Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Pakistani Opposition Members Resigning In Protest Over Musharraf's Electoral Process

Eighty-five opposition members of the Pakistani parliament resigned on Tuesday [photo] and perhaps twice as many others were said to be resigning their seats in provincial assemblies, in protest against the coming "re-election" of President General Pervez Musharraf. An even larger bloc of opposition members are considering doing the same.

In Pakistan, the president is elected by members of the national and provincial assemblies, where Musharraf seems to have enough support to win. So yesterday's resignations (by the All Parties Democratic Movement) and those threatened (by the Pakistan Peoples Party) will not hinder Musharraf's "re-election". On the other hand, they will degrade its credibility, if possible.

As we have been documenting here recently, Musharraf's candidacy appears to violate at least three different laws:
  • He holds the position of chief of army staff, and therefore should not even be allowed to serve as President, much less run again,
  • He has already served the limit of two terms, and therefore should not be allowed to run again, in uniform or otherwise,
  • And he has already been elected once by the current assembly. There should be a general election first, then the newly elected assembly should elect a new president.
The Supreme Court, which was expected to throw a roadblock in his way, failed to do so, and now Musharraf seems virtually guaranteed another term, especially since so much of his recent maneuvering amounts to using the power of the state to stifle dissent.

But nothing is guaranteed. Three top police officials have been suspended following Saturday's violence against lawyers and journalists, and a couple of late challenges have been filed in the Supreme Court, as Salman Masood reported in the New York Times:
Further legal challenges arose today as two more petitions were filed to the court challenging the validity of President Musharraf’s candidacy. The chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has called a nine-member panel to hear these latest petitions.

Liaqut Baloch, an opposition leader, while talking to reporters outside the parliament today, said: “We think Gen. Pervez Musharraf is not acceptable to the nation with or without the military uniform.”

He appealed to the chief justice to order a stay against the presidential election.

Since mounting a military coup in 1999, General Musharraf has derived much of his power from his command of the army and has continued to conduct much of his work as president in uniform.
Even if Musharraf wins "re-election", he may still face determined opposition, as The Hindu reports:
Aitzaz Ahsan, who fought the court battle for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, said on Saturday that even if President Pervez Musharraf won another term, he would be unseated in “a matter of months” by the process of law.

“This [presidential] election will be a virtual election. He may have the arithmetic [to win it] but it will have no impact. It will not secure him. Except for the blind American and British, everyone knows this is a fraudulent election. He is a serving military officer seeking a mandate from an Assembly that is past its shelf life,” Mr. Ahsan said.
Musharraf doesn't appear to care much about legitimacy. But then he doesn't have to, because he has the Americans on his side; and he can't afford to, with his country increasingly torn between Islamic extremists and democracy advocates, both of whom would love to see the end of his rule.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto may have said it best:
"He's not prepared to give a level playing-field."
Pakistan's opposition parties are calling for a general strike on election day, October 6th.

I'll try to keep you posted on developments.