Monday, January 28, 2008

One party president


On October 6, 2007 it became 'official' that Musharraf had been elected by the Electoral College as president for the next five years. Quite apart from the fact that at time that very 'election' was under a serious challenge in the SC through a number of cases including one that I was arguing, the voting in that election requires serious notice.
The point requiring our present attention is not that legally it was entirely a flawed exercise devoid of jurisdiction and appropriate compliance with the Constitution; it was manifestly suffering from many legal infirmities. So much so that in the 36 amendments made in the Constitution during the earlier days after enforcement of emergency by Musharraf 17, are with respect to his candidature as president and 4 with respect to the courts and judges who were examining that matter at that time. However as this topic has been examined by me in my prior columns, it is the political aspects of this manoeuvre that require a deeper analysis.

It is on record that this process was totally boycotted by the Opposition. The MMA plus other parties had resigned from the assemblies and the EC; the PPP had also totally abstained. With the result that the voting was around 55% of the total vote which is about the voting strength of Punjab. The two western provinces' majority did not vote for him nor did rural Sindh which is generally represented by PPP. So the voting for Musharraf is entirely because of its representation in Punjab and the work of PML-Q. More odious to any one who looks at this development objectively in a historical context is the indisputable fact that this process wholly relies on just one province in Pakistan. The 1971 creation of Bangladesh because of a spate of follies by the military strongman general Yahya are a vivid reminder of what yet could happen in this country.
In political terms it can hardly be called an election for the president of the country when only one of the four provincial units is voting! Does it not prove that Musharraf's entire political constituency is thus just of one party, essentially hailing from just one province, and which has been aiding the regime in power that came to power in 1999 through a coup? Does it also not prove that against the letter and spirit of the Constitution, it has now attempted to cement the genesis of the break up of Federation whose unity he is supposed to represent?

Article 41 provides that the president should represent unquestionably the four units of the Republic and not just one. This provision demands that the president:
" Represent the 'unity' of the Federation.
" Be genuinely elected by the four province's majority vote in the EC.
" Must be above party politics.
In terms of political norms that govern elections Musharraf's manoeuvres of October 6 are the negation of the democratic process. It is an undeniable fact that not only Musharraf went to numerous political meetings of the PML-Q during 2007, a year of great political turmoil and extreme polarisation, even after the announcement of election he has gone around the country seeking voting preference for the ruling PML-Q under the garb of 'continuity' of his policies. Under a parliamentary system what priority does a president have to ask voters to give? Which parlimentary system allows this to go unchallenged? Does it happen in Canada or Australia or anywhere in the world may I ask?

When the Democrats pulled out of the Michigan primary, and Hillary Clinton's name did appear on the ballot, no contest was legally held, when it could have been so done, since everyone abhors in the US a one sides nominated beauty contest rather then an election which by its nature is a contested matter. As a consequence it is trite knowledge that in Pakistan the presidential camp is facing a political dilemma. How to regain the popularity of Musharraf without affecting the vote bank of the formerly ruling party PML-Q which cast its ballot in that farcical process of October 6, 2007?
According to well-placed sources in the US Musharraf has asked his senior civilian and military advisors to handle this uphill task with extra care in highlighting the president's 'impartiality'. But a question arises: how is that compatible with regard to elections when by doing so it would affect the political standing of the Q-league which is already being hard hit by the opposition parties' allegations of being the torchbearer of a military general? Would it not suffer further political damage? So the question that the pundits of the government have to respond to is this: while in theory the president is not supporting any of the political parties, all major opposition parties, PML-N and PPP are insisting that PML-Q is enjoying an overwhelming backing of Musharraf.
The presidential aides to hide the real truth of his own unpopularity have instead informed the president that people blamed their problems on the five-year rule led by the PML-Q and not of Musharraf's making. But the public perception about the presidential backing for the so-called King's party is axiomatic; the party could be equally harmed by tarnished image of the president, especially after the killing of Benazir who most in the country believe was murdered by the incumbent regime.

The dismissal of three main petitions by the reshaped Supreme Court by Musharraf in the post-emergency era against the legitimacy of the candidature of General (Retd) Musharraf for the presidential election while holding the army chief post has helped the general in an ad hoc time frame in a superficial legal sense but politically the fundamental questions of his illegitimacy remain.

