Reports from Pakistan seem to confirm what some of us have known all along. Military ruler General Pervez Musharraf has already fixed the elections scheduled for January 8 and that Pakistan's crisis is unlikely to end with the "election" of a new parliament. Washington Post's Griff Witte quoted experts warning of "renewed chaos" as a result of the rigged vote.
The New York Times then cited the results of the latest poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) that showed Musharraf's approval ratings in Pakistan as being lower even than those of Bush in the United States. 67 percent of Pakistanis want him to resign immediately whereas 70 percent believe his party does not deserve re-election. Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), with 30 percent support, emerges as the single largest party in Pakistan's multi-party system. Conservative former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) is in second position with 25 percent support. Most people would prefer a Bhutto-Sharif coalition to rule the country rather then the Musharraf-Bhutto alliance favored in Washington.
Musharraf has today withdrawn his decree imposing a state of emergency and suspending Pakistan's constitution. The Bush administration wants Musharraf to survive and has been willing to let him retrace some of his missteps. The withdrawal of the emergency would be another occasion for the State Dept. to speak of "positive" development in Pakistan. U.S. officials insist that their technical assistance in providing transparent ballot boxes and arranging quick counts will mitigate the massive rigging Musharraf has allegedly planned. But the holding of free and fair elections is not a technical issue. It is a matter of intent.
A ruler or government that has no intention of sharing or transferring power is unlikely to hold free and fair elections. Most of the fix for the coming elections is already in -- manipulated voters' lists, gerrymandering, intimidation of opposition candidates and arm-twisting of local influentials to support the ruling Party.
A pre-election mission sent to Pakistan by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), led by former Senator Tom Daschle, reported on November 8 that a free election was not possible without:
1) Steps by the Election Commission to improve the quality of the voters list, which is widely believed to contain as many as 10 million faulty entries;
2) Actions by the government to prevent election-related violence and to promptly investigate and prosecute all attempts to disrupt the election process;
3) Cooperation by the government with judicial inquiries into the killing and abduction of journalists and political party workers;
4) Establishment of a neutral caretaker Cabinet in consultation with political parties and civil society;
5) Use of the government's full authority to improve the law-and-order situation, particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and southern districts of the North West Frontier Province, to ensure that campaigning and voting can take place;
6) [Steps to] ensure that criminal laws not be used to impede political activity and that no law designed to protect public order be selectively applied; and
7) [Actions that] terminate the involvement of intelligence agencies in the electoral process.
"Without such steps, crucial parliamentary elections risk being perceived as compromised and unrepresentative, and could lead to deeper civil unrest and military involvement in politics," Daschle said.
The NDI has not yet agreed to send an Election Observer mission on grounds that the pre-poll rigging makes Election Day observation less significant. The Carter Center and the British Commonwealth, too, are not sending observers for polling day. The IRI, however, is sending 60 observers who would most likely be herded by Pakistan's ubiquitous intelligence services to places where election rules would by and large be observed to enable an already favorably disposed Bush administration to say that "the poll was flawed, but its result is still acceptable."
The rigging on Election Day is likely to be selective, outside of the view of foreigners and the media as far as possible. The primary purpose of the Musharraf regime would be to influence the outcome both in terms of who gets elected and how many seats each party gets. Thus, the opposition might get a significant number of seats but individuals with an independent mind could be made to lose.
After the elections, a second round of manipulation will take place to create factions within each party and to manage a pliant coalition. This would be similar to what happened in 2002. A coalition cobbled together in the same manner as 2002 after a fraudulent election euphemistically described as "flawed but acceptable" by the U.S. government will not advance democracy in Pakistan.
In 2002, Musharraf arbitrarily amended Pakistan's constitution to bar anyone elected prime minister twice from running for a third term. The restriction was meant to exclude Bhutto and Sharif from challenging Musharraf's authority. Musharraf is now under pressure to lift that ban. But if it is not lifted, there will be no real choice for Pakistanis because then Musharraf would be able to appoint anyone he likes as Prime Minister. It is strange that there are no term limits for President and, therefore, Musharraf can manipulate his election as many times as he likes but alternative leaders cannot run for Prime Minister and demand a serious share in power.
No parliamentary democracy has term limits because a Prime Ministers do not have a fixed term and a twice-elected Prime Minister can end up actually governing for only a few months each time. Musharraf's desire to exclude Bhutto and Sharif and thereby pave the way for choosing a Prime Minister himself is another sign that he is following the Hosni Mubarak role model. The Egyptian dictator has ruled his country for almost 27 years without showing any willingness to share power or to defer to the people's will.
But while Musharraf may want to emulate the Egyptian model, Pakistani civilians will not roll over and play dead. Bhutto, Sharif and their millions of supporters are unlikely to be content with running USAID funded NGOs debating the virtues of democracy in meetings where no more than 100 people are allowed to attend at any given time, which is what Egypt's liberal opposition has been reduced to over the last two decades.
The Pakistani opposition has substantive public support, which they will clearly manifest during the election campaign. Sharif's decision to follow Bhutto's lead in joining the polls process enables the opposition to keep Pakistani civil society agitated and the political parties geared up for resistance. Pakistan's civilians may not have the power to topple the Musharraf-led security state but they can deny Musharraf legitimacy that he craves.
If the election result reflects the plan carefully crafted by Pakistan's invisible government, the opposition would have the option of confronting the rigged outcome. By refusing to pay attention to the specific grievances against the caretaker governments and the ruling Party, the Pakistani Election Commission has demonstrated its lack of independence. In any case, how can a Chief Election Commissioner appointed by one man who just recently dismissed Supreme Court judges be described as "independent?"
By failing to understand the differences between the political history and aspirations of Egypt and Pakistan, Musharraf might be risking considerable and prolonged unrest in trying to emulate Mubarak.
It might be better for Musharraf and Pakistan if the elections are genuinely free, fair and transparent and the people have the option of voting for Bhutto and Sharif as future prime ministers. Then Pakistan can get back on the democratic track as Turkey did after its 1983 election.
Turkish coup-maker General Kenan Evren took a back seat after holding genuinely free polls in 1983. He served out his remaining term as civilian President and allowed politicians to run the show without too much meddling even though his preferred party was voted down by the Turkish people. Egypt's Mubarak may still be in power but it is Turkey's Evren who enjoys greater respect.
Husain Haqqani is Director of Boston University's Center for International Relations and Co-Chair of the Hudson Institute's Project on Islam and Democracy. He is the author of the Carnegie Endowment book Pakistan Between Mosque and Military. He has served as adviser to Pakistani Prime Ministers, including Sharif and Bhutto and as ambassador to Sri Lanka.