WASHINGTON DC, Aug 23, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Counting votes in Karachi, a pro-Musharraf constituency
Controlling Army-led Democracy Through Manipulated Vote

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

LONDON, August 23: Pakistan's founder Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a democrat par excellence. If he had known that the ideals that he had lived for, struggled all his life and fought for, would be raped so blatantly, as has been done repeatedly by its military establishment and Bonapartist generals, he would have thought twice before opting for an independent state.

He did not have, nor did he seek, help from more than a 100,000 Muslim army officers and other men in uniform serving as the most loyal servants in the British imperial armed forces with quite a few of them at the top licking the boots of their Gora (white) higher ups for promotions. He believed in the power of the ballot over the bullet and hence restricted his struggle for freedom within the democratic parameters.

In his first speech to the Legislative Assembly of Pakistan (11 August 1947) he had laid bare categorically his magna carta for the democratic management of the country. In his Pakistan all citizens were to be equal irrespective of their caste, creed or color and that religion had nothing to do with the business of the state.

His subsequent emphasis, as long as he lived, was that since it was to be a people's government, responsible to the people and none else but the people, it was the sole prerogative of the masses to change the government in Pakistan and its policies. It also rested within the powers of the people to vote in and vote out a government when it failed to perform in the largest interest of the greatest numbers. He had also warned the civil and military bureaucrats and told them: "Make the people feel that you are servants and friends" and that they should maintain the "highest standard of honor, integrity, justice and fair play."

It goes to the credit of the people of Pakistan that despite subversion of democracy by frequent military interventions, they have stood by their commitment to the democratic ideals bequeathed to the nation by the Quaid.

However, now we have come to a crucial pass after many constitutional and electoral dislocations, especially following the farce in the name of local bodies elections that were inflicted on us on Thursday, August 18, that a stage has been reached for the entire nation and its political leadership to evolve a new strategy to meet the Praetorian challenges.

Away from home, thank goodness to the number of Pakistani TV channels, we could see with our own eyes the most shameless mockery of vote. It seemed to be in continuation of the policy of the militarization of the state by the present regime to further disenchanting the masses away from the power of vote, thereby to weaken the democratic forces that don't give up challenging its absolute authority.

State sponsored rigging, fraudulent results and installation of military's favorites in the government have disheartened the voters to the extent that they feel discouraged to vote since they have been denied their right to elect their representatives. This is one major reason for the gradual decline in the voting pattern and the regime feels confident that it can hoodwink international opinion by jacking up falsely the figures of voting turnout.

General Pervez Musharraf's Local Government Ordinance of 2001 drafted painstakingly by the best Praetorian brains, aided by their civilian experts, had an overall objective of not promoting democracy at the grass root level but to control it so that managing of local affairs remains at the mercy and sweet will of the Center. It was perennially designed to convert the real rulers, the people, into serfs and power sharing in it was so devised that on paper it seemed to be devolution but in fact it meant more of overwhelming control of Islamabad. In short, it has been the most deplorable recipe for controlled democracy in the country.

It has been rightly alleged that instead of devolving power in three tiers, by moving power down the provinces and reducing the load of federal ministries, the President has become the reservoir of all power. General Musharraf has had the cake and has been gulping it too. He has used local bodies not for empowering the people at the grass root level but as an institution for extending semblance of civil legitimacy to it, much in the pattern of General Ayub Khan's basic democracy and General Zia's party less local body politics.

Like Musharraf's they also had one objective to further fracture and fragment Pakistani society so that instead of national cohesion, there should be more of local biradari lords with the sole purpose of reducing and minimizing the power of the collective vote. Especially from General Zia's time to this day, calculated attempts are being made to fragment the society into ethnic, feudal and sectarian groups to divide and reduce the democratic power of the people to change a government through their collective vote. This has been real reason for holding non-party local body elections rather than the empowerment of the people.

As usual the regime's propaganda machinery is busy orchestrating that Thursday's local polls were the most transparent and peacefully held ever with more than 50 cent of registered voters turning out. Contrary was the view of various panels of experts who were invited by the private TV channels to comment and analyze the daylong proceedings punctuated by bloody violence, 11 deaths with scores wounded.

It was also a sad commentary on the performance of the Election Commission. It is understandable since an Acting Chief Election Commissioner heads it. It did not take cognizance of pile of complaints lodged at its doors from the day elections were announced. The blatant transfers and postings of officers by the Chief Ministers and for other bandobast (management) it did not have spine good and strong enough to take a stand. Rather, the President and his Chief Ministers who did not feel shy for lobbying openly for their favorite candidates did it most obtrusively in gross violation of its code of conduct.

Back to TV discussions. Some panelists had a point that needs to be answered by the political leaders. They were of the view that since General Zia's time the political parties had been opposing non-party elections and yet they have been participating in them knowing well that the very concept of non-party elections is tendentiously undemocratic, especially when it is inherently designed to divide the political power of the masses.

It is time a consensus decision was taken by the ARD and APC and get over with their contradiction of demanding party-based elections and yet surrendering themselves to a party less contraption designed entirely for the service and perpetuation of the military regime.

One, therefore, expects that having had the bitter and nightmarish experience of the first phase of local bodies elections, ARD and APC parties should get together to tell Musharraf enough is enough, that they cannot be a party to his shameless electoral farce. It needs to be noted that he is already under pressure and he is no more in a position to shrug off lightly any united protest by the Opposition parties. It is time they corrected their stand on non-party polls.

The writer is a former Pakistan High Commissioner to UK

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