Elections in Pakistan
The election process rolls on in Pakistan. General