Monday, December 10, 2007

Why Boycott is not an Option?

by Ali Malik

In the outrage post emergency, I was confused about whether the opposition should boycott the elections or not? For instance, soon after emergency, when a Lahore based journalist (and one for whom I have high regard for), currently in Karachi, was emotionally advocating oppositions' boycott of the polls, my only response was, I am not sure whether boycott is a good option or not. As the outrage is giving way to rational, I am getting more and more convinced that boycott is not the best option.

Before I build my case, let me clarify one thing. Just when I believe that boycott of 1985 elections by MRD was not the right decision; I am not ready to buy the argument that had MRD contested those elections, under Zia and his apparatus, it would have won them. However, what contesting would have done then was, make life a lot more miserable for Zia and let democratic forces have more bargaining power against Zia. And I don't expect miracles happening in 2008 either. Then why am I advocating opposition contesting elections?

My first argument, what is so different between 2002 and 2008? Here we have a bias set-up holding elections. Country is run by PCO and is under martial law. Musharaf has got himself elected as president using unfair means. He has appointed a handpicked Supreme Court. Election commission is part ineffective, part-biased in favor of his supporters. In 2002, we had a bias set up holding elections. Elections were held under PCO and martial law. Musharaf got himself elected president through a gimmick called referendum. Courts were Musharaf's handpicked. Election commission was headed by bezamir Irshad Hassan Khan. Popular leadership was in exile. Country was in large parts without independent electronic media (news channels were running their test transmissions and were not the news source or opinion makers as they became in 2007 before Martial Law hit them). Popular leadership was in exile. And surprise surprise. Musharaf was Head of State, Head of Executive and Head of "Army". If contesting elections in 2008 is giving Musharaf legitimacy, it was same back in 2002. Looking at all these facts, people who advocate boycott now, in principle, should have done it in 2002 too. If 2002 elections were contested under protest, so can 2008 be. They got elected. Many of them gifted nation with what we now know as 17th amendment. Others made a lot of noise about rubber-stamp parliament while staying in the same parliament till the very end (yes I am referring to Mr. Imran Khan - if opposition did not want to resign and he thought it was useless to be in parliament - principle demands he should have been out of it as two Baloch nationalist MPs did - hypocrisy).

Second argument is that boycotting elections will deny elections the credibility. To be honest, it does not make any difference to Establishment how credible the elections are for people in Pakistan. Supporters of the regime, if any, are going to hail them for rigging and will try justifying it in the name of stability anyways - so much for the tradition of rule of law of educated Pakistanis. Had it not been the case, we would not have what we had since first provincial elections in Pakistan back in early 50s - Ayub's election, Zia's referendum, 88s, 90s, 97s, Musharaf's referendum, 02, local bodies and list goes on and on and on. And as far as they West goes, did not the same man get away with something as shameless and fraudulent as referendum (about which Dawn apart from these glamorous pictures of handful men in black and women in red voting, was full of stories of ballot stuffing, bogus voting, fraud and rigging). It cannot be worse than that in the coming elections.

I agree that Musharaf will be desperate to have his henchmen in to get indemnity for his coup of November 3rd. He will go to any length to get the elections rigged. His best option is to have opposition parties boycott the polls to give his prodigies a walkover. Imran Khan and Qazi who have been known for being the helping hands of establishment in the past, is up for it once more. The hope of Musharaf in Nawaz's returns might be the same. I hope Nawaz Sharif has learnt his lesson and will not side with usurpers this time. However, my apprehension is that he will pressurize PPP and others to boycott elections (allowing Musharaf a free ride to 2/3rd) and if that fails he will lead a pro-establishment alliance in the elections (how establishment balances it out between Musharaf and him is to be seen) to check PPP.

I do not expect opposition to do wonders at elections. However, I do believe that with main stream parties contesting led by their leadership, and a higher degree of interest of international media as a result of main stream leaders contesting elections (the only noise that can force the western governments to act), life will be a lot more miserable for him than it was on any of the elections he conducted. It is not a time to boycott but a time to muster all the forces to check forces of establishment to rig elections as much as we can. Give elections a try for a peaceful victory over establishment. Our founding fathers contested election under British rule too. It did not mean accepting colonization. And in the end, street always remains an option. Boycott can only be an option, if it is absolutely clear that it will discredit elections in the eyes of powers who hold tap to aid that waters the plantation of commercial interests of Pakistan Army and will make them act.

In the end, someone said a few months ago that uniform is my skin and no one can make me shed it. Uniform is going today, skin - I have my fingers crossed. This is no small gain for us the people of Pakistan. A lot still needs to be done.

