Liveblogging Presidential Debate I

I am liveblogging the first Presidential debate between Senator Obama and Senator McCain. It was supposed to be about foreign policy and national security, but there have been questions about the fiscal crisis.

For a while there, it looked like this debate might not happen with McCain “suspending” his campaign.

The first question about debates is: Do they matter? According to Mark Blumenthal, there is a great potential for debates to influence public opinion because they are watched by so many people.

Four years ago, according to Nielsen Media Research, 62.5 million Americans watched the first debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush. That fell short of the record 80.6 million that saw Ronald Reagan debate Jimmy Carter in 1980, but it was an enormous audience nonetheless.

Tom Holbrook looked at all Presidential debates from 1988 to 2004 and found that:

Across all thirteen presidential debates the average absolute change in candidate support was 1 percentage point. There are a few notable exceptions, of course. Two that stand out are the second debate in 1992, following which George H.W. Bush lost 2 points, and first debate of 2004, after which George W. Bush lost 2.26 points.

Gallup also looked at debates in 1960 and 1976-2004 and found that debates have little impact.

In two election years, the presidential debates may have had a meaningful impact on the structure of the presidential races; in most others, they probably have not. The debates were less likely to be catalyst events in years when one candidate was a strong front-runner, including 1984, 1988, and 1996. However, in highly competitive election years, any movement in voter preferences can be race altering, and the debates seem to have the potential to produce such movement. The probable examples of this are 1960 and 2000.

I am looking forward to this debate as it is focused on foreign policy and national security, topics that have receded into the background due to economic turmoil but where McCain inexplicably holds a lead despite his crazy war-like ideas.

9:02pm: I just finished calling voters for the Obama campaign with a number of other volunteers. Now I am watching the debate with 15 other people on MSNBC.

9:06pm: First question is about the financial crisis. Obama going first. Worst crisis since Great Depression. Move swiftly and wisely. Oversight. Helping homeowners. Bush policies, supported by McCain, responsible.

McCain starts with Kennedy being in the hospital. McCain not feeling too great about things lately. Republicans and Democrats together. End of the beginning of the crisis.

9:10pm: Lehrer asked about voting on the plan. Both Obama and McCain try to steer discussion away.

9:12pm: Obama brings up McCain’s statement of 10 days ago about economic fundamentals being good.

9:14pm: McCain criticizing Republican spending.

9:16pm: Obama compares scale of earmarks with McCain’s tax proposal cost.

9:21pm: McCain is stuck on earmarks.

9:27pm: Indepence from oil would be good but what is this foreign oil independence Obama’s talking about?

9:29pm: McCain comes back to cutting spending.

9:35pm: Did McCain just oppose foreign aid?

9:38pm: Obama ties McCain to Bush spending. McCain mentions not winning Miss Congeniality for the second time.

9:39pm: Finally, Iraq!

Obama brings back the question of lessons of Iraq to whether we should have gone to war in the first place. Have to use military wisely.

McCain says next President won’t be deciding decision to go to Iraq.

9:44pm: Why is McCain making faces and smirking so much?

9:47pm: Can everyone stop kissing General Petraeus’s ass?

9:50pm: Now on to Afghanistan. Obama argues for more troops. Did Obama just pronounce Taliban correctly? Iraq had no al-Qaeda. Iraq war a strategic mistake. Afghanistan and Pakistan. Got to deal with Pakistan. Safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda. Pakistan not doing enough to get rid of them.

9:53pm: McCain says don’t say out loud about attacking Pakistan. Same strategy as Iraq.

9:56pm: Obama mentions McCain’s song about “Bomb, bomb Iran.”

9:57pm: Obama says we coddled Musharraf and alienated Pakistani people. McCain replies that Pakistan was a failed state when Musharraf came to power.

10:00pm: McCain and Obama are trading stories of soldiers killed in action. WTF?

10:03pm: McCain Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is an existential threat to Israel. Mentions Holocaust. Whatever happened to Israel’s nuclear weapons? McCain talks about League of Democracies. Wow, France is a democracy now. Iranian nuclear weapons are threat around the world.

10:06pm: Obama says Iran has gained lots of influence due to Iraq war. Cannot tolerate nuclear Iran. Arms race in Middle East. Cooperation needed from Russia and China for sanctions. Engage in tough diplomacy with Iran.

10:08pm: How does talking to Ahmedinijad legitimize him? Did Reagan never talk to Brezhnev? That sounds wrong.

10:10pm: Obama citing Kissinger approvingly. I feel like ewww but have to admit Kissinger is right on talking to Iran.

10:12pm: Obama mentions McCain not meeting with Spanish Prime Minister. McCain in response tries to joke about the Presidential seal replica from the Obama primary campaign.

10:16pm: Obama says Russia has to withdraw from South Osettia and Abkhazia. Membership action plan for Ukraine and Georgia: Why, Obama, why? Obama doesn’t want cold war posture with Russia.

McCain says Obama is naive. McCain wants to bolster friends and allies. Talks about oil.

10:20pm: McCain has mentioned his trips to a lot of countries today.

10:23pm: Why did Obama have to mention “clean coal”? Arrrgh!

10:26pm: Stupidest question today: Chance of another 9/11 attack on the US? McCain says much less. McCain just came out against torture. Good for him!

10:29pm: Obama comes out against nuclear suitcases? What about nuclear backpacks? The point about nuclear proliferation is good though.

Obama also mentions torture.

10:31pm: McCain goes back to Iraq with a totally wrong but strong ending.

Obama mentions al-Qaeda and challenges with China and both being neglected due to focus on Iraq. Blames Iraq war for autism too! Too scattershot for a strong summing up.

10:34pm: McCain is now talking again, destroying the impression I had of his strong ending.

10:36pm: And finally McCain mentions his POW status.

I would rate it a draw. Obama didn’t land any knockout punches.

12:47am: CBS News poll of undecided voters:

Thirty-nine percent of uncommitted voters who watched the debate tonight thought Barack Obama was the winner. Twenty-four percent thought John McCain won. Thirty-seven percent saw it as a draw.

Forty-six percent of uncommitted voters said their opinion of Obama got better tonight. Thirty-two percent said their opinion of McCain got better.

Sixty-six percent of uncommitted voters think Obama would make the right decisions about the economy. Forty-two percent think McCain would.

Forty-eight percent of these voters think Obama would make the right decisions about Iraq. Fifty-six percent think McCain would.

That sounds good for Obama.

1:23am: CNN’s polling is even better.

You can watch the debate online or read the transcript.

HOA and Obama Yard Sign

My HOA has told me to remove an Obama yard sign. I need some help in deciding what to do.

Obama Yard Sign

I have had an Obama yard sign in my front yard since the Democratic convention.

Today I got a letter from my Home Owners Association (HOA) which says:

According to the Covenants, signs are not allowed to be displayed. Please remove the election sign.

So I checked the Covenants and found the following:

No sign of any kind shall be erected by an Owner or Occupant within the Community without the prior written consent of the Architectural Review Committee. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Board and the Declarant shall have the right to erect reasonable and appropriate signs. “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs and security signs consistent with the Community-Wide Standard and any signs required by legal proceedings may be erected upon any Lot.

It looks like they have the right to erect “reasonable and appropriate” signs. I would like a similar right on reciprocal basis since I would guess that a 16” by 26” sign for a major party Presidential candidate during election season is both appropriate and reasonable. But evidently the management company that runs the HOA disagrees.

I am of a mind to send a letter to the Home Owners Association:

I did not know that the Soviet Union was alive and well here in our subdivision. I had heard of its demise some years ago. Anyway, if I am not allowed to display a political sign for the elections, please grant me permission to fly the Hammer and Sickle on the front of my house.

On a more serious note, does anyone know if there are any local (Fulton county), state (Georgia) or Federal laws which the HOA might be going against here? What is the case law like on this issue here?

I had no idea about Home Owner Associations before we bought a house last year. My first interaction with the HOA was earlier this year when we decided to do some work on part of our backyard. We wanted to install a playset and a small vegetable garden as well as grow flowering plants and grass in a part of the backyard which had nothing. This required approval by the Architectural Review Committee of the HOA and I being a law-abiding fellow submitted the application despite protests by Amber about this being our property and hence we being free to do whatever we wanted.

It took the committee 10 days to approve the project. When I talked to the head of the committee, I voiced my disapproval at the length of time they had taken to do so. He pointed out that the Covenants allowed the committee to take as many as 60 days and that the committee members had lives of their own and were doing this only as part-time volunteers. I replied that that was precisely the point, since their time (and mine) was so precious, so project approval should be almost automatic. If they didn’t see any egregious violation at first glance, they should approve it. I don’t think he got what I was trying to say.

To reiterate, what do you know of Georgia law on political signs and HOA covenants? What do you think I should do and why? Should I simply remove the sign? Should I keep it? In that case, what’ll happen and is it worth fighting for?

Obama Campaign Volunteer

It’s been a lot of fun volunteering for the Obama campaign. We have registered voters, made phone calls and gone door to door for voter canvassing.

I first got contacted by the Obama campaign some time in Spring 2007 for a donation. I refused, not because I didn’t support Senator Obama but because I thought it was too early for a Presidential campaign.

After the primary campaign was over, I signed up online to volunteer for the campaign and soon received a call to do voter registration with the GA-400 for Obama group. So one Saturday morning, I went to the Roswell Farmer’s Market where the group was meeting. Someone from the group told us the basics of how to register voters, went through the registration form etc and sent us on our way in teams. I was paired with two others to go to Sandy Springs.

We drove to a strip mall and stood in the parking lot in front of Whole Foods, asking everyone if they were registered to vote. The reaction we got varied from person to person. Most people just said they were registered and thanked us. Others just tried to ignore us. Some said they were Republicans or supported McCain. We also ran into some Obama supporters who seemed excited to see our Obama buttons and shirts. A few people were rude as well. One woman told us she had complained to the store management because our Obama paraphernalia was screaming to her or something. So we were asked by the store to move and we went to the next strip mall and registered some voters there. We also handed out a few voter registration forms to people who wanted them for someone else. Overall, it was a decent experience for about 3 hours of work, though we didn’t get too many registrations. That was expected since most people up here in north Fulton are already registered. It’s in downtown and south of the city that there are a large number of unregistered voters.

Georgia is a very red state — Kerry lost 41%-58% to Bush in 2004 — but the Obama campaign is the first Democratic Presidential candidate to compete here since Clinton won here in 1992. There has been a large number of staff and thousands of volunteers plus 40 offices.

So I joined the local neighborhood team here in Milton organized by Alex from the campaign staff. We have had several meetings to decide our course of action, recruit volunteers and have fun.

I have been to two more voter registration events. Once our local team took Marta to Five Points. As I got on the train, someone saw my clipboard and the voter registration forms and asked me for one so she could register. We actually registered quite a few people on the train ride. Then we stood outside the Five Points station and asked everyone if they were registered to vote. Later we tried to register voters in Underground Atlanta, but it was almost deserted there and we didn’t register anyone until the mall security asked us to leave.

On the Friday before Labor day, I was in Atlanta and so I joined a group registering voters in Westside. We registered a few voters, but someone stole a volunteer’s blackberry.

We have also organized several phone bank meetings where we call voters. We have called Democrats to firm up their support. We have called Obama supporters to ask them to volunteer. Also, we have called voters who could be persuaded to support Obama.

Last Saturday, we went door-to-door canvassing in teams of two. We printed out maps and voter lists and knocked on doors. We asked them about their Presidential preference and gave undecided voters some campaign literature about issues they might be interested in. It was a pleasant experience. Most McCain supporters were very nice to us too. Only one person told us not to come campaigning to their house.

While the Obama campaign is moving some staffers out of Georgia and into more competitive states, even more local offices are opening and the volunteer network is still in place and we are still registering voters, making phone calls and going door to door.

Volunteering for the campaign has been an interesting experience. I’ve met a lot of people who are passionate about politics. Also, I have been amazed at the way modern campaigns work in a systematic fashion with a lot of available data. I think Alex related an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln sorting voters into different groups based on their support for him and then targeting voters to move them to the next group which was more supportive, e.g. from supporter of other candidate to undecided or undecided to leaning towards Lincoln, etc. So this systematic approach has a long history, though now we have computers and databases. BTW, if anyone has a reference for this anecdote, please let me know.

Please do donate to the Obama campaign (US citizens and permanent residents only).

Register to Vote

If you are a US citizen and are not registered to vote, then you should register at the earliest.

If you are a US citizen and are not registered to vote, please do register.

For the November general election, the registration deadlines for most states are in October.

If you are in the US, please fill out this form and Rock The Vote will email you a voter registration form. Or you could go to the US Election Assistance Commission’s website and download a national voter registration form.

If you are overseas, then you can request an absentee ballot. You can register and request an absentee ballot together, but you need to do it at the earliest.

If you are not a US citizen and register to vote, you can be deported and permanently barred from becoming a permanent resident according to law.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani

Yusuf Raza Gillani has been elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. Here is some news and analysis on his election.

Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani of Pakistan Peoples Party has been elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Mr Gillani won the parliamentary vote by 264 votes to the 42 of Musharraf ally Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.

Who is Yusuf Raza Gillani? He belongs to a prominent feudal-spiritual family in the south Punjab city of Multan. His family has been active in politics in the area since the early 20th century. Mr Gilani was first elected chairman of the Union Council, Multan in the 1983 local bodies elections during Zia rule. Then he joined Junejo’s government as a minister of housing and railways. He parted ways with the Junejo Muslim League and joined Benazir Bhutto’s PPP around the time Junejo’s government was dismissed in 1988 by Zia.

In 1993, during the second Benazir Bhutto government, he was elected Speaker of the National Assembly. In 1995, Mr Gillani, as Speaker, issued instructions for the release of parliamentarians detained by his own PPP government. When the interior ministry refused to oblige, he had the matter brought on record.

He, like most PPP candidates in Punjab, lost the 1997 election when Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N(Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz Group) swept the province. Then, during Musharraf’s martial law in 2001, Gillani was convicted over illegal government appointments when he was Speaker. He spent the next five years in jail, being released in late 2006 on a court order.

After being elected Prime Minister, Gillani made a speech in Parliament (video here).

In a maiden speech on the floor of National Assembly after he was elected as Prime Minister, he said, “I request the national assembly as my first job to pass a resolution for UN probe into the assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.”

Elaborating the top priorities of the new government, the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani vowed to take all out efforts for the supremacy of parliament.

He also said the National Assembly should pass another resolution to apologize to the nation for hanging of Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto.

Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani also said that he would issue the immediate directives for release of the held judges.

Gillani also vowed to take efforts for the resolution of multiple problems of people, saying, “ We realize that the people of the country confront several problems including shortage of electrify.”

“Today, democracy has been restored thanks to the great sacrifice of Benazir Bhutto,” the 55-year-old Gilani, wearing a dark suit and tie, said in his first speech to parliament.

“I invite all political forces to join us because the country is facing such a crisis that a single man cannot save it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice deposed by Musharraf’s “emergency” last year and under house arrest since then came out of his house and was greeted by supporters.

Deposed chief justice, Chaudhry Iftikhar Muhammad Chuadhry along with his family members came out of his house Monday evening, marking an end to his and his family’s more than five month long detention.

People who gathered outside Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s residence warmly welcomed him when he came out with his family members.

He acknowledged the welcoming slogans of the people by waving his hands.

President Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitezaz Ahsan and Justice (Retd.) Tariq Mehmood and others accompanied Chaudhry Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The lawyers movement’s demands, including the restoration of the large number of superior court judges, would probably be the first important task for this government. President Musharraf has claimed that it is not constitutionally possible to bring the judges back, but then Musharraf’s action itself wasn’t constitutional.

There has been lots of speculation about why Yusuf Raza Gilani was chosen for the Prime Ministerial slot. In my opinion, there are a number of factors. First, Zardari wanted someone who did not have power on his own and was dependent on Zardari. The election of Fehmida Mirza as Speaker was also part of the same process, as she and her husband MPA Zulfiqar Mirza are close to Asif Zardari.

Second, both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif probably wanted someone who had remained completely loyal and had not had any kind of relationship with Musharraf.

Third, Zardari would like to be able to have the option to remove the current Prime Minister for another or even for himself later as well as keep his kingmaker role now with a lot of behind the scenes power. A somewhat weak Prime Minister would fit right in for that strategy. Yusuf Raza Gillani’s statement after being nominated about staying as PM only as long as the party wants him to is suggestive in this regard.

Fourth, once the idea of a Prime Minister from Punjab was floated, it was in Nawaz Sharif’s interest for the PPP to select someone from the southern feudal families since such a choice wouldn’t encroach on the PML-N’s stronghold in the more urban central and northern Punjab.

