Friday, October 5, 2007

Pakistan's Hopes For Democracy Are Fading Fast

Pakistan's Supreme Court is expected to rule later today on two late challenges to the candidacy of President General Pervez Musharraf, who hopes to be re-elected on Saturday.

The President General's candidacy appears to be illegal for three different reasons, and pro-democracy forces -- led by the country's lawyers -- had been hoping the Supreme Court would choose to support the rule of law and bar Musharraf from running again.

But those hopes were smashed last week, and several faces were smashed too, when police armed with clubs and tear gas attacked protesting lawyers wearing business suits, some of whom were allegedly throwing rocks.

The parallel is fitting, perhaps; the outcome of this weekend's election appears to be in as much doubt as the outcome of last Friday's clash.

Musharraf appears to hold all the cards, except those held by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [photo], who leads the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) -- the largest opposition party -- and who has been engaged in frantic negotiations over a package that reportedly includes power-sharing, amnesty, and a pledge from Musharraf to resign his position in the Army if he is re-elected.

If Musharraf doesn't satisfy Bhutto and the PPP, there's not much they can do except resign, but a mass resignation by the PPP -- following the resignation Tuesday of 85 members of parliament affiliated with the All Parties Democratic Movement -- would be a serious blow to Musharraf's presidential credibility, and would almost certainly set the stage for a widespread demonstration of opposition to the President General, a demonstration which would almost certainly produce the usual horrific results.

For her part, Bhutto appears to have been holding out for as long as possible, hoping for as much as possible, saying early in the week that the talks were stalled.

More recently, she has been making very optimistic noises, and a deal now appears quite possible. On Musharraf's side they're talking as if it's already a done deal.

Carlotta Gall has the details for the New York Times:

Musharraf-Bhutto Accord Sets Stage for Vote
The government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf announced Thursday an accord that includes amnesty for the opposition leader and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, clearing the way for the general to run for re-election as president on Saturday and for Ms. Bhutto to return to Pakistan for parliamentary elections at the end of the year.

The agreement has been approved by the cabinet but awaits General Musharraf’s signature, which is expected. It also permits negotiations on a broader power-sharing pact with Ms. Bhutto. The amnesty would cover all politicians, bankers and bureaucrats charged with corruption offenses in 1988 through 1999. It was a central demand of Ms. Bhutto, who plans to return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 to run for prime minister. She left Pakistan in 1999 for self-imposed exile in London to escape corruption charges she contends were politically motivated.

On Thursday night, Ms. Bhutto agreed to the final version of the accord, said Farooq Naik, a senator and senior lawyer from her party who had seen it.

The agreement was reached at nearly the last moment. General Musharraf, who has faced opposition in his ruling party over the measure, has only one day left until the election. The Supreme Court is hearing petitions against his eligibility to run and is expected to rule Friday.

The amnesty is part of a broader reconciliation package that includes measures to help ensure free elections and to discourage politically motivated corruption charges, all with the aim of establishing a new era of democracy, General Musharraf, said Thursday night in an interview with Dawn News, an English language television channel.

Despite his many past criticisms of Ms. Bhutto over allegations of corruption, he said, none of the cases against her had been proved, and, as the leader of a popular political party, she had a role to play in the return to democracy.
Making secret power-sharing deals with a former government official qualifies as democracy?

Arresting and deporting another former high-ranking official qualifies as democracy, too?

Ah, yes, for this is Pakistan, where Musharraf the President General can deny all the allegations he likes.
[Musharraf] added that the agreement was not intended just to benefit [Bhuto], and that all political parties should take part in the elections.

“It will not only affect an individual, but it is a whole package ensuring free and fair elections, that is the package we are attempting,” General Musharraf said.
Free and fair elections! That's the very thing that Musharraf is attempting to avoid!
But the amnesty will not affect the case of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who tried to return to Pakistan last month but was immediately deported. General Musharraf ousted Mr. Sharif in a coup in 1999.
Yes, exactly. There will be no amnesty for Nawaz Sharif; only for Benazir Bhutto, who's evidently not interested in supporting the All Parties Democratic Movement, especially if there's something in it for her. And if she can get Musharraf to bend the rule about how many terms one may serve as Prime Minister, she just might go along with anything!

Carlotta Gall, again:
A number of substantial issues remain, Senator Sardar Latif Khosa, said. Ms. Bhutto had also sought removal of a ban on prime ministers serving a third term, and the repeal of a constitutional amendment that allows the president to dissolve Parliament and remove the government.
Give a little, take a little. If she plays this right, she could become Prime Minister again ... and club the democracy movement in the head at the same time.

Or as Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azeem said:
"The next few hours are crucial but we are guardedly optimistic about a breakthrough with Benazir Bhutto. She is showing that she is a very clever politician."
Too clever by half, if you ask me. But, as usual, nobody has asked me.