Prior to the last hearing, an 11-member Bench of the Apex Court was proceeding with the petitions till November 2 when on date the hearing was adjourned until November 5. But on November 3, the state of emergency coupled with a PCO was declared in the country. The PCO suspended the Constitution of 1973 and called for taking fresh oath by the Superior Court judges under it. Resultantly 65 out of 90 judges refused. How a general can do so with the regard to the Constitution which under prevalent civilised political norms can be done only by a two-third majority of the people sitting in the assemblies? I leave that question for anyone who cares to defend this action of violating the Constitution. The legal community here at Harvard and the West Coast and at such places as Stanford and UCLA were stunned when I asked politely if they are prepared to accept that one day their chief of joint staff says, "I make these changes in the Constitution of 1787 rather than the two-third majority principle that lies embedded in the American Constitution because they aid my conceptions of democracy?"
The 1999 coup has assumed by now several times the office of 'president'; yet it is amusingly said by and on his behalf that it is only his second term! Indisputably he assumed such roles for himself, under rules devised by him at least three times before 2007. So it is the fourth time that such responsibilities are being assumed by him. Whatever policy-oriented view one may adopt, I cannot think any lawyer worth his salt can misinterpret 'facts'!

Musharraf finding that he does not have to confront Benazir any longer has made another U-turn vis-à-vis Nawaz Sharif to float the idea of a 'national government'. The move is a prelude to postponement of the forthcoming elections one more time as the regime spy sleuths have concluded that they cannot 'arrange' a sizeable number of seats for the Q-league and other collaborators even after record rigging. The elections may be postponed for a few months, then for a year and later the regime may find ways to extend itself for 4-5 years.

Even if we accept the varying interpretations being put on the causation of BB's murder, it cannot be denied that the assassins were seen by the world at just a few feet from her on December 27, 2007. Who allowed this to happen? On December 30 Musharraf did say that she killed herself. Let us agree on further implications that Musharraf wants us to agree to: Yes, Benazir killed herself by hitting the car's sunroof lever. Yes, she was warned not to hold a political rally. Yes, no state agency was involved in her gruesome murder. Yes, the Sharif brothers went into exile on their own request. Yes, several civil society activists, judges and lawyers deserve to be kept in detention. Yes it is necessary to put in detention the deposed CJ, the former acting CJ Rana Bhagwandas, and many more in Lahore and Karachi. Yes, many Pakistanis, particularly of legal fraternity are extremists and terrorists. Yes, Pakistan's survival as a nation is dependent on American goodwill and fighting its war on terror.

Does it make any honest sense I ask my American friends, to agree to such entirely false premises and preposterous hypotheses and yet appear to be serious about evaluation of the genesis of the crisis now waiting to explode?

I am informed that many of my recent columns appearing in this paper on the crisis in Pakistan are being taken as written testimony in the Congressional hearings now scheduled to be held from this week in Washington. While Lantos chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee. Congressman Gary Ackerman chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Since Ackerman is a leading critic of Musharraf government, the resolution he has introduced has alarmed the government's supporters in Washington, as they fear that it may seek new restrictions against Islamabad. In addition the Congress already has two pending resolutions on Pakistan, both strongly supporting pro-democracy forces in the country. All these three resolutions seek punitive actions against the government for suppressing political forces and placing new restrictions on the media and the judiciary.

These three resolutions reaffirm the US commitment to assisting the people of Pakistan in combating terrorism, and promoting a free and democratic Pakistan. Further, these measures express support for freedom of media, the ability of political parties to express their views without restriction and the independence of the judiciary in Pakistan. In US relevant officials and think thanks are alarmed at the continuous state of instability in that country in which it is the presidency supported by Washington that is considered by many to be a major if not the main cause.

The president is now distrusted by the world and according to three recent polls conducted by reputable American institutions. His stature has fallen so much that he is treated dismissively even by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Shaukat Aziz, his imported PM has disappeared from the scene, even losing out to an ordinary banker - coincidentally from India - for the top job in his alma mater, Citibank. Pakistan politically and economically is in a mess, its own army, for the first time, is seeing its credibility, power, its pre-eminent position in Pakistan's society and power structure questioned and losing fast its respect in public estimation.

(The writer is a Barrister at Law (UK), Senior Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan and Professor Harvard University)

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