Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Post-election View

Sundas Hurain and Basim Usmani

The recent elections' outcome has created a myriad of colorful Newspaper headlines on February 18th. Dawn's Bruce Lee-esque headline read "Musharraf allies face voter's wrath". The News, now taken to paraphrasing Bilawal Bhutto, has "Democracy takes revenge". "All the King's men, gone!" is the headline at Daily Times, a newspaper known for being pro-Government due to its owner, Salman Taseer'sministership.At the street level, people have been echoing similar sentiments. On various occasions, we were exposed to working class parents who have found their children spending weeks without meals, gas or electricity under the current administration. Suddenly, returning to the pre-musharraf years seems like serious progress.

1998 was the last year Nawaz Sharif spent unchecked before being unceremoniously defenestrated from Pakistani politics by Musharraf's coup. He had stormed the Supreme Court Judges in 1997, his military operation in Kashmir was a disaster. He even gave the newly constructed motorway to the military, granting them a foot hold in what should've been a civillian market.

We are ten years on, and Nawaz is posed to become the opposition's golden boy. Upon sweeping victories in Punjab that have won Pakistan Muslim League's Nawaz group 66 seats, Sharif has hit his PPP counterpart Zardari with a set of demands. Restore the judiciary, impeach Musharraf, and select High Court advocate Aitizaz Ahsan for Prime Ministership. He is echoing the demand of the ever-increasing anti-mush voices. His stances have forced many of us to reconsider our opinions of him and his party. Many PPP supporters ended up voting for PML-N due to the lack of a clear concrete position on any issue by the former and the bold principled stance of the latter.

From this point on, several outcomes may be conceived of; each with its own reactions. Everyone is looking to the parties elected. PML-N has made its stance clear. Now it's up to them to stick to it. But more heavily so, the eyes of the people now turn to the so called People's Party. Will it oblige? There are quite a few uncertainties in the current situation. At the foremost being PPP-P which is still ironing out its internal politics and power hierarchies and is hence, still unable to take any concrete stances over anything. If PPP-P decides to yet again look to Washington and ally itself with the pro-mush forces, it will be heavily discredited within the country. It's only choice is either PML-N, or the other anti-mush parties. With Musharraf's popularity at an all time low, the independents are most likely to align with the party that speaks of ouster and accountability. PML-N also stands to be able to make a government without the PPP by aligning with the all the other anti-mush candidates, in which case, PPP will either have to join in, sit in opposition, or coalesce with the much despised PML-Q or MQM.

Pakistan is now a threesome between Musharraf and his allies, the professed anti-musharraf political parties, and the lawyer's movement.The will of the people is evident. The strongest of the king's party have faced miserable defeats. The popular notion was, vote for PML-Q if you support Musharraf. So strong are anti-musharraf sentiments in the larger populace that politicians like Sheikh Rasheed who have gone 30 yrs undefeated could not secure a victory from the seats they were running from. Interestingly enough, the candidates for whose success rigging was not deemed required, were the ones that lost. The party leader Ch Shujaat Hussain even succumbed to heavy defeat, not being able to secure even a single seat for himself.

What does this mean for the people of Pakistan? Moving around on the
streets on election night, as preliminary results came out, the sheer emotion and ecstasy of the people was overpowering. With hope in their eyes, smiles on their lips, and hands in the air, they celebrate the possibility that their overburdened lives may now become livable. With an unprecedented 250% food inflation, the Pakistani poor—who form 80% of the population—have been the hardest hit. With no remedies available, no recourse to welfare or justice; citizens of a country that has failed time and again to provide for them even the most basic of necessities.

Their only hope: change. Fighting against all odds, amidst news of murdered candidates and possible bomb threats, the turnout at many polling stations in Lahore was impressive. Being part of the student election monitoring cell of the StudentAction Committee, rampant instances of rigging were observed by us and many caught on video. But in spite of massive rigging, people turned up in even higher numbers. Speculations state that the 39 or so odd seats won my PML-Q and 19 by MQM would not have been possible were it not so for pre and during poll rigging.
One MQM candidate was caught rigging elections in his constituency in Karachi by a Ranger deployed at the booth. But that didn't seem to make people suspicious of the 19 other MQM candidates that swept up the total twenty seats in Karachi. And no coverage has been given to Scotland Yard's forthcoming investigation into Altaf Hussein, the MQM chairman who's been indispensable in the efforts to make Karachi unlivable due toviolence.

Due to a systematic de-politicization of society and a ban on any involvement of students in politics, Pakistan suffers from an acute lack of credible politicians. The people of Pakistan in spite of widespread mistrust towards all the political parties are yet again forced towards looking to them for relief. The question on everyone's minds and tongues; will they deliver this time or disappoint us once more?

As for Musharraf, he has repeatedly stated, refuting various polls, that he believed the will of the people to come through the elections alone, and that if a majority of the people wished for him to step down, he would. Well the people have spoken: GO MUSHARRAF GO!

No comments: