It’s February 18 in Pakistan now which means elections to the National and Provincial assemblies are happening today.
The last year or two have not been kind to Pakistan and more than the election results, there are worries of bombings like this one on Saturday in Parachinar (Kurram Agency, FATA).
A bomb explosion rocked a rally organised by the People’s Party here on Saturday, killing 40 people and bringing the election campaign to an unpropitious end.
The bomb, planted in a car parked near the election office of a PPP-backed candidate, went off even as a procession terminated at the place. Syed Riaz Hussain, the candidate, escaped unhurt.
Although the exact nature of the blast could not be ascertained, Political Agent Syed Zaheerul Islam told Dawn that it was a suicide attack.
He put the death toll at 37 and the number of the injured at 93.
Doctors said that 110 wounded people, 50 of them critical, had been brought to the town’s main hospital. Seven shops and 10 vehicles were damaged.
The explosion sparked riots in the town and a number of abandoned houses and shops were torched. Troops opened fire to quell the disturbances, injuring several people.
Polling opens at 8am (0300 GMT) and closes at 5pm (1200 GMT).
There are also fears of rigging in favor of the Musharraf-backed PML-Q, headed by the Chaudhries of Gujrat.
A spokesperson for Mrs Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is leading in opinion polls, said the vote was “not going to be a free and fair election”.
The party accused the pro-Musharraf PML-Q of plotting to stuff ballot boxes.
Mrs Bhutto’s former rival, Nawaz Sharif, whose party is also ahead of Mr Musharraf’s supporters in polls, said a “massive rigging plan” had “been implemented”.
Mrs Bhutto’s widower and successor as party leader, Asif Ali Zardari, said in an interview with the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper that his party would have “no choice but to take to the streets” if the elections were rigged.
|Party||Terror Free Tomorrow||International Republican Institute|
As for MMA, or rather JUI-F as Jamaat-e-Islami is boycotting the elections, it is not expected to do well even in the NWFP.
In my opinion, the Terror Free Tomorrow poll is closer to the truth for the PPP share. Of course, in a first-past-the-post system, it is difficult to guess the number of seats each party would win from such country-wide opinion polls. Cynic that I am, I believe Musharraf is fighting for his political life and hence he (or his PML-Q surrogates) would not hesitate a bit in rigging the elections. The rigging need not be massive; only as much as is needed to result in a hung parliament and some large number of seats for PML-Q.
As to who to vote for, I am not in Pakistan, so I cannot vote. If Benazir Bhutto hadn’t been assassinated, I would have endorsed her PPP as the party to vote for. The reason is simple: PPP is the largest and really the only party with support all over Pakistan and Benazir Bhutto was a leader of stature. Yes, I lived through her earlier stints in power and am familiar with the large scale corruption and lack of any achievements of her government. But I don’t consider Pakistani politicians to be angels; rather the task of the voter is to choose the lesser evil and Bhutto’s party seemed like the best bet (among political parties only, of course) for a democratic Pakistan. Unfortunately, the way the PPP has handled Benazir’s succession has put me off. Appointing a 19 year old Bilawal as the boy king and then appointing Asif Zardari as his regent reminds me a lot more of absolute monarchy than of democracy. Plus voting for a party led by Asif Zardari is not something I can do.
Among the other major parties taking part in the election, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is the only one that has made an issue of the large scale sacking of higher court judges done by Musharraf last November. I believe that to be worthy cause and so I recommend that everyone vote for the symbol “Lion” of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group.
And finally here’s some fun at the expense of Pervez Musharraf when Jemima Khan interviewed him recently.
I’m also disappointed, I tell him. The corrupt got off scot-free. And now it looks as though he will shortly be doing business with the very same politicians he wanted to get rid of.
Disarmingly he agrees – something he does a lot of. And I sense it’s genuine rather than appeasement. He argues that he had no other choice but to deal with the existing leaders of the main parties. This is a little disingenuous. The national reconciliation ordinance which he passed in October 2007 effectively guaranteed lifelong immunity from prosecution to corrupt politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, her husband Zardari and others, and enabled her to return to Pakistan to contest elections. He asks if he is being recorded. I say yes. He hesitates, then answers tellingly, “Yes, I agree with you [that charges should not have been dropped]. But then Benazir has good contacts abroad in your country, who thought she was the future of the country.”
I press him further. Surely even in spite of pressure from outside, given his feelings about the effects of corruption on Pakistani politics, those charges should never have been dropped. There should have been a proper judicial process.
I put this to him. “No,” he replies, “because they would have all joined and then I would have been out.” At this point he looks a bit wild eyed. He quickly adds that, of course, being in power has never been his ultimate goal. How much easier it would be, he adds wistfully and a touch unconvincingly, if he’d just resigned to play golf.
[…] Later when I point out that his old opponent Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), has vowed that if elected he will reinstate the judges who were unconstitutionally deposed by Musharraf, he retorts incredulously, “It is not a dictatorship here! How can you reinstate judges if you become prime minister? How?” This rhetorical question comes from a man who on 3 November dismissed 60 per cent of the superior court judges, including three chief justices, in anticipation of their ruling against his re-election as President while still head of the army. Many remain under house arrest.
[…] When I ask about the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is still under house arrest, he denounces him as “the scum of the earth – a third-rate man – a corrupt man”. And the lawyers’ movement? The lawyers have vowed to continue protesting on the streets and boycotting the courts until the deposed judges are reinstated and the constitution is restored to its pre-3 November status. “With hindsight,” he replies solemnly, “it was my personal error that I allowed them to go and express their views in the street… We should have controlled them in the beginning before it got out of control.”
And so it is a fight only for Musharraf’s kursi, his staying in power for himself, just like it has been since that day in October 1999 when Musharraf first seized power in a coup.