Gen Ziaul Haq’s one-line addition to Article 58 defeated the concept of parliamentary democracy enshrined in the original 1973 Constitution. It empowered the president to dismiss a government and the parliament if “a situation has arisen in which the government of the federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and an appeal to the electorate is necessary.”
That Article 58(2b) was put to use twice in a little over a two-year period made obvious the military establishment’s impatience with its newest experiment in controlled democracy. It was not producing subservient civilian governments.
The then president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, was its front man. He dismissed the beleaguered government of Benazir Bhutto on Aug 6, 1990, barely 20 months after she had taken the oath. Halfway through her tenure, she faced a no-confidence motion. The failed attempt to dislodge her was manoeuvred by the country’s intelligence agencies in what later came to be known as Operation Midnight Jackal. Horse-trading and shifting party loyalties of elected members came to dominate parliamentary business instead of legislation.
The geopolitical situation was at a historic juncture. Soviet forces had withdrawn from Afghanistan but the government they had left behind was still in power in Kabul. At a more global level, the world was jubilant, anticipating an end to the Cold War. The military in Pakistan could no longer rule from the front.
Ms Bhutto found herself at the rough end of a harsh military establishment that was not willing to cede power to elected representatives. Her quick ouster attracted widespread sympathy as she was seen as a victim of the president’s high-handedness.
The PPP realised the need to broaden its support base and formed the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDA) with three other parties: the Tehreek-i-Istaqlal of Asghar Khan, the Shia party Tehreek-i-Nafaz-i-Fiqah-i-Jafria and the Malik Qasim group of the Pakistan Muslim League.
Meanwhile, the president made no bones about his intention to thwart a PPP comeback. He appointed the leader of the opposition as the caretaker prime minister and known opponents of the PPP as caretaker chief ministers in the four provinces. Except for Balochistan, the caretakers returned to become chief ministers of their respective provinces after the 1990 elections.
The PPP’s return would have been disastrous for the military establishment, and thus the game got dirtier. As quoted in the short order of the Supreme Court dated Oct 19, 2012, in the Asghar Khan case (Human rights case 19 of 1996):
“Late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the then president of Pakistan, General (R) Aslam Baig and General (R) Asad Durrani acted in violation of the Constitution by facilitating a group of politicians and political parties, etc., to ensure their success against the rival candidates in the general election of 1990, for which they secured funds from Mr Younas Habib.”
Yet doling out illegal money to the favourites of the military establishment is just half the story. The other half is most likely to be as follows:
The PPP secured 7.5 million votes in the 1988 general elections which translated into 93 seats in the National Assembly. Its rival, the PML-N, polled 5.9 million votes and won in 54 national constituencies. In the next elections held after Ms Bhutto’s dismissal her party (the PDA) polled 7.9 million votes while the tally of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) rose to 7.8 million, a net gain of around two million votes. The votes gained by independent candidates went down by almost the same level. In the net effect, the PPP’s votes stayed almost the same but its seats were halved, coming down from 93 to 44, while the gain in votes by the IJI raised its seat tally from 54 in 1988 to 105 in 1990.
It was not just anonymous account holders’ money that was doled out to the establishment’s favourite party leaders; it was also the independents’ votes that switched candidates and constituencies.
This manipulation of results was carried out by the special cell established in the presidency for this purpose. This was made possible by bending the rules regarding the announcement of results that was first introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq. The process of compiling and announcing results was centralised and there was no crosscheck that a party could run to verify them.
Technically speaking, political parties could gather the results stationwise through their polling agents and collate their sum with the results announced from Islamabad. But the presiding officers would either not provide these copies to the agents of the candidates or would not put their signatures on them, so if contested, they could refuse to accept the findings as genuine. This practice was so widespread that the PPP demanded of the caretaker government in 1993 that the presiding officers be made to impress the polling stations’ result sheet with their thumb impressions as well as their signatures. The rules were later changed accordingly in 1993.
The seats reserved for women in parliament by the 1973 Constitution were time-barred. The provision was made to last till 10 years or three general elections, whichever come later. Since three elections had already been held in 1977, 1985 and 1988, the reserved seats provision expired. It seemed that nobody in power was interested in finding a way to make women’s representation possible and we had to wait till 2002 to see the return of these seats.