Vote But General Musharraf Elects
Dr. Tarique Niazi
August 26: On August 18 and 25, Gen. Musharraf “staged”
the second municipal elections since his military coup on October
12, 1999. He garbed them as “grassroots democracy.”
It is ironic that he willingly braves for electing “local
governments,” but trembles at the very thought of electing
the national one.
reason is obvious. Municipal elections offer his power grab a
‘taint’ of legitimacy, while the national elections
would strip him of even a ‘tainted legitimacy.’
has seen, to his horror, this reversal on April 30, 2002, when
he held a national referendum to elect himself “president.”
Voters resoundingly rejected his referendum by abstaining, en
masse, as such a farce had no place in the constitution that punishes
his power grab with death. So, he dreads both: the constitution
and the elections. Yet he cannot rid himself of either. He has
rather gone on subverting the two by rewriting the constitution
and stealing the elections.
was exactly what 20 per cent of the eligible voters, who turned
out to vote on August 18, witnessed. They were dumbfounded to
see ballot boxes already stuffed with ballot papers filled out
by presiding officers and polling staff. This feat was pulled
off by keeping the polling agents of opposition candidates out
of polling precincts, which were seized by Musharraf-backed candidates
with the active collusion of police and paramilitary forces.
Karachi, which houses half of the nation’s urban population,
polling stations for 100 union councils were converted into “no
go areas” for the opposition’s polling agents. Officers
of the Musharraf government took pride in carving out such “off-limits”
territory to keep opposition parties invisible.
Chief Minister of Sindh, which is the country’s second most
populous province, long before the vote began, publicly pledged
to turn Sindh into a “no go area” for the Pakistan
People’s Party (PPP) that dominates it. He lived up to his
he changed the electoral cartography by gerrymandering the PPP-dominated
districts. Second, he had around 1,000 candidates elected unopposed.
Third, he beat the unbeatable PPP candidates by framing them in
such cases as “rape, murder, and robberies.” Those
who were charged with such fabrications included, among others,
a brother of the Chief of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy
(ARD), and a PPP’s sitting member of the National Assembly,
who also is a former federal minister.
Rangers, a paramilitary force headed by a serving army general,
in Karachi provided the much-needed protective shield to polling
officers and government-backed candidates while they were busy
filling the empty void of ballot boxes.
Musharraf followed a three-step “How-to” on cheating
the municipal elections, which contained three separate sub-manuals
on each phase of the elections: Before, during, and after.
the pre-polling phase, he first ensured that a “part-time”
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) stay in place. Mystified about
“his” future, he would happily do what he was told,
and so would the rest of his Commission. As expected, the Election
Commission scheduled the elections in two parts: first batch held
on August 18 in 53 districts and the second on August 25 in 56
this distribution, if the first heist goes bust, the second can
still make up for more than half of the loss. It is pertinent
to ask if the same Election Commission can hold elections for
the National and Provincial Assemblies on the same day, why cannot
it hold the same for City Halls?
an even bigger question arises as to why municipal elections become
the concern of the Federal Election Commission, if they are meant
to empower “grassroots communities?” Shouldn’t
it be the concern of provincial governments and provincial election
commissions? Does Delhi decide who is going to be the Mayor of
Amritsar? Does Whitehall choose who is going to be the Lord Mayor
of London? Does Washington distribute “City Fathers?”
Yet a part-time Election Commissioner with all his craft of carving
and heaving the elections in “portable” distributions
was not that reassuring to Gen. Musharraf.
supplemented the CEC and his rewarding skills with a barrage of
amendments to the Local Government Ordinance (LGO) to allow the
sitting ministers of his cabinet (yes, it is his cabinet) and
sitting members of the parliament to contest the elections.
top of it, he empowered chief ministers to fire the elected municipal
officers, just in case! These amendments opened the floodgate
of corrupting influence to steal the elections long before they
were actually held. Then, he went around the country and campaigned
for ML (an acronym that is spelt out as Muslim League but read
as “Musharraf League”) candidates, while barring the
opposition from fielding or canvassing for theirs. Ironically,
his campaigning was contrary to the very LGO that he himself signed
reinforce his support for ML hopefuls and intimidate their opponents,
he showed up in “military uniform” at prescreened
and pre censored rallies. Yet unsure of victory, he had more than
4,000 candidates elected unopposed, while their opponents were
kept from filing nomination papers.
further hedge his bets, he set off his men in “plain clothes”
to “work on” a select set of opposition members, especially
from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and Pakistan People’s
Party (PPP), and have them defect their parties. Many, for fear
of life, did defect whom he embraced as “a vote of confidence
in my policies.”
counting his blessings, he made it a point to mention the home
constituency of the ARD Chief, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, where he collected
several “portable” members, who were literally hammered
from being “check-in luggage” to “overhead baggage.”
still unsure of the mysteries of voters’ intentions, he
held in the General Headquarters (GHQ) a meeting of police chiefs
of all provinces, whom he directed to do whatever it takes for
an upset, should the opposition prevails.
police outperformed his expectations all across the country, especially
in Balochistan that was swept into the ML bag, claiming “204
Union Councils out of 274.” Here is a province that on August
14, just four days before the elections, has a latest round of
a “province-wide bombing campaign” against the policies
of Gen. Musharraf and those of his Musharraf League, and yet it
succumbs to the seductive wave of the magic wand that sweeps it
into the lap of Gen. Musharraf.
He finally found an “under-the-counter” prescription
for inter-provincial harmony. Where he failed to accomplish his
goals through rigging, before or during the polls, he went on
to plug those holes with post-poll rigging. That is why his Election
Commission is sitting on the election results that it won’t
release until seven days after the elections, i.e., on August
short, Gen. Musharraf stole rural Sindh and Southern Punjab with
pre-poll rigging; urban Sindh with during-the-poll rigging; and
Central Punjab, Northern Punjab, and Balochistan with post-poll
only province that fought back his robbery was the Pakhtoonkhwa
that witnessed the fairest of all electoral exercise. As a result,
the nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) and center-left Pakistan
People’s Party (PPP), together, won elections in 160 union
councils, while the ruling Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) trailed
behind with the second place.
is clear that Musharraf is in search of a “democracy”
that could shoulder his dictatorship, but the people of Pakistan,
whom he contemptuously treats as a herd of beasts yoked to his
slavedom, once again shattered his dreams.