Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Democracy's Revenge

First things first. Elections in Pakistan were fair. There was no pre-poll rigging. Mush, the scheming dictator, as the mainstream media loves to dub him, is after all no Gen Zia. While Zia was a rude Islamist, Musharraf is wordly and smart. Despite his liberal credentials, Mush is nonetheless overtly ambitious. Methinks he read the public mood. There could be other reasons – No rigging could have worked because the victory margins of the winning candidates have been too wide. The army remained neutral under Gen Kiyani, who though a Mush loyalist, is not politically inclined. The press kept its vigil. World capitals -- notably Washington DC and Riyad -- watched carefully. Most analysts however concede that Musharraf knew that were he to rig these elections, the backlash could be terrible, something he cannot withstand.

Coming to the final outcome of Elections 2008 – I was a little generous perhaps with PPP. I predicted 110. They got 88. If we add the women’s and minorities reserved seats, they add up to a decent 113. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N did exceptionally well. Since PML is essentially a centre-right party, election boycott by some right wing parties like the Jamat-i-Islami helped Nawaz. They lapped an impressive 65. Add reserved seats and they touch 84. It is a personal vindication for the man, who was kicked around at Lahore International airport on Musharraf’s orders – upon his return from exile -- only a few months back. Now it is Nawaz Sharif’s time to get even. I expect political maturity from Main sahib. However he may settle for nothing less than Mush’s exit. Sharif can always have those lowly chaps at Lahore International airport grilled over hot coals – Pakistan style.


Elections 2008 shattered a few myths. There was no sympathy vote. People exercised their franchise mostly on ethnic lines. The voter maturity level was very high. People liked Benazir but not her hubby, who remains a much polarizing figure. Despite him, PPP proved to be a party which transcended political boundaries, like always. Dawn, Pakistan most respected newspaper puts it succinctly, ‘PPP has managed the highest number of seats in the National Assembly and not thanks to Sindh alone. Its enviable comeback is owed to a strong showing in all four provinces. Pity that Benazir did not live to see the day.’ PPP remains party of the masses in Pak.

Now the game of courtship begins. PPP is expected to join hands with Nawaz to form a consensus government. Already the era of coalition governments [ like India] has started in Pakistan. We will increasingly get to hear lexicon replete with words like allies, tie-ups et al in the days to come. Together with likeminded guys like ANP, headed by the pashtoon Asfandar Wali Khan [grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan], PPP-PML-N combine can form a stable government. There are differences though – while the PPP appears conciliatory towards Mush, Nawaz is hawkish. [Mush's exit can mean re-alignment of equations for US, who back him at the moment] Restoration of the Nov 3 judiciary could be another sticking point. Since Mush is in no mood to go – though morally he must quit -- I think a confrontational attitude is going to harm the alliance. A more nuanced, step-by-step approach is a smart idea to take the Prez on.

However the task to cobble the next government is uphill. Both PPP and PML-N may have to shed their baggages and past bickering. Unfortunately that may not be very easy. They are ideologically diametrical [PPP: centre-left; PML-N: centre-right] but look headed for confluence. Guardian UK analysizes this thus:
The classic PML voter is urban, lower middle class, relatively educated, with a world-view informed by Pakistani nationalism and a very contemporary moderate Islamism. Nawaz is not particularly politically sophisticated, speaks Urdu or Punjabi not the elite's English but reads local newspapers and watches the new satellite television channels.

By contrast, the PPP's voter, by and large, lives in a different world, a world that was dominant up to a decade ago. It is a world that is much more rural, more deferential, more rooted in tradition. Its nationalism is less marked and its Islam less influenced by the international trends of the last 30 years and thus much less politicised and much more based in centuries-old Sufi traditions.

In hindshight Elections 2008 have been significant for Pak in more than one way. They come at a time of extreme radicalism. The state of Pakistan came close to brink many times in the past few years. The anarchy saw hundreds of innocent Pakistanis die. It witnessed the despicable assassination of Pakistan’s most promising leader. The results, which many read as a referendum against Musharraf and Islamists [both Musharraf’s party PML-Q and Islamists across the political spectrum got a drubbing of their life]. These elections have also firmly established that Pakistan is fed up with the military boots. The verdict is clear. More than anything else the results signal return of the much cherished democracy.

There is an African adage, 'However dark the night, dawn will break'.
Benazir must be turning in her ambrosial grave. It is her dawn.
She has won, even in death.