I, on the other hand, would have preferred Zardari himself as Prime Minister because that would be a much more transparent system with fewer power centers.

Pakistan Election Aftermath

Musharraf’s allies lose big in Pakistan but the Bush administration is still pro-Musharraf. A coalition government of PPP and PML-N is in the offing.

The elections are done and the results are out. Since I love maps, here is a map of the results by constituency, courtesy of Dawn. You can click on it for a larger version.

Map of Pakistan election results

And here are the results by party:

Party National Assembly Punjab Assembly Sindh Assembly NWFP Assembly Balochistan Assembly
PPP 89 76 64 17 7
PML-N 66 102 4 5 0
PML-Q 42 61 9 6 17
MQM 19 0 38 0 0
ANP 10 0 2 29 1
MMA 6 2 0 8 6
PML-F 4 2 5 0 0
PPP-S 1 0 0 5 0
BNP-A 1 0 0 0 5
Independents 28 33 6 6 11

The previous government in the center and in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan was by PML-Q which supports Pervez Musharraf and they lost badly. In fact, most of their prominent leaders, like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Sheikh Rashid, etc., lost.

Also, the religio-political alliance MMA lost to the secular Pashtun Nationalist ANP in NWFP. Both ANP and JUI, the component of MMA strong in NWFP, have traditionally been powerful in the NWFP. In the last elections in 2002, ANP was defeated roundly by the MMA and this time the reverse happened.

In my opinion, the unpopularity of President Musharraf was one reason for the dismal performance of PML-Q. According to the IRI survey in January,

  • 57% say that Musharraf’s performance has lowered their opinion of the army.
  • 72% are dissatisfied with Musharraf’s job performance.
  • 75% want Musharraf to resign from the office of President immediately.
  • Only 8% think Musharraf is the best leader to solve Pakistan’s problems.
  • Musharraf’s favorability rating is 16%.
  • 62% will feel much better and 17% somewhat better about the future of Pakistan if Musharraf were to resign.

Let’s also look at the Terror Free Tomorrow survey also conducted in January.

  • Only 10% strongly approve Musharraf’s job performance and 20% somewhat approve while 18% somewhat disapprove and 50% strongly disapprove.
  • Musharraf’s favorability rating is 30%.
  • 47% strongly agree that Musharraf should resign immediately while 23% somewhat agree.
  • Only 16.5% think Musharraf is the best leader for Pakistan. When poll respondents were asked for a second choice of leader, only 3% chose Musharraf.

PPP and PML-N have agreed to form a government together. This should make for a stable government in that it won’t be hostage to small parties and independents. On the other hand, the two largest parties would naturally be each other’s competitors and have quite different priorities which might result in the coalition breaking down.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) brokered an agreement on Thursday to form governments at the Centre and the provincial levels and to sort out the modalities for the reinstatement of judiciary in parliament.

“We have decided to work together and move together for the future of the democracy in the country and to strengthen parliament,” said Co-Chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif while addressing a joint press conference here on Thursday evening at the Zardari House after holding two-hour-long talks.

[…] The breakthrough reached by the two major political forces of the country, who jointly share 70 per cent mandate of the people of Pakistan gained through the elections, was also important in the sense that Asif Ali Zardari showed flexibility, demonstrating his willingness to join hands with the PML-N for the reinstatement of the deposed judges.

The two leaders, who appeared jubilant and confident during the press conference, also announced that there would be no cooperation with the pro-Musharraf parties. “There is no pro-Musharraf group or political force in the country,” said Asif Ali Zardari when asked whether he was ready to extend cooperation to the pro-Musharraf political parties.

It was also agreed that parliament would decide whether it was ready to work with the president or not.

[… Nawaz Sharif] said both the parties would work together to form the governments and implement the Charter of Democracy in letter and spirit. “We accept the mandate of the PPP with an open heart and wish that the PPP completes its five-year term. We will wage a joint struggle for the restoration of judiciary and the Charter of Democracy will also be followed,” Nawaz maintained.

When asked about the modalities for the formation of the government, Zardari said that everything could not be discussed in a two-hour meeting and they would continue to meet to sort out all the hiccups in this regard.

When asked if he would move away from the commitment if the United States exerted pressure on the formation of government, Zardari replied that he had not submitted to the pressure that was put on him during eight years of jail, then how he could yield to the pressure exerted upon him from any corner.

