Pakistan poll and the voice from the past

February 13, 2008

Posters of Benazir BhuttoThe Pakistan election campaign has been so muted until now that from the outside it can be hard to believe it’s really happening. So plaudits to Pakistan Politics  for posting the TV ads of the main political parties. The Pakistan Policy Blog  provides a summary of the ads, though you don’t need to understand the language to get the drift.

 Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) of Nawaz Sharif relies heavily on projecting his personality, the footage of the former prime minister interspersed with pictures of a lion.

 Similarly the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)  features clips of Benazir Bhutto.

But the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), which backs President Pervez Musharraf, appears to have found itself short of a popular personality. So it resurrected 1940s footage of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.  Maybe the PML-Q felt it might help to try to project itself as the party of the founder of the nation. But in what seems to me a tragically ill-chosen example, the clip shows Jinnah telling Pakistanis in his pukkah British accent: “You have no idea, you have no idea what is  waiting for you.”

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Your report (‘Pakistan election violence kills two’, Feb 13) comments that “some limits on civil rights are in effect [in Pakistan] despite a formal end to the crackdown in December”. Most people would put it a lot more strongly than that.

President Musharraf arrested the top judiciary, for not being compliant enough and not allowing themselves to be bent to his various wishes. Thus there is no law in the country any more to stand up for people’s rights, or to protect the constitution when the regime interferes with people’s lives, yet again, or when the plain clothes policemen begin their harassment. And if the media becomes too ‘critical’ of something, it is now an arrestable offence carrying a prison sentence.

So independent, or critical thought is not tolerated and the courts are not there to protect you. Yet 89% of people want Musharraf to go; and his party commands only 12% support according to latest polls. Can you imagine the tension and anger all this builds up?

As for the rigging of the elections on Feb 18, some 25 million voters names have ‘disappeared’ from the electoral rolls (representing perhaps 20-25% of voters countrywide); in key areas up to half of polling booths have equally mysterious been removed, making it almost impossible for some people to vote at all; and the entire election is being organised and supervised not by independent officials, but by Musharraf supporters.

How the president can call these ‘free and fair’ elections is baffling – what on earth would rigged election look like, according to him? Even his own legitimacy as president in ultra vires, that’s to say legally and constitutionally void.

Is it any wonder that almost everyone is either angry, fearful or both? Hunger for democratic change has become an obsession. Isn’t it time the West stopped supporting dictators and promoted democracy once again? Whatever happened to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and the values the free world lives by?

KHAWAJA M SHAFIQUE

Secretary-General, Pakistan People’s Party Overseas, Birmingham, UK.