October issue 2002

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 22 years ago

All it took was the concept of free and fair elections for General Musharraf’s avowed agenda of bringing in a clean system of governance and eliminating extremism to fall victim to political expediency.

Now, not even taking the trouble to cloak it intentions, the military regime has given its tacit approval to Azam Tariq, the leader of the banned extremist religious party, the Sipah-e-Sahaba to contest for a National Assembly seat from Jhang — a hot bed of sectarianism. After the review board of the Lahore High Court extended Azam Tariq’s detention to October 30, he was shifted from Mianwali Jail, closer to GHQ, to a rest house in Sihala. Blatantly supporting two names synonymous with corruption: Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Imtiaz Sheikh, the government has clearly indicated that it will go to any lengths to break the political influence of the PML(N) and the PPP. In Sindh, the district administration has been provided with the government’s list of 120 of its consensus candidates for the National and Provincial Assemblies, while Khalid Maqbool, Governor Punjab, has been on the campaign trail whipping up support for the King’s Party.

Though fact is often stranger than fiction in Pakistan, the nation has been witness to a unique phenomena — an election fought by absentee leaders. For the first time in three decades, the Bhutto charisma will be conspicuous by its absence, while minus the crude, but powerful Sharif brand of Gawalmandi glue, the PML(N) lies fragmented and in disarray.

Back at GHQ, outmaneouvering Pakistan’s wiliest politicians, is the General who would have the world believe that he is working towards bringing “the essence of democracy” back to Pakistan. It is crystal clear now that this elusive elixir will be distilled through many filters rigged up by the establishment in an attempt to ensure that an acceptable formula reaches the Assemblies.

Whether Election 2002 will ultimately lead to democracy or a long period of chaos between an elected Assembly and a military President accountable to no one but himself, is a moot point. It is a given, however, that President Musharraf’s brand of democracy has destroyed the very institutions he had pledged to uphold. The President’s sweeping constitutional amendments, coupled with the government’s deliberate policy to limit election campaigns to local issues, can only spell disaster for an already flawed democratic process.

Meanwhile, for the most important component of any election, the voters, it is déja vu all over again. They have been there, done that and even bought the T-shirt. And with elections just a week away, the empty streets, devoid of the usual cacophony of the sound and excitement of election fervour, are testimony to the disillusionment of the people with the electoral process and reflect the issueless, lacklustre campaigns of the country’s three main political parties.

With the integrity and stability of the country at stake, President Musharraf’s brush with playing at politics could plunge the country into a state of perpetual crisis.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.