The article below was written in early October. As a result of the earthquake, its translation into English was delayed, as well as its posting on our website. The partial stabilisation of Musharraf?s position following the elections is now in question because of the massive failures of his administration in responding to the 8 October earthquake. Despite the article being written before the earthquake it is still of relevance and contains important information concerning the role of Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI in Pakistan) in the elections.
By Khalid Bhatti, Socialist Movement Pakistan Socialist Movement members achieve impressive votes
General Musharaf, President of Pakistan, was able to conclude the third and final round of the second set of non-party local government elections in his six year rule, in the first week of October. In these elections, panels of candidates can stand but not in the name of any political party or organisation. The election results are not surprising for those who know some thing about Pakistani politics. As expected, the general?s party won most of the seats in these non-party elections. The opposition parties accused the government of rigging the vote but the election commission and government responded saying that the elections were held in a fair and transparent manner.
Non Party Elections
This is not the first time that elections were held on a non-party basis in Pakistani politics. All military dictators since 1958 have used these type of elections as a tactic to weaken political parties and to strengthen their military rule.
The main purpose of the non-party elections is to weaken political debate and to promote Biradariism (clan politics), sectarianism, tribalism, and other divisions. By transferring limited powers to a local level, the generals attempt to divert attention away from absolute centralization of power in their hands.
In this way, military dictators in Pakistan, who enjoy almost complete control over a lot of what happens in the country, attempt to give the illusion to the majority of the population that some sort of democracy exists through conducting fabricated local election dramas.
In 1962, General Ayub Khan organised local government elections to camouflage his military regime with a ?democratic? cover. General Zia-ul-Haq held 3 non-party local elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987, to strengthen his military rule and weaken the political parties. Now General Musharraf is attempting to follow the same path. Musharraf held the first local government elections in 2000-2001 under his ?devolution? plan. The results show that these elections have served the purpose of temporarily de-politicising society.
The turn out in these elections, which were held in two phases on 18 and 25 August, were very low, showing how the masses have completely lost confidence in the electoral process. The election commission announced that the turn-out was 48%, which nobody believed except the government and election commission. The turn out in Karachi was 25.6% and 22% in Lahore. The turn-out nationally, in reality, was not more than 30%. Even in Baluchistan the turn out was 17%. In every election the election commission has to increase the turnout to give the election more credibility and legitimacy.
The vast majority of people are not interested in casting their votes because they know it will not make any difference. Every body knows that the military will decide the outcome and will rig the elections.
It is the working class who have particularly lost illusions in the electoral process, which was shown by the fact that the turn out was even lower in working class areas. There was no public enthusiasm for the polls. In many cases, the only active people in these elections were relatives and friends of the candidates. In some areas, political workers were also active in the support of their candidates. But state machinery was the most active in the campaign supporting the ruling party?s candidates.
Violence and Rigging
These were the bloodiest elections in the history of Pakistan. More than 74 people were killed and 800 injured. Election related violence has continued even after the polls closed. Many people were killed because they did not cast their votes in favor of candidates backed by powerful forces in local politics.
In the rural areas, the local elections have always become the starting point of long-lasting feuds between different clans and groups. These sorts of feuds take 5,000 lives every year just in Punjab province. In some areas, like Dera Ghazi Khan and Gujrat, the polling staff were abducted and tortured to get favorable results.
The most debated issue during and after the elections is rigging. All the opposition parties accuse the government of cheating. Even government ministers complained about rigging. It is no secret that rigging is an ?essential? part of elections in Pakistan for the ruling elite. It is a tradition. The government uses all means possible to win the elections.
Government-backed candidates use violence and threats to make sure they win. Pre-poll rigging is very important in securing a victory. Bogus ?voters? lists? and duplicate voting are normal practices in Pakistan. The provincial governments in Punjab and Sindh used the full machinery of their provincial administrations to win elections. Opposition party candidates were forced to withdraw from elections. Pressure to get them to do this was exerted on their relatives who worked in different provincial and federal departments. These government employees were threatened with the sack from their jobs if their relatives decided to contest against the government backed candidates.
All the political parties contested these non party elections, but not under the name of their party. All parties form groups or lists at a national level. For example, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q ? General Musharraf?s party) formed itself as the Prosper Pakistan group, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as the Peoples Friend group, and Jamat-i- Islami, the reactionary Islamic party (JI) as the Al Khidmat group.
The PPP, JI and PML-N (the party of the deposed Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif) formed an alliance in Punjab, but in many areas these parties also made alliances with the ruling party.