To a query, Zardari said that he was thankful to Mian Nawaz Sharif who agreed that the very first order the government would pass would be concerning a request to the United Nations to help the Pakistan government to uncover the hands behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. “It will be the top priority of the next government,” he added.

[…] When Asif Ali Zardari was asked if both the parties intended to take the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) into the fold of the government of national consensus, he said, “We are looking for a broader government and there are reservations on the MQM. But we want to move ahead for the better future of the democracy in the country and we even want to talk to all those political forces whether they are in parliament or outside the parliament.”

Meanwhile, the PML-N party has designated Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif as its parliamentary leaders in the center and Punjab respectively. Since both of them were barred from election earlier, they will have to get elected in the bye-elections.

PML-N does not have a majority in the Punjab assembly but it is now wooing PML-Q members who broke away in 2002 to come back.

Since ANP is the largest party in NWFP, they would also be part of the coalition.

And the Bush administration seems to be as stupid as ever.

The Bush administration is pressing the opposition leaders who defeated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow the former general to retain his position, a move that Western diplomats and U.S. officials say could trigger the very turmoil the United States seeks to avoid.

U.S. officials, from President Bush on down, said this week that they think Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally, should continue to play a role, despite his party’s rout in parliamentary elections Monday and his unpopularity in the volatile, nuclear-armed nation.

The U.S. is urging the Pakistani political leaders who won the elections to form a new government quickly and not press to reinstate the judges whom Musharraf ousted last year, Western diplomats and U.S. officials said Wednesday. If reinstated, the jurists likely would try to remove Musharraf from office.

Bush’s policy of hanging on to Musharraf has caused friction between the White House and the State Department, with some career diplomats and other specialists arguing that the administration is trying to buck the political tides in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

Zardari’s response can be seen here.

In the post-election government formation phase, Asif Ali Zardari’s first love continues to be the PML-N though both the presidential camp and Washington are pressurising him to go for an otherwise awkward coalition with the PML-Q and other pro-Musharraf forces.

Background interviews reveal that Asif Ali Zardari has been offered governments at the Centre and in at least three of the four provinces if he distances himself from the Nawaz League. However, he told those who approached him that he did not consider the Q-League a political entity. Despite reservations of some of the PPP leaders from the Punjab against the N-League in the central executive committee of the party that met here in Islamabad on Wednesday, Zardari endorsed the idea of making a coalition government with the political parties like the PML-N, ANP, etc. Asif Ali Zardari while talking to this correspondent on Wednesday night also expressed his confidence that the two top-most popular parties – PPP and PML-N – would sort out the issues to make a workable coalition, both at the Centre and in the provinces.

Although, Zardari did not talk of Washington’s pressures, sources in the party confirmed that the Americans had brought tremendous pressure on the PPP co-chairperson to make a coalition government with the likes of the PML-Q and MQM but not with the PML-N.

Alienating the major political parties in Pakistan is not something that the US should strive for right now.

Pakistan Elections

Pakistan is having elections today. Violence has taken its toll though in dampening any enthusiasm. There are also worries about rigging.

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.

Two opinion polls, by International Republican Institute and Terror Free Tomorrow, conducted January 19-29 have been released. Here are their results for the different political parties.

Party Terror Free Tomorrow International Republican Institute
PPP 36.7% 50%
PML-N 25.3% 22%
PML-Q 12.0% 14%

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.

New Hampshire Primary

Today is the New Hampshire primary. Here are some predictions and thoughts about the election. Go Obama!

Today is the first primary. Most polls in New Hampshire show Barack Obama and John McCain ahead among the Democrats and the Republicans respectively. Here are my predictions.

