Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pakistani Presidential Election Marching Straight Through The Looking Glass

In a surreal turn of events, Pakistan's Supreme Court has denied petitions to postpone today's presidential election until questions surrounding the legality of the incumbent are answered, but without expressing any urgency about the questions. The court ruling means the election will go ahead as scheduled, although the outcome will then be in doubt for more than a week.

According to the Pakistani formula for electing a president, 1070 voters cast 702 votes in a process where some votes are weighted. The voters are members of the national parliament or one of the four provincial assemblies, and the votes at the provincial level are weighted so that each province gets the same number of votes, regardless of the size of its assembly.

And all these parliamentarians and assembly members will be voting today, except those who have already resigned in protest against the apparent illegality of the incumbent, President General Pervez Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

It is often reported in the western press that Musharraf's candidacy seems to contravene a restriction against a military man holding a political office; it is less often reported that Musharraf appears ineligible for two other reasons. He has already served the limit of two terms, and the sitting parliaments have already "elected" Musharraf to the term he is currently serving; under the normal order of things, the next presidential election would not occur until after the next parliamentary elections. Then the new representatives would choose a new president.

That's the way it was supposed to work, but the President General has managed to schedule today's election in such a way that he has the lame duck members voting for him again. And the Supreme Court has said they can go ahead and do that.

But the court has also ruled that the results of the election must not be announced until after it has had a chance to review the petitions against the President General's eligibility, and it has scheduled hearings to resume on October 17th. So no matter what happens with the election, the result will be undecided for at least another week and a half.

Meanwhile, Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have agreed on a so-called "reconciliation ordinance", essentially an amnesty for all politicians who served between 1988 and 1999. The amnesty allows Benazir Bhutto -- who was accused of corruption in 1999 and has been living in exile ever since -- to return to Pakistan and contest the coming parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for November. But it doesn't apply to another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was deported shortly after his arrival in Pakistan last month.

In the west this arrangement is being described as pro-democracy, because it gives Bhutto and Musharraf a chance to craft a pro-US alliance.

TIME magazine added a special sort of spin:
The U.S., which calls Musharraf its most important ally in the war on terror, has been quietly but forcefully pushing for a power sharing deal between the two politicians. Although Musharraf stands a good chance of winning the presidency without the PPP — his Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party has a slim majority in parliament — the support of Bhutto's party lends the elections, and Musharraf's certain presidency, the democratic credentials necessary to garner continued international support for the war on terror currently being waged in Pakistan. The White House has made no statement regarding the reconciliation accord announced on Thursday, other to repeat its call for "free and fair" elections and that the deal is a "matter for the Pakistanis to decide," according to spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
It's ironic that the White House would repeat its calls for "free and fair" elections, since the State Department has sent a few high-level emissaries to Pakistan lately, and they have pointedly avoided saying anything about free or fair. Quite the contrary, in fact.

On the ground in Pakistan, this election is anything but free and fair. And for this among other reasons, the result doesn't seems to be in any doubt.

Neverless, portions of the Pakistani press tend to portray the process as a major step in the transition from military dictatorship to democracy because Musharraf has promised to resign his post as army chief of staff if he wins another term as president.

In other words, the President General will no longer wear his uniform, only his business suits, and Pakistan will then have a civilian president. Bhutto will return to popular acclaim, possibly to serve as Prime Minister again (if she too can manage to circumvent the term limit for prime ministers -- she's already served two terms as well), and the two of them will provide the pro-US bulwark that Washington badly needs in a country which is simultaneously with the following four-fold distinction:
And the court's decision is being portrayed as a draw, or a setback for Musharraf, but other observers are emphasizing the court's decision to go ahead with the election, which appears to be a tacit agreement with the notion that lame-duck parliaments should elect the next president.

If it seems to you that there's something shady about outgoing senators and representatives electing the next president, you're not alone.

Nobody ever asks me for my opinion and mostly I try to report the news but humor me just this once: if Musharraf's deal with Bhutto means the parliamentarians loyal to her will now vote for him, this combined with the mass resignations among Musharraf's other opponents will assure a massive victory for him. Where will the Supreme Court find the political will to overturn such an eventuality -- especially in the knowledge that such a decision would lead to absolute political chaos?

The court has not announced what would happen should the President General be declared ineligible to run again today -- would the second-place candidate be given the presidency or would there be another presidential election? This seems like a moot question to me.

According to Husain Haqqani at Salon, the outcome could have grave ramifications for Osama bin Laden as well.

Haqqani quotes a few opinion polls which may or may not add much to the confusion:
An opinion poll conducted in Pakistan by the International Republican Institute in July indicated that 62 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign as army chief, that 59 percent believe a free and fair poll is not possible while he is in power, and that more people support the prospect of a transition negotiated between Bhutto and Musharraf than are opposed to it.

But another survey in August, from polling organization Terror Free Tomorrow, revealed an even more volatile current across Pakistan's political landscape -- that Osama bin Laden now had a higher approval rating, at 46 percent, than Musharraf, at 38 percent. (President Bush stood at 9 percent.)
Some people are making some sense, as I see it:
Hamid Khan, the lead counsel for presidential hopeful Justice (r) Wajeedhuddin Ahmed, said it was a positive sign that the court had allowed the continuation of the electoral process but had withheld the counting of votes and notification of election until its final decision of the case. “This is our initial success. Now we have to prove to the court that Musharraf is neither qualified for re-election nor can the current assemblies elect him as president for next five years,” he added.
But there's still all this confusion:
Senator Latif Khosa, counsel for Makhdoom Amin Fahim, said it was wrong to assume that the court had set aside their petitions. “It has partially accepted our point of view and ordered withholding of results. The president will not be able to take oath until the court decides the merits of the case. The court can declare the process null and void,” he argued.

Meanwhile, in talks with private TV channels, Justices (r) Sajjad Ali Shah and Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui said the SC decision was balanced in the given situation and expressed the hope that the case would be decided on merit.
And in the midst of all this, the most sensible remark I've read in a while came from Sardar Mumtaz Ali Khan Bhutto, the Chairman of the Sindh National Front, who said on Friday that a
general amnesty to the politicians involved in corruption and other cases would not restore democracy or develop national reconciliation in the country.

“On the contrary, the politicians with criminal record, who had absconded or were till [now] out of government, would now become shareholder[s] in power,” he said in a statement.

“Such a deal can never be called 'democracy' or 'national reconciliation,' he said adding that it would be beneficial only for Ms. Benazir Bhutto and Gen. Musharraf and bring more miseries for the masses already faced with lawlessness, corruption, unemployment, price-hike[s], poverty and mal-administration.

Mumtaz Bhutto said the US has misconceived that uniting moderate forces would make it easier to control the religious extremists.
And this is the key to the situation, I think. Musharraf is caught in the middle of a three-cornered tug-of-war, with radical Islam, the Taliban and al-Qaeda in one corner; a popular pro-democracy movement led by the country's lawyers and journalists in another; and of course the ever-present Americans, who are looking for
  • political stability in the only Islamic nation with nuclear weapons,
  • an ally in the so-called "global war on terror"
  • a customer for the world's most active exporter of arms, and
  • did I happen to mention a safe haven for al-Qaeda?
I wasn't supposed to mention that, was I?

Well, there's no surprise about any of this.

Chris Floyd laid it all out in black in blood in October of 2002!
Here's the bottom line: every military action taken by the United States puts money directly into the pockets of George W. Bush, his family and their elite business associates around the world. Every act of terrorism against the United States puts money directly into those same pockets -- because such acts lead to more military responses, more military spending, more anti-terror measures in both the public and private spheres.

Thus every single decision that George W. Bush makes about war and terrorism is compromised and corrupted by the indisputable fact that he and his closest associates stand to profit directly from conflict, destruction, fear and death. The more aggressive his response, the more money they will make. Whatever other motives you choose to see behind his decisions, this one fact taints them all.

These men have shown that they put profit above everything else -- and for them there is no profit in peace.
There's no profit in democracy, either. At home or abroad.