October Issue 2007
In a remarkable show of manipulative power, the ruling Muslim League and the indefatigable establishment combine has delivered the ultimate result to its ultimate benefactor, General Pervez Musharraf. The October 6 elections outcome — 387 out of 702, from an electoral college comprising four provincial assemblies and two houses of parliament — would have been a tough task without the day and night efforts of all of the president’s men. If five FATA representatives and the breakaway members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) agreed to vote for money, the so-called dissidents within the fold of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League fell into line faced with the prospect of a bleak political future in case they cast a negative vote.
The all important question of the legitimacy of the election was solved by a helpful triangle: the support of the JUI in the NWFP, the Peoples Party at the centre and a 10-member bench of the Supreme Court. The first did not dissolve the provincial assembly and therefore saved the electoral college from being challenged on the grounds of incomplete composition; the second put up Makhdoom Amin Fahim as a candidate and imparted a semblance of correctness to the procedure of the election; and the third, by not staying the process of the election, removed a crucial hurdle from the election commissioner’s path of carrying out the exercise. This came together to produce a 55.13% vote for General Musharraf, up from 53.28, which he had obtained in the January 2004 vote of confidence from the same electoral college.
This is not to suggest that the presidential election is over, and that the general has hit a home run in political terms. To start with, it is important to note who did not vote for him. The resignations of the MMA in Balochistan, and Pashtoon nationalists from the NWFP assembly meant that a large chunk of the Pathans have spoken against the general. The Peoples Party pulling out of the polls at the last minute dented the electoral exercise’s credibility, which was already considerably challenged by the resignations of 86 members of the National Assembly from the platform of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM). And while political agitation remained tame, the lawyers stayed steadfast in battling the general’s presidential bid. Predictably, the NWFP was the scene of the most vociferous protests, indicating, yet again, how the country’s northern belt is becoming a political sore for Islamabad’s rulers.
Even more pressing than these pockets of resistance to General Musharraf is the critical issue of the yet-to-come judicial verdict on the final result of the elections. The result of the presidential poll has not been announced because the 10-member Supreme Court bench, while allowing the process to continue, has barred official notification till the matter is heard and adjudged. The proceedings will be tackling the mother of all legal questions facing General Musharraf: whether he, as a sitting chief of army staff, qualifies to be a kosher presidential candidate.
Regardless of the happy majority that General Musharraf has obtained in the October 6 elections, he contested the polls in uniform and plans to wear his ‘second skin’ (as he once called it) till he hears what the learned judges have to say on his candidature. This deliberate wait-and-see policy tightens the spot the judiciary is already in. If they endorse his election in uniform, regardless of how exceptional they make it sound, they would risk creating the precedent of coup-makers getting elected as legitimate presidents. The court’s other problem is that General Musharraf has chosen the existing assemblies to get elected. An endorsement of this electoral process would mean that all future presidents would use the vulnerabilities of the outgoing assemblies to get elected and then rule over the new assemblies from the position of unassailable power.
Yet another issue before the court is that while the elections went on smoothly, these were marred by resignations and boycotts. Practically no opposition member took part in the election, except the turncoats. Practically, everyone from the opposition called the election unconstitutional and placed zero confidence in General Musharraf’s candidature. If this were an ordinary election, the will of the majority, no matter how thin and how suspect, would prevail without any legal ado. But the office of the president is not an ordinary one: it is a symbol of the federation and the person occupying it, to quote the constitution, must represent the unity of the republic. A candidate who overthrew an elected government, is the chief of army staff and additionally, hobbled by the opposition’s complete distrust expressed through resignation and protests, might have to be tested on sterner grounds than on the touchstone of simple majority.
These are most important matters: they all concentrate on the country’s 60-year-long vain quest for non-militarised democracy. Not for the first time, these questions have all landed in the lap of the Supreme Court for a fundamental decision. It is difficult to gauge the court’s mood: the views of the honourable judges have crisscrossed the two seemingly irreconcilable territories of power politics and pristine constitutionalism. However, a full court, including the chief justices of the high courts, could throw up a forum where General Musharraf’s electoral victory might get spiked.
And even if it does not, and General Musharraf does get another five years to rule, ugly political weather awaits him. An out-of-uniform general is a turtle without the shell, but so often those wearing it never seem to realise this grim fact. General Musharraf, too, believes that he floats on the high waters of national life not on his brass but on his brilliance. The October 6 election might just prove to be his final journey to real life.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV hosting a prime time current affairs program.