Guest post by Ali Malik
In the outrage post emergency, I was confused about whether the opposition should boycott the elections or not? For instance, soon after emergency, when a Lahore based journalist (and one for whom I have high regard for), currently in Karachi, was emotionally advocating oppositions’ boycott of the polls, my only response was, I am not sure whether boycott is a good option or not. As the outrage is giving way to rational, I am getting more and more convinced that boycott is not the best option.
Before I build my case, let me clarify one thing. Just when I believe that boycott of 1985 elections by MRD was not the right decision; I am not ready to buy the argument that had MRD contested those elections, under Zia and his apparatus, it would have won them. However, what contesting would have done then was, make life a lot more miserable for Zia and let democratic forces have more bargaining power against Zia. And I don’t expect miracles happening in 2008 either. Then why am I advocating opposition contesting elections?
My first argument, what is so different between 2002 and 2008? Here we have a bias set-up holding elections. Country is run by PCO and is under martial law. Musharaf has got himself elected as president using unfair means. He has appointed a handpicked Supreme Court. Election commission is part ineffective, part-biased in favor of his supporters. In 2002, we had a bias set up holding elections. Elections were held under PCO and martial law. Musharaf got himself elected president through a gimmick called referendum. Courts were Musharaf’s handpicked. Election commission was headed by bezamir Irshad Hassan Khan. Popular leadership was in exile. Country was in large parts without independent electronic media (news channels were running their test transmissions and were not the news source or opinion makers as they became in 2007 before Martial Law hit them). Popular leadership was in exile. And surprise surprise. Musharaf was Head of State, Head of Executive and Head of “Army”. If contesting elections in 2008 is giving Musharaf legitimacy, it was same back in 2002. Looking at all these facts, people who advocate boycott now, in principle, should have done it in 2002 too. If 2002 elections were contested under protest, so can 2008 be. They got elected. Many of them gifted nation with what we now know as 17th amendment. Others made a lot of noise about rubber-stamp parliament while staying in the same parliament till the very end (yes I am referring to Mr. Imran Khan – if opposition did not want to resign and he thought it was useless to be in parliament – principle demands he should have been out of it as two Baloch nationalist MPs did – hypocrisy).
Second argument is that boycotting elections will deny elections the credibility. To be honest, it does not make any difference to Establishment how credible the elections are for people in Pakistan. Supporters of the regime, if any, are going to hail them for rigging and will try justifying it in the name of stability anyways – so much for the tradition of rule of law of educated Pakistanis. Had it not been the case, we would not have what we had since first provincial elections in Pakistan back in early 50s – Ayub’s election, Zia’s referendum, 88s, 90s, 97s, Musharaf’s referendum, 02, local bodies and list goes on and on and on. And as far as they West goes, did not the same man get away with something as shameless and fraudulent as referendum (about which Dawn apart from these glamorous pictures of handful men in black and women in red voting, was full of stories of ballot stuffing, bogus voting, fraud and rigging). It cannot be worse than that in the coming elections.
I agree that Musharaf will be desperate to have his henchmen in to get indemnity for his coup of November 3rd. He will go to any length to get the elections rigged. His best option is to have opposition parties boycott the polls to give his prodigies a walkover. Imran Khan and Qazi who have been known for being the helping hands of establishment in the past, is up for it once more. The hope of Musharaf in Nawaz’s returns might be the same. I hope Nawaz Sharif has learnt his lesson and will not side with usurpers this time. However, my apprehension is that he will pressurize PPP and others to boycott elections (allowing Musharaf a free ride to 2/3rd) and if that fails he will lead a pro-establishment alliance in the elections (how establishment balances it out between Musharaf and him is to be seen) to check PPP.
I do not expect opposition to do wonders at elections. However, I do believe that with main stream parties contesting led by their leadership, and a higher degree of interest of international media as a result of main stream leaders contesting elections (the only noise that can force the western governments to act), life will be a lot more miserable for him than it was on any of the elections he conducted. It is not a time to boycott but a time to muster all the forces to check forces of establishment to rig elections as much as we can. Give elections a try for a peaceful victory over establishment. Our founding fathers contested election under British rule too. It did not mean accepting colonization. And in the end, street always remains an option. Boycott can only be an option, if it is absolutely clear that it will discredit elections in the eyes of powers who hold tap to aid that waters the plantation of commercial interests of Pakistan Army and will make them act.
In the end, someone said a few months ago that uniform is my skin and no one can make me shed it. Uniform is going today, skin – I have my fingers crossed. This is no small gain for us the people of Pakistan. A lot still needs to be done.
Tail Piece: Khabrain, known to be ISI paper, has published a message (without any proof) attributed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary urging parties to boycott the polls. This shows how desperate regime is to force opposition to boycott the polls.