After Pakistan’s Election

Against the Current, No. 133, March/April 2008

Farooq Tariq

THROUGHOUT PAKISTAN THE massive anti-Musharraf vote on 18 February, 2008 spoke volumes: We do not like the military dictatorship; we want Musharraf out.

Those still supporting the military dictatorship have been punished. Despite the poll-rigging beforehand, the pro-Musharraf Muslim League Q (PMLQ) lost badly. But the religious fundamentalist parties taking part in the elections took the worst hit. It was an electoral revolution against the military dictatorship.

Contrary to the predictionss of many, the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) boycott campaign helped the anti-Musharraf vote express itself in a united manner. [The APDM is a multiparty coalition that includes the author’s party, Labour Party Pakistan. Its decision to boycott the election was discussed in “Update on Pakistan” by Farroq Tarik, ATC 132, January-February 2008 — ed.]

The APDM campaign was particularly successful in Baluchistan and in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Here the split in the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an Islamist party based in the northwest) on the question of boycott strategy provided the victory of the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Had the APDM parties taken part in the elections, the MMA might have been united in participating, in which case they might not been humiliated as they are now. The MMA dropped from 13% in the 2002 general elections to less than five percent.

If Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf, the Left parties and the nationalist parties of Baluchistan and the NWFP — the main parties behind the APDM — had taken part in the general elections, the anti-Musharraf vote would have been divided.

Repudiating Dictatorship

Instead there was an all out attack on Musharraf on all fronts. Those boycotting, and those participating, had one popular and common slogan: “Go Musharraf go.”

Last year the development of the lawyers’ movement and the courageous stand by the top judges made Musharraf very unpopular. But he did not believe the pre-election surveys, which predicted less than 12% support for him.

The defeat of pro-Musharraf parties parallels the historic defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the 2004 general elections in India. The BJP’s “India shining” sloganeering was mimicked by the PMLQ during this election campaign.

PMLQ leader Choudry Shujaat Hussain was so convinced of his winning slogan of so-called “development work” that he slept in the afternoon of Election Day. Two days beforehand he commented to the private television channel, GEO, “I have provided electricity to every village [in his constituency]; there is no need for more of a campaign.” He lost both seats he was contesting, forgetting that while he provided electricity to all the villages, the price of everyday items had dramatically increased.

The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) landslide in Punjab was due to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s clear stand on the restoring the judiciary, lowering prices and no compromise with the Musharraf dictatorship. The demand to restore the top judges is very popular in Punjab, where the lawyer’s movement is particularly active.

Unfortunately, the Pakistan Peoples Party of assassinated Benazir Bhutto hesitated over the demand to restore the judges, ultimately deciding not to support it. Consequently the PPP paid the price in Punjab, where despite the entire wave of sympathy over Benazir’s assassination, the PPP was unable to capitalize fully on the anti-Musharraf vote.

The masses have spoken; now both the PPP and PMLN leaders have to act accordingly. They must take up the restoration of the judges immediately. They must not share power with Musharraf but demand his immediate resignation.

Further, they must reverse the Musharraf era’s economic priorities and end implementation of a neoliberal agenda. That model of so-called “development” cost massive suffering. Acting upon the advice of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Musharraf presided over an unprecedented price hike, exposing his lofty claim of economic growth as without substance.

I wrote an article, “Can Musharraf Survive?” on 25 January, 2008. It begins:

“It seems that Musharraf is on his last leg. He has become the most detested and despicable president in the history of Pakistan. No longer are there progressives, liberals or moderates in his camp. His enlightened moderation has been buried with the passage of time.” The article continued:

“The Pakistan Muslim league Q (PMLQ), Musharraf’s favorite, is in absolute crisis after the recent shortages of food items, electricity and gas. The PMLQ candidates are the target of anti-Musharraf consciousness…. If Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim league Nawaz (PMLN) candidates gain a majority in the next parliament, Musharraf will find it very difficult to repeat what he did following the 2002 election, when he bribed many PMLN and PPP parliamentarians to join hands with the PMLQ to form a majority government.”

It ends on this note: “Boycott, or no boycott, the future scenario seems more and more problematic for Musharraf. His departure seems written on the front door of every home.”

The Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) understood the processes that were going on among the working class in Pakistan. Unfortunately, we did not have the mass base to bring this anti-Musharraf consciousness to its conclusion with an end to both capitalism and feudalism, and the beginning of building a socialist Pakistan.

The LPP, along with other Left parties, will continue to press demands for the total separation of the military from politics.

Those responsible for atrocities under military dictatorships should be brought to the people’s courts, where there can be real accountability for the generals who have intervened in politics.

The vote on 18 February is a vote of no confidence on Musharraf’s policies. The PPP and PMLN must change the course of his neoliberal economic policies.

Otherwise the brief honeymoon will end with their being exposed as those betraying the wishes of the masses. The PPP and PMLN, parties of the rich and the capitalists, have been able to capitalize on anti-Musharraf feelings. But they cannot go very far on the short leash of IMF and World Bank policies. There is no other alternative but to build a party of the working class. That is what Labour Party Pakistan is all about.

ATC 133, March-April 2008