Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gunfire, dancing welcome election losses by religious parties

PESHAWAR, Feb 19 (AFP): Celebratory gunfire and dancing in the streets greeted heavy election losses Tuesday by Pakistan's main alliance of religious parties in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. The MMA alliance lost many seats, winning just three seats in Monday's parliamentary elections, according to unofficial results. “These people did nothing for us during their five-year tenure and just strengthened the hands of Islamists and those supporting militancy,” said a property businessman. An auto-rickshaw mechanic called the mullahs “religious fanatics” and said a vote for them would be wasted. “These mullahs made our lives miserable,” he said.

PAKISTAN: Election results vindicate chief justice

A statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The voting for the general elections for the National and Provincial assemblies has been completed and the unofficial results show that the political parties who were against the Musharraf regime are now in a comfortable position to form a government. The most surprising outcome of the elections is the victory of secular and democratic forces and the almost total defeat of the religious parties and their alliances, which were formed by the Musharraf government at the start of the war on terror. The parties which are in position to form a government are those who took a leading part in the movement for the restoration of Mr. Iftekhar Choudhry, the deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, the rule of law, supremacy of judiciary, the restoration of the constitution and the elimination of all actions which were taken by General Musharraf during period of the state of emergency.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Awami National Party (ANP), have all openly committed in their manifestos and election campaigns that they will restore the deposed Chief Justice and the judiciary when they come into power. Ms. Benazir Bhutto, before her assassination, announced in front of the house of the Chief Justice, where he is presently in detention, that the party believes Mr. Choudhry is the legitimate Chief Justice and that her party will restore him to office.

The election results are taken as the victory of the struggle of Mr. Choudhry and the 55 judges who stood against the actions of the military and resisted every threat of arrest and intimidation. This is now the test time for President Musharraf to transfer the power to the elected representatives according to the constitutional requirements. In the previous elections of 2002 under the Musharraf government it took more than 40 days to hand over power to the representatives and this period was used successfully to transfer the loyalties of different representatives in the government's favour.

If the government once again takes that much time, or any time more than the constitution allows to hand over power to the majority or elected representatives, it would be dangerous not only for the country but also to the very existence for the military it self. Following the 1970 elections when the military government denied the people the right to form their government the country disintegrated and 90, 000 soldiers were made POWs by foreign forces. The government, therefore, has no option other than to transfer the power from the military to the elected representatives of the people.

On the other hand. the PPP and PML-N, who have the lead in the elections, should follow the charter of democracy which they reached to form an accord in 2006 at which time Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shareef, both publicly announced that they will implement the true norms of democracy through the charter. The winning parties should also focus their efforts, as they are very much in the arena of state affairs, to releasing all the political workers and all those who have been disappeared and who are believed to be kept in military camps, to restore the rule of law, reinstate the Supreme Court , restore media freedoms and withdraw all restrictions placed on freedom of expression and association, begin to deal with the major issues of poverty, high cost of living and attacks on living standards and to devote its attention to deal with the matters relating to the stability of the country and start investigations into the abuse of power and gross violations of human rights. They must halt the military operations in Balochistan province and torture in custody should be made a crime. The parties should also work for a tolerant society and give space to the voice of dissent as a basic right.

The coming days are crucial to Pakistan. President Musharraf must immediately call for the formation of a government by the elected representatives of the people. And those elected representatives should do all they can not to barter away the power that the people have given to them as an expression of the people's protest against tyranny and repression.

Eyewitness Account - Rigging in Karachi

Zeenia Shaukat

Though it might come a bit late in the day, I thought I should share my experience with you people in any case. I, along with my aunty, went to vote at NA-252 St Lawrence School, Garden East. We went at around 4:35pm. We couldn’t find our names in the voters list. While they were looking for our names in the list, one young lady entered to vote. Her name was found on the list, but she was told that there were no ballot papers in the polling booth. “Why didn’t you come in earlier? We have been here since morning, and hardly anybody dropped in to vote.” I asked them why they were running out of the ballot papers now, when, as she says, the voters didn’t turn up during the day? Obviously, I got no answer.

As we were waiting for our news on the voters list, my aunt noticed one of the presiding officers stamping the ballot papers on her own. She was sitting in a corner and didn’t have anybody around. Before we could ask any questions, a man came to her and took all the papers away, to put them in the ballot box. We failed to find our name in the list and were told to go to another polling booth.

Once we entered the room, we were told to hurry up as time was running out. It was a polling booth meant for women, but there were three young men sitting at a desk in the corner. One guy was stamping the ballot papers at the kite symbol. I asked him how many votes did he have? Wasn’t he supposed to cast just one vote? No reply, as expected, but he was taken aback. A senior presiding officer then walked in, and asked that man to stop, saying “pehley he bara (12) books khatam kar li hain. Ab bas karo. Objection ho jayega.”

We were told to vote in any case, even though our names were not found on the list. The ballot paper for provincial assembly that I and my aunty got already had a stamp on the Kite symbol. We tore it. The guy who was earlier stamping the papers walked up to us and said, “Madam, jitna chahein try karlein. Inn sarey papers per MQM hi ki mohar lagi huwi hai.” We cast our vote for NA seat only.

No surprise then that the MQM won from the area with a "heavy majority". I think it was meant to win in any case as people in our area do favours for them for the work that the City Govt has been doing. But why did they have to make a mockery of the entire exercise? I guess I will not get any answers for this one either.