Tail Piece: Khabrain, known to be ISI paper, has published a message (without any proof) attributed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary urging parties to boycott the polls. This shows how desperate regime is to force opposition to boycott the polls.


Anonymous said...

worthless piece.
Pointless argument of not boycotting elections, not boycotting elections in 2002 does not mean one should never boycott.
Everyone knows the people of Pakistan do not figure in the equation of power. Not participating in elections would have denied credibility to the foreign audience as well as united the opposition on the joint stand of refusing to give legitimacy to the whole scam.
Musharaf shedding his skin is not a victory for the people or the doing of any party or leader (read Benazir Bhutto according to her claims).It is something that he was forced to do in the wake of the unfolding events.
Dummy elections, dummy parliament.
What people is any side representing anyway?

jazoo scenario said...

I didnt find a way to post this to owner of the blog so I am pasting it here in the comments. Although it is a bit more lengthy than a comment :)
Boycott is "The Option"

As of today, PPP, PMLN and ANP have agreed to participate in a unanimously agreed rigged elections to be held on 8th January coming year. It is not so surprising that these parties will be participating in any kinda election to get back to their lost seats and to protect 'their' billions of dollars through NROs. But that is something we donot need to be surprised as we had clues about these deals already in one way or the other. Good thing is that we now have those political parties which are clear in their stance and still standing on principles. These parties may be smaller in sizes but we the civil society, lawyers and students can make them feel their weights and put their full efforts for restoration of constitution and judiciary.

It has been discussed here and here that boycott is not a good option as this will give Musharraf a free hand, politicians have to see things other than just principles and credibility does not matter much in the current scenario.

I will strongly disagree to the thoughts presented by these and other authors and try to put my points as following.

First of all Musharraf is not seeing anyone to give him free hand or not. As mentioned by Mr. Ali Malik, he already posses all required tools which is called a free hand actually. Q league's members of previous govt's MNAs have enough budget to manipulate huge vote banks of poor throughout the country. In the form of city and caretaker governments they also have hold to official machinery to further turn things in their favor. Judges in Supreme Court and high courts are hand picked by Musharraf and his allies and hence expecting anything different than what government wants will be living in fools paradise. Media is already under strict censorship and so in their absence PTV has every liberty to play in minds of people in vast rural areas. These and few others will be enough for Musharraf government to feel free in their self decorated play ground. They donot need outsiders support as a matter of fact, what they need is presence of some contestants.

Second point is that boycotting elections would take away any credibility whatsoever is attached to it. The argument that credibility of election does not matter has its inherent problem; thinking in this way will lead to only disaster. Actually it does not matter if credibility of election does not have any importance for current government because the struggle for democracy is from people of Pakistan and they are the ones to decide and measure the credibility of election and contestants. And if they believe that election was fraud then nothing can stop them resisting.

The most important point is that changing Musharraf regime to Kiyani's or BB or anyone else wont solve the problem and does not mean that our moment has ended with that. I would go to a further step by saying that even restoration of 3rd November bench alone is not final solution of the problem. We have to stop army's intervention in our political system and by changing Musharraf government to another one would only mean to keep the threat as it is. Another 10 to 12 years and there would be another COAS to throw out constitution to the garbage again. This permanent stopper can only be achieved by first boycotting the election completely. By completely, I mean, not only a low turnout but also protests, dharnai and rallies against illegitimate rule of (General) Musharraf.

After doing this and elections, there can be one of two scenarios 1) a government is formed in which different political segments have different ratio or 2) election turn out to be a failure and our movement reaches its peak. For case 1, our movement will be boosted by involvement of anti government political parties and it will also lead sooner to case 2.

Case 2, either directly or through case 1 will definitely lead to another full fledge martial law or regime change without (or with support) army intervention. In case of simple regime change we will only have an option of either sit quietly or get involved in political struggle to introduce a better democracy which will take its time of course.

But if martial law comes then history says Pakistani people have always in good number welcomed martial laws which is the reason army remained brave enough to introduce it as soon as they find some room for it.

This is where the real test of our movement exist. Students, Lawyers and Civil Society members have to show the courage and resist martial law with full force yet in peaceful ways to finally remove the army from occupying the nation again. If we are successful in doing this then we can be sure Inshallah that it will stop army intervention permanently or at least not as simple as it was in 77 and 99.

Anonymous said...

pathetic ...haha so much for your CREDIBILITY man...imran khan being the part of THE ESTABLISHMENT ...hahah jeez....who allowed to this man to write anyways ....