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DAWN - Features; February 17, 2008

February 17, 2008


As the world watches

By Hajrah Mumtaz

Tomorrow morning, a fair few of us will go to the polling booth in an effort to stand up and be counted, for better or for worse. Most of us are nervous, for it is by no means business as usual in Pakistan, and hasn’t been for a long time.

It’s true that finally, when faced by presidential bluster, one can demand exasperatedly, “Oh yeah? You and whose army?” in the pleasurable knowledge that the retired general can no longer merely point out of the window.

And another delight is the admission made by Malik Mohammed Qayyum, that non pareil amongst the country’s legal eagles, about the elections being rigged. I know I shouldn’t laugh — truly, I realise the implication of his comments in terms of Pakistan’s future, ie whether there will be one. But I would have thought that one experience of being caught admitting state corruption on tape would have been enough for any man, particularly when he resigned in ignominy rather than face trial for professional misconduct.

There is little doubt that whatever tomorrow’s outcome, it will be tainted by rigging. As a very large number of analysts, observers and commentators have pointed out, such massive pre-poll rigging has already taken place that even in the unlikely event that polling day itself is entirely ‘free and fair’, the results have already largely been engineered. If you don’t believe me, pick up virtually any newspaper from the past week and read the articles about the delimitation of boundaries, the role of the supposedly neutral local governments, the locations of the polling stations, the systematic defamation and slander campaigns run against parties in the opposition, the role of the ISI political cell . . . . the list continues but this is probably enough to be going with.

The tools this regime and its caretaker harem have employed to manipulate voters range from the ludicrous to the Machiavellian. On the ludicrous end are statements celebrating the surfeit in Pakistan of everything from electricity and gas to wheat and edible oil. “Vote for the PML-Q, the party that stocked your larder, sent your children to school and lit up your house,” Big Daddy tells us. “I know you want me to tell you what’s best; after all, I’ve promised to step down if that was what you wanted,” he insists in supreme disregard of the millions of people asking him to step down. (One is tempted to ask, by what other means do you need convincing? Hypnotism?)

The Machiavellian end of the spectrum is represented by a study conducted recently by Reporters sans Frontieres on PTV’s bias in favour of the current regime. Having monitored the state-owned channel from Feb 3-12, the watchdog organisation found that “81 per cent of the political items (reports, interviews, analyses etc) on PTV’s four main news programmes were about the president, federal government or ruling party, the PML (Q). As regards political parties alone, PML (Q) got 24.3 per cent of air-time, while the opposition PML (N) got 6.7 per cent and the PPP, the other leading opposition party, got 10.1 per cent.

“[…] A significant improvement in the PPP’s share of air-time from 7 February onwards was due to the Chehlum ceremonies held 40 days after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. PTV’s reports included criticism of the current PPP leadership and comments by politician Mumtaz Bhutto, who was able to condemn the “politicisation of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination” for two minutes.

“[…] Reporters Without Borders noted that PTV readily broadcasts criticism of the opposition by the regime’s supporters. But the criticism of Musharraf and his allies that is expressed at opposition meetings is rarely broadcast. On 10 February, for example, it broadcast comments by politician Chaudhry Pervez Elahi forecasting that Pakistan would break up if the PPP got to power.

“[…] The authorities have described the Reporters Without Borders monitoring as mendacious. They have claimed, for example, that the government has nothing to do with the president’s political camp. But all observers agree that most government ministers are, directly or indirectly, political allies of Musharraf or the PML (Q). The acting prime minister is a former senate president who was elected as a PML (Q) representative, while the ministers of information and inter-provincial coordination are leading PML (Q) members. A minister in the Balochistan provincial government is even a candidate, in violation of the electoral law.”

Talk about indoctrination; put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Post-script: They say one is known by the company he keeps. Let it not be forgotten that Mr Musharraf chose as his attorney general a humiliated and discredited judge who had, out of political motivations, tried to jail a former prime minister and her spouse on charges that Nawaz Sharif, during whose government this incident took place, recently admitted were in themselves politically motivated.


Personality main factor in Chitral

By Zar Alam Khan

IF past is to take cue from, political parties will count for little as personality clout will hold sway over election for the lone National Assembly and two provincial assembly seats of Chitral.

A three-time MNA and former minister of state, two MPAs, religious scholars, lawyers, government contractors as well as a journalist are in the run for the said seats.

The constituency - NA-32 - spreads over 14,850 sq-km with hard-to-access, scattered and remote villages having a total population of about 400,000. The number of registered voters in the constituency is 197,022 out of which 107,804 are males and 89,218 are female voters.

Clan affiliations, regional rivalries and sectarian divide have been determining factors in all elections held since this formerly princely state was merged into the NWFP as a settled district in 1969.

The former minister, Shahzada Mohiuddin, is contesting on the ticket of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) while the PPP has fielded Shahzada Ghulam Mohiuddin. PPP dissident Sardar Mohammad Khan and Nadir Khwaja, a journalist working with a Peshawar-based Urdu daily, are also in the fray as independent candidates.

In the six general elections held since 1985, the seat has gone to Shahzada Mohiuddin three times, to Jamaat-i-Islami twice and the PPP once.

In the 1985 party-less elections, Mr Mohiuddin was elected from the area. In 1988, Nusrat Bhutto of the PPP returned with 32,819 votes against Mr Mohiuddin's 23,405 votes and later vacated the seat for a local party worker, Ghafoor Shah. Since then the PPP has not been able to win the seat due to nomination of unsuitable persons including outsiders.

In 1990, Mr Mohiuddin defeated Piyar Ali Allana of the PPP, a resident of Karachi, by a margin of 14,641 votes. The PPP got 21,628 votes.

In 1993, the seat went to Pakistan Islamic Front's Maulana Abdul Rahim who scored 16,275 votes against 15,765 of Begum Suleman Khan of the PPP.

In 1997, Mr Mohiuddin contesting on the ticket of the PML-N again won the seat with 24,302 votes defeating the PPP's Ahmad Saeed Khan who got 12,222 votes. While in 2002, the MMA rooted the PML-Q by a margin of over 13,000 votes.

© DAWN Media Group , 2008