All the parties gave support (although it was non-party) to influential candidates who came from big clans and tribes. All the capitalist parties prefer standing rich candidates. It was almost impossible to differentiate between the candidates, because they contested the same programme which, in fact, means no programme. The election campaign was almost non-political and personal. It was very difficult to differentiate between different political parties.
The experience of the election campaign showed to the working masses that these parties have no programme and ideology, but that they are only consumed with greed to get power to plunder state resources. The elections for district mayors and town mayors showed there is a disgusting struggle for power amongst the parties in which supposedly sworn political enemies have forged alliances to get their hands on power. Jamat-e Islami made an alliance with the so-called progressive Awami National Party (ANP) in North West Frontier Province. The ?progressive? PPP-S (Pakistan Peoples Party ? Sherpao, which is an ally of Musharraf) has formed an alliance with the party which gave rise in part to the Taleban, Jamiat ?ulmai-Islam (JUI) and PPP in NWFP. During the elections these groups fought against each other but now to get power they have united.
The results in Sindh are shocking for the PPP, as it has lost in its stronghold there. It even lost a seat in the home constituency of Benazir Bhutto.
In many districts, the PPP failed to put candidates. It is true that government repression caused lot of problems for the PPP, but it is also true that these results reflect the reaction against the pro-American, anti-working class policies of the PPP leadership. The PPP has completely transformed itself into a capitalist party. PPP leaders always rely on big feudal lords and the rich. Its leadership long ago lost confidence in the working class.
The MMA (the alliance of religious Islamic parties) suffered heavily in these elections. The two main parties of the alliance contested elections against each other. Jamat-e ?Islami lost in its strong hold in Dir to the PPP and ANP (the Pashtun Nationalist party). Jamiat-ulmai-Islam (JUI) lost to the ANP in its stronghold, Tank. The ANP emerged as the single largest winner in these elections. Fundamentalist parties lost lots of ground against ANP, since the last general elections in 2002.
The ruling PML-Q emerged as the largest party in Baluchistan, thanks to the tribal chiefs and state machinery. The Baluch nationalist parties have shown their strength in Makran coastal belt. JUI has also won the majority in 6 districts, mainly in Pashtun speaking areas.
The ruling PML-Q is in serious crises. The ministers are accusing each other of rigging.
In the Punjab, the chief minister and provincial president of PML-Q, both want to become prime minister after the next general elections.
Overall, these results show that the military, through bribery and unprincipled alliances, has a comfortable majority to elect the maximum district and town mayors, who are vital to win the 2007 general elections. The military establishment is preparing in advance for these elections. The establishment has developed a new strategy and the emergence of sh;ANP in NWFP is part of that strategy.
The military establishment is also worried about the results in the cities in Punjab, where opposition parties showed steps forward. Despite the rigging, government candidates lost in Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Faisalabad and other cities.
The working class has experienced both ?democracy? and military rule. Neither has solved any of the basic problems in society. The ruling class has failed to even establish capitalist democracy and abolish feudalism. These elections once again raise the question of a working class alternative. A revolutionary mass party of the working class can overthrow this repressive capitalist regime and establish workers? democracy and a planned economy.
Good results for Socialist Movement
Socialist Movement members contested elections in different areas on a pro-working class and anti-privatisation programme. 15 Socialist Movement and Trade Union Rights Campaign members contested the elections, in which 11 won seats. Socialist Movement members did not stand under the name of the party because of the restrictions in the elections. Therefore, the votes we received were not necessarily votes for a full socialist programme. However, the results do represent support for working class candidates who were standing for a fighting opposition to privatisation. In total, SMP members got 15,000 votes.
8 SMP members won councilor seats in Karachi, and one each from Dadu, Shikarpur and Dir.
The votes were as follows:
Amir Alam, Labour Councilor: 867 votes
Zuhra Bano, Labour Councilor:1023 votes
Amanullah Khan, General Councilor: 1084 votes
Nafees, Labour Councilor: 751 votes
Kishan, Minority councilor: 1056 votes
Hamza Chandio, General councilor: 1175 votes
Allah Dino, Labour councilor: 894 votes
Sadiq Hussain, Labour Councilor: 981 votes
Ibrar Khan, 655 votes
Hanif usmani, 835 votes
Muhammad Ibrahim, General Councilor: 1287
Riaz Jatoi, Labour Councillor: 916 votes
Sanjay Kumar, 694 votes
Ram Kumar, 471 votes
Hashim Jan, Local Mayor: 2362 votes