominantly Sindhi constituency other than to use the electoral machinery to favour its MQM allies. This would further stoke Mohajir-Sindhi tensions, already high after the 12 May 2007 killings of PPP workers by MQM activists. A MQM government in Sindh, in coalition with Musharraf’s ruling party, would not only fuel anti-military sentiments but could well also return the province to bloody ethnic conflict.
In Balochistan, where the military’s attempts to crush demands for democracy and provincial rights have triggered a province-wide insurgency, the prospects for the Baloch regional parties to win a free and fair election and form the provincial government have in creased considerably. Rigged elections could seriously strain the cohesion of the federation, even as they benefit the Islamist parties.
The Baloch nationalist parties already have an uphill task to convince their young workers political change can and should come through the ballot box, not the gun. Should the election be rigged, that choice may no longer appear viable to many Baloch dissidents, who have borne the brunt of military rule for eight years, the ICG report concluded.
In NWFP too, the government will have little choice but to give its allies free rein to manipulate the electoral process if it is to retain their support not just in the province but also in the national parliament.
However, a distorted and rigged electoral process will not ensure regime stability, let alone national cohesion. The parliamentary elections are crucial for Pakistan ’s long-term viability as a democratic state. If they are free and fair, they will restore public faith in state institutions and constitutional and legal ways of changing governments.
February 10, 2008
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: http://www.amperspective.com/