Democrat My prediction Actual vote
Barack Obama 43% 37%
Hillary Clinton 30% 39%
John Edwards 20% 17%
Bill Richardson 6% 5%
Dennis Kucinich 1% 1%
Republicans My prediction Actual vote
John McCain 35% 37%
Mitt Romney 31% 32%
Mike Huckabee 12% 11%
Ron Paul 10% 8%
Rudy Giuliani 9% 9%
Fred Thompson 3% 1%

Winning both Iowa and New Hampshire is going to do wonders for Senator Obama’s campaign. He already got a big boost from Iowa. This is going to make things tough for Hillary Clinton. Looking back at elections since 1972, there are only two instances when the eventual Democratic or Republican nominee lost in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Once in 1972 when Senator Muskie won both and George McGovern won the Democratic nomination. Then in 1992, local Senator Tom Harkin won in Iowa while the eventual Democratic nominee Bill Clinton didn’t take part. In New Hampshire, Bill Clinton came a strong second but Paul Tsongas won the primary. Can Senator Clinton repeat her husband’s feat? It definitely is possible, but I would say it’s going to be difficult. The betting markets seem to agree as Obama is now a 2:1 favorite for the nomination there.

There is also the matter of the African American vote for Obama. Consider South Carolina where half the Democratic voters are African American. In mid-December, Obama was winning barely half of this vote. This should definitely change with Obama’s wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let’s recall Jesse Jackson, a very different candidate but still instructive. In 1984 Democratic primaries, he came in third and won 77% of the African American vote. Then in 1988, he did very well, coming in 2nd and winning 11 primaries. He also got 92% of the African American vote.

UPDATE I: John “Thousand Years in Iraq” McCain has been projected the Republican winner by CNN.
UPDATE II: Hillary Clinton wins!

Primary Campaign

The primary season has been on for eternity, but the elections start tomorrow. I support Obama while Amber supports Richardson. On the other hand, I plan to vote against Giuliani.

The Presidential campaign this time around has been strange. It started really early, immediately after the 2006 Congressional elections. By Spring, I had received my first call from a campaign asking for a donation. I told them that I will not consider donating until the actual election year (2008). Then Barack Obama was on campus in April.

Now election season is finally starting with the Iowa Caucus tomorrow and the New Hampshire Primary on January 8. This is earlier than previous elections and a stupid idea to boot. I think the primaries should take place over 3-4 months in spring and summer, after which the candidates would still have 3-4 months of campaigning for the general election which is held on the first Tuesday of November.

Looking at the opinion polls for Iowa Democrats and Republicans, it looks like a close contest between the top three Democrats (Clinton, Obama and Edwards) and the top two Republicans (Huckabee and Romney). My guess is that it is anyone’s game among the Democrats but Obama will squeeze out a win followed closed by Edwards and Clinton in that order. On the Republican side, Huckabee should win easily. I am also very happy to report that the small man in search of a balcony (Giuliani) is going to end up last.

I already blogged about my impressions of the Presidential candidates, so you know that like Photodude I am an Obama supporter. Amber, on the other hand, supports Bill Richardson.

As for who to vote for, I am a fan of the idea of strategic voting. Since Job One in my opinion is making sure Giuliani does not win, so I might consider voting for whoever from among Romney, McCain or Huckabee seems the most likely to defeat Giuliani for the nomination. But our open primary isn’t until Super Tuesday, February 5. If Giuliani is gone by that date, then I can vote for the Democratic candidature of Senator Obama.

UPDATE: Go Obama! More than Obama’s win I am happy to report that Giuliani got only 3%.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Today are the midterm elections. Do vote and vote against the Republicans as they have become arrogant. Also it is good to throw out the governing party once every few elections.

Today is election day here. So do vote. I won’t be voting out of respect for the law, and my non-fellow citizens (as Harry put it), but you should.

I think it is time to vote against the Republicans this time. Vote against any Republican standing for any office (even dogcatcher). There are several reasons for this. You will probably have heard the more important ones, like the US torture policy, the Iraq war, incompetence in the war on terror as well as in economics, and so on. But there is another important reason: arrogance of power. The Republicans have drunk from the fountain of power and it has gone to their head. This happens from time to time in a democracy and whenever it does, there is only one thing to do: Throw them out. I am a strong believer in voting against incumbents every few election cycles just for the heck of it. It keeps the politicians on their toes and does not let one party stay in power for too long which are both good things in my opinion.

As for predictions, mine is that the Democrats will take over the House by gaining about 24 seats but will fail in the Senate. Since Lieberman and Sanders are most likely going to caucus with the Democrats, this will result in a 50—50 Senate with Cheney casting the tiebreaker vote.

I have been following the polls, predictions and other election news at the following sites:

I hope to congratulate Captain Arrrgh tonight for getting rid of both his Senator and his Representative (both Republicans).