Around 3 months ago, I had made a post on this blog calling for a boycott of the elections. The post was made when the civil society movement was at its highest and the political parties were toying with the idea of a boycott to pressurize Musharraf. I got a number of comments on that post, but owing to the necessities of academic work, I was never able to reply to them.
One of the main reasons, I had supported the call for boycott was that I was certain that under the pro-Musharraf setup, elections would be massively rigged and that the issues of the judiciary and media’s independence would not be addressed. I was also disappointed by the fact that PML-N (at that time) and PPP were not taking a strong stance in support of the civil society and the lawyer’s movements. I had hoped that if a society-wide boycott could be engineered, it would sound death for Musharraf and his cronies.
Did my position change in the post-Dec 27 world? I don’t think so; I still retained the principled stance of the boycott. But the events witnessed over the past 48 hours do shed a different light on the entire set up.
All the king’s men fell. And fell hard. Does this mean a victory for the people of Pakistan?
SAC here has been reporting incidents of rigging that their members witnessed. But despite all of this, we have a verdict unanimously against the incumbents and the (ex-) General. The ECP says that the turnout on Feb 18th was 45%. Mind you that this turnout is about the normal number we have come to expect in Pakistan and that we had this turn out, despite the very pervasive threat of violence on Election Day. If one looks at the results of random constituencies reported here, one would notice that the turnout for 2008 is more than the one witnessed in 2002.
Observing US Senators have termed the polls to have met the basic requirements of fairness and credibility. They congratulated the people of Pakistan on a “smooth” transition to democracy. Does this mean that the times are changing? The build up to the election was notably lackluster. The general populace was not interested in the polls and yet we have this spectacular result in front of us! I think it is too early to call whether Feb 18th would be a defining moment – but to me, it presents a turning point – albeit a small one.
It allows us, as a nation, to entertain the possibility of change, of better times. It opens up the probability of a Musharraf-free Pakistan and perhaps, a Pakistan with a (more) mature political leadership. I must admit that I have been pleasantly surprised by the stance taken by Nawaz Sharif here. On the other hand, I was not sure whether Zardari was correct to juxtapose the condition of a UN probe to building a national coalition. I rather like Nawaz Sharif’s proposal of making Aitezaz Ahsan the joint PML-PPP prime minister candidate. And I definitely know that I would not want Mr 10% as the PM (do I even have the right to demand this when I had called for a boycott?). And I also welcome his calls for the restoration of the judiciary and a truly free media. At the same time, it seemed to me that Nawaz Sharif was open to different approaches to deal with the (ex-)General. But still, I was surprised because I do not usually associate such astuteness with Nawaz Sharif (he told a sardar jee joke at the end of the press conference!!).
So the question now is: does this pragmatic approach mean that a coalition between the two unlikely partners (PPP and PML-N) would survive a world sans the ex-General? Time will tell.
But, we do know that interesting days are ahead. God bless Pakistan.
P.S. I am thrilled about ANP’s victory in NWFP. And that reminds me: the White House said today that it hopes that Pakistan will continue to support the War on Terror. Sigh. They still do not get it, do they? This election result does not mean that Pakistan and the US have incompatible objectives where the terrorists are concerned. It just means that we want a different approach to the resolution of the problem – one that does NOT turn your own military into a killing machine of your own people! There are other ways to address the problem of terrorism. It is about time that the White House understands this!
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