Mother of All Elections?

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Moeed Pirzada | Khaleej Times |

People forget about creators while their creations live on and multiply. In the six years since then the expression has changed its meaning, more than once. Today it reminds you of a Pakistan where young men, desperately seeking paradise, are blowing themselves apart-unfortunately with many of us along.

But on February 18, in this most dangerous place on earth, almost 37 million men and women — a human mass bigger than the entire population of Iraq — marched from their homes to stand in queues, from the sweltering lanes in Karachi on Arabian Sea to the frosty hills in the Northwest. And by mid-night most of them — almost 99.99 per cent — had reached back to their homes, safe and sound. Others danced on the streets, celebrating what they had achieved: PML(Q); the allies of President Musharraf more or less disappeared from the political scene.

The late Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and former Premier Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League PML(N) have emerged as the clear winners. This was an outcome that closely matched the predictions of most polls; the latest being the one conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI). Yet no one believed that in a country notorious for fixing elections such an outcome would be allowed. And with good reason; even the two member team of IRI had generated so much heat by their earlier polls that the last one had to be issued from Washington, once they had safely reached back to the cold comfort of their offices on Potomac.

The results are interesting for more than one reason. These not only meet the expectations of the Pakistani people and the political pundits, but should be hugely satisfying to the Americans. Senator Joseph Biden, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senator Kerry, the former Presidential candidate both were in Pakistan to personally send a strong message. And the message was: if elections are not credible then the financial aid to Pakistan — especially the one to military — can be cut.

After the elections the senators held a Press conference declaring the process fair and credible. But the results should be pleasing to the Americans, not only for they look credible but also because the MMA, the notorious alliance of the religious parties, has been reduced to non-entity in the politics of NWFP — the province bordering Afghanistan. If PPP and PML(N), the moderate political parties, have emerged as leading forces in the centre then their rise is equally matched by the strong emergence of Awami Nationalist Party (ANP) in Pakistan’s northwest.

The results are far too good to believe. So, many wonder what brought all this about? The PPP and PML(N) would like us to believe that they have succeeded despite all efforts at rigging. Given that the Musharraf government kept the whole country, and Washington, enthralled by year long pre-poll rigging, this has some weight. But this simple, plain and non-juicy explanation is far too boring. So, there are other more ‘interesting theories’ to maintain colour in our lives.

One school of thought believes that the plans for systematic rigging were abandoned after Ms Bhutto’s assassination since they were not practical anymore. But the other explanation is even more interesting and that is: the angels who specialise in managing election results were suddenly unavailable as they had a new master who did not want their feathers to be soiled in this earthly business. Yet another theory argues that the plan was to produce a house perfectly hanging in mid-air and needing the help of the president to land somewhere. According to this school of thought, the first part of the script has been meticulously executed and the real game is yet to begin.

Well, this particular thesis is about to be tested soon. The upsetting performance in this election has been that of PML(N). The PPP depended on its traditional vote bank in Sindh and a sympathy wave after Ms Bhutto’s tragic assassination. But the real political fire and magic all belonged to Nawaz Sharif. His opponents, the Chaudhries of PML(Q), had no doubt worked hard in terms of providing streets and schools and even school stipends in some areas. This has been the winning formula of the ‘non- party politics’ which General Zia promoted in 80’s and which was followed by everyone since then.

But Nawaz raised the level from street and mohalla back to the forgotten world of national politics. He no doubt exploited the inflationary pressures and made false promises of relief, but he also did something different. He repeated his mantras again and again that: army has no role in politics so compromise is not possible with Musharraf; judiciary sacked by Musharraf has to be restored and the constitution must be brought back to the position where it existed in October of 1999 when the military took over. This means an end to article 58 2(B) and the National Security Council.

It was this message of defiance that brought him back; otherwise he hardly had any time to plan his campaign. And since putting up his flag in the heart of Pakistan he has simply reiterated his position, comparing himself to the Sikh who doesn’t budge.

Demand to restore the judiciary is both principled and popular; but will PPP be willing to move along this agenda? While she was still alive Ms Bhutto had meticulously kept herself away from this demand, and since winning the elections Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman of PPP, has dodged this question several times. If there were really no “script”, for what President Musharraf called “the Mother of all Elections” then he will soon be spending time with his grand children in Boston — or may be in Florida if he likes a little sun. But if there was a script for these elections then there has to be a second part of it as well: and PML (N) may soon find itself sitting in the opposition in both the centre and Punjab, waiting for the mid-term polls within the next 12 months. For us in the media both situations can be interesting; let’s see what happens?

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