BY EVA CHENG
Despite rampant vote rigging, Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf failed to achieve a majority in the country's National Assembly (lower house) election on October 10. The election just managed to beat the three-year deadline set by the Supreme Court in the wake of Musharraf's October 1999 military coup.
The election for the assemblies of Pakistan's four provinces Punjab, Sindh, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan was also held on the same day.
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) condemned the election as "seriously flawed" and stated that it was highly doubtful the electoral process could be considered as a transition to democracy.
Not surprisingly, US President George Bush's administration was remarkably accommodating to its loyal ally in the War on Terror. Ignoring the widespread allegations of irregularities, a US State Department spokesperson on October 16 described the election as "an important step" towards democracy.
Even with blatant state backing, Musharraf's preferred party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), won just 77 of the 272 open seats. Sixty additional seats are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslim minorities.
The next biggest bloc 63 seats was won by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led by the now self-exiled former PM, Benazir Bhutto.
The most surprising result was the 45 seats won by the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) an electoral alliance of six Islamic fundamentalist parties forming the third biggest bloc.
Previously, the MMA had never won more than nine seats in the lower house. In addition, the MMA also mopped up 48 seats in the 99-seat NWFP assembly and 13 in Balochistan's 51-seat assembly. The MMA won eight and nine seats respectively in Punjab's 297-seat assembly and Sindh's 130-seat chamber.
Hectic horse-trading is underway to cobble together the next government. The possibility of the MMA being part of a coalition government cannot be ruled out. If it does, it will seek to impose its fundamentalist agenda on Pakistan society. This development may not concern Musharraf, who has described the fundamentalist parties and their militia groups as Pakistan's "first line of defence" in any war with India.
Moreover, the constitutional amendments that Musharraf pushed through to secure overarching presidential control included one that required all parliamentary candidates, except mullahs, to have a four-year university qualification. This gave the MMA decisive assistance. This rule alone, according to the EUEOM, prevented 96% of Pakistan's population from contesting the election.
The official voter turnout was 41.8%, but both the EUEOM and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan documented a variety of irregularities, mostly state-sponsored, which prevented eligible voters from exercising their rights. The turnout in 1997 was 34.42%.
While the election was meant to give the impression that Pakistan is returning to civilian rule, the EUEOM pointed out that the supreme role of the military had already been institutionalised by pre-election constitutional amendments. A National Security Council has been created which has the power to subordinate a civilian government to military control.
Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the socialist Labour Party Pakistan ran for the National Assembly in Lahore. He held 37 public meetings during his campaign, attracting more than 15,000 participants. Tariq campaigned against the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and strongly opposed the military regime.
Manzoor Ahmed, a PPP candidate, won a lower house seat in a town east of Lahore campaigning with the slogan of "an irreconcilable struggle for socialist revolution".
From Green Left Weekly, October 23, 2002.
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