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This will not stand!

19 December, 2007

By Ikram Sehgal


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With the PML (N) wisely deciding not to leave the field open to the PPP and PML (Q) in the Jan 8 elections, the electoral exercise has now some legitimacy. Heavens have not fallen with the presence of these national leaders, tainted or otherwise, in Pakistan.  If Ms Benazir can be given blanket amnesty for corruption then there is no earthly reason to deny Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz their God-given right to compete for Parliamentary seats.  Heavens will also not fall if all of them can freely exercise their challenge before the electorate. This anomaly must be corrected. 

A crude straw poll shows that in a free and fair poll (unless something drastic happens between now and Jan 8) the PML (N) gets about 60-65 of the 148 NA seats in the Punjab.  Mian Nawaz Sharif is well behind in Sindh, NWFP and in Balochistan, would be lucky getting 10-12 seats of the balance 124 available.  Ms Benazir’s PPP has a solid majority in Sindh (at least 35-37 out of 61 NA seats) and will win a bloc of seats in (mostly southern) Punjab (25-30). In NWFP and Balochistan the PPP will be lucky to get 4-5 seats, not more than 70-75 seats combined. This tally puts Mian Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir about even. The PML (Q) should manage 40-45 seats in the Punjab and about 15-18 NA seats in the other Provinces, 60-65 seats in all.  The MQM will win 16 or 17 urban seats in Sindh.  The MMA will be almost wiped out in the plains of NWFP. Seat adjustments will get Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI (F) faction of the MMA about 10-12 seats in southern NWFP and northern Balochistan, managing possibly 2-3 seats more if JI voters turn up to support JUI (F) candidates in the mountains of northern NWFP, traditionally a JI stronghold.  Resurgent after the 2002 debacle the ANP should win 10-12 NA seats in NWFP and Balochistan, nothing in Punjab or Sindh. 18 to 20 independents are expected to get elected. In a hung Parliament anyone who cobbles together a workable majority will be PM. A PPP-PML (Q)-MQM govt in the Center and Punjab, a PPP-MQM-PML(Q) govt in Sindh, a JUI (F) led Coalition in NWFP and a PML (Q) led Coalition in Balochistan.

 Fantasy stops here, all credible information points to free and fair poll being very unlikely in the Punjab, this includes some selected seats in Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan.  The game plan is for the Pervez Elahi’s election machine to rig and bag as much as 90 NA (or even more) seats in the Punjab. Some of his collaborators are getting cold feet at the possible reaction, cautioning that this attempt at a “landslide” could well boomerang as it did in 1977 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was going to win anyway but his minions went overboard. The “gerrymandering” in the Punjab is meant to restrict PML (N) to about 25-27 NA seats and PPP to 18-20 seats. PPP’s strong electoral base will prevent widespread rigging in rural Sindh giving it 35-37 NA seats or even more, a total of about 55-60 NA seats nationally. The MQM and JUI (F) strongholds will remain intact and will return the same number of seats as in a fair electoral exercise.  In a strange move, Pervez Elahi is supporting some strong Opposition PML (N) and PPP candidates against his own, possible angling for their support in a future “deal”.  The rigged election will mean a PML (Q) govt in the Center (coalition with MQM and possibly PPP) and Punjab, PPP-MQM coalition in Sindh, a PML(Q)-led coalition in Balochistan and a JUI (F)-led coalition in NWFP! 

The calumny being planned by the Pervez Elahi-clique to fulfill his cherished dream of becoming the Pakistani PM is a disaster-in-the-making for Pakistan. Contrary to widespread public perception the uniformed rank and file of the Pakistan Army has never been involved in ballot-stuffing etc in any general elections in Pakistan.  As opposed to the wholesale manipulation in 2002, a handful of intelligence apparatchiks may still involve themselves in perpetuating electoral manipulation in 2008. Most of the electoral fraud will remain the handiwork of public officials and the police in the Punjab.  In actual practice whenever troops are requisitioned for maintaining peace they are required to stay 400 yards away from the polling stations.  Inadvertently they give cover to the polling staff and police to do their dirty work.  In a double jeopardy, the man in uniform will be blamed for rigging and manipulating the 2008 elections. This is patently unfair!  Loyalty is a two-way street, for having him elected as a “civilian” President, Musharraf owes the Army loyalty in return. What better way for him to express this loyalty than to ensure free and fair elections so that Army’s image and reputation is not sullied anymore.

 The concerted international media campaign against Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistan Army which started in early 2006, was side-tracked by the Hezbollah holding up the Israelis in South Lebanon.  One does not normally subscribe to conspiracy theories but this one had too much smoke for fire not to be present.  Those inimical to Pakistan spent tons of money and effort in a well-coordinated multi-directional multi-disciplinary effort.  The NEWSWEEK article declaring Pakistan “the most dangerous place on Earth” was the crowning piece. Then Musharraf went and put himself and the Army in the line of fire by launching his autobiography “In the Line of Fire”! The courtiers around Pervez Musharraf lurched from one political gaffe after another in their eagerness to ensure survival of their Patron, more importantly continuity of their own well-being and prosperity.  Pakistan (and the Pakistan Army) cannot afford the luxury of a rigged election being used as a cudgel to destroy our image further, the ensuing nightmare would be too high a price to pay for fulfilling Pervez Elahi’s dreams. The Army does not owe Mr Elahi anything!

Pakistan Army is “vital ground” for Pakistan, restoring its image must be the major objective. A free and fair electoral exercise will give democracy in Pakistan credibility, the Pakistan Army need to get back into the esteem of the Pakistani people. Transversing the political minefield has been a spectacular debacle, let us not reinforce failure. When the Army sets out to do something that it is meant to do, the Army does it very well.  When it tries to do something it cannot, it will always be a disaster. Their performance under adverse conditions in Swat has been nothing short of magnificent, just ask the inhabitants of Swat.  Nothing succeeds like success, build on this success and concentrate on the primary mission, securing the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan.

This Caretaker Cabinet can hardly do much in 60 days, either to hold free and fair elections or to rig and manipulate one.  However the perception of neutrality is important, Mohammadmian Soomro is unfortunately the symbol of partiality.  More importantly confidence in an impartial Election Commission (EC) is lacking.  Sincerity of Musharraf’s intent can be ensured by free and fair elections but also by creating an environment where the public accepts it as free and fair. Pervez Musharraf should psyche himself into being a genuinely neutral President, the resultant power-sharing and a viable coalition can be the platform for stable and effective governance in Pakistan.

We cannot afford a political crisis in crisis-ridden economic year 2008. Rigging and manipulation in elections 2008 is a non-starter. This will not stand!

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