Pakistan’s elections fair

By Muhammad Hamid Zaman

Were the elections in Pakistan rigged? I don’t think so. Though there is a lot of noise about certain “irregularities” in the election, the facts point in the opposite direction. The first striking feature of the recent elections in Pakistan is the failure of one party or an alliance of parties to gain a majority in the National Assembly. Local and foreign analysts had predicted that, given the blessings of the General Musharraf’s regime to the pro-Government Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam group) or PML (QA), they would be able to gain a majority in the lower house of the parliament. However, this prediction failed, and the chairperson of the King’s party PML (QA), Mian Muhammad Azhar, lost from both constituencies he was contesting. The number of seats the King’s party and its allies bagged was less than a third of the total number of seats in the National Assembly.

The EU observers and a couple of groups in Pakistan have claimed that the election procedures greatly favored the pro-government party, but the numbers don’t coincide. I do not deny that the current regime would have loved to have the PML (QA) win the elections. However, I don’t think that if the government had interfered in the elections, PML (QA) would have been able to get only 73 seats out of a possible 272.

A close look at the profiles of those who won on the pro-government ticket indicates that most of the politicians elected on PML (QA) ticket have been in the assembly before. These individuals are either from feudal families with long political histories, or are industrialists who have been popular among the people. Some candidates have won in the past with or without any party affiliation. People in Pakistan most often vote for a person based on his qualifications, and not based on his party.

When the results are analyzed, we find many pro-government candidates losing the elections to rookies. One such example of the PML (QA) party president is mentioned above. Other examples include Illahi Bux Somro, another PML (QA) candidate. This time, we have a seasoned politician from a different province, but once again a King’s man, and another candidate for the position of prime minister!

The surprise success of the religious parties coalition, Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (Joint Alliance for Action), or MMA, also suggest a fair election. One should remember that these far-right religious groups have very little in common with the current regime of General Musharraf. The religious groups have hardly anything nice to say about Musharraf’s foreign policy in Afghanistan, the presence of U.S. troops in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s unprecedented support to the U.S. in its war on terrorism. These religious parties also do not agree with the constitutional reforms introduced by the president, and want to restore the original 1973 constitution. In addition, they are against the presence of Pakistan’s army in politics, and oppose Musharraf’s recent rulings on the religious schools (madrassas) in Pakistan. If the elections were to be rigged, the government would have made sure not to allow the MMA to win this many seats, especially in the provinces bordering Afghanistan, for it could hamper the government’s stance on the Taliban and al Qaeda. MMA success also suggested that though the President’s post-September 11 foreign policy was well received in many circles inside and outside Pakistan, he has been unable to get the support of a large majority of Pakistan’s population. I believe that this is something the government would have made sure not to disclose to the international community, had it manipulated elections.

The Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians group (PPPP) emerged as the second largest party in the elections, trailing the PML (QA) by approximately a dozen seats. It is important to note that the PPPP also does not agree with the government on constitutional reforms, though it does support the Pakistan’s role in the U.S. war on terrorism. Though far-fetched, there is still a chance of an alliance between MMA and the PPPP. Though this is a remote possibility, both the MMA and PPP agree on the issue of revoking the constitutional reforms introduced by the current regime. If the government were to have rigged the elections, it would have made sure that neither the PPPP or MMA gained any substantial majority; both of these parties have been quite a nuisance for the government, and bringing them into the assemblies would have been foolish. The aforementioned arguments gain even more strength when one looks at the results in the provincial assemblies. Both the PPPP and MMA are quite certainly going to form governments in two out of the four provinces, with MMA having a very strong chance of forming the government in the third province. The pro-government PML (QA) will probably form a government in the Punjab province. If the government had decided to rig the elections, what would be its argument for having such anti-government groups forming governments in the provinces? I personally don’t see any connection, and think that if the elections were to be rigged, we would have seen a very different outcome.

The most convincing argument in favor of the elections being fair comes from the fact that since the MMA won in two out of the four provinces they will probably control the upper house of Parliament and the Senate (where each province is given equal representation). This also means that the MMA will be able to appoint a chairman of the Senate of their choosing. According to Pakistan’s constitution, the chairman of the Senate becomes an acting president in the absence of the elected president. This implies that if General Musharraf is absent, or is unable to perform his duties because of any reason, Pakistan’s president will be someone from the far-right religious parties. I fail to see why the government would rig the elections, have all sorts of irregularities, and still have a potential interim president (if the needed arises) from a group that questions the very existence of General Musharraf in Pakistan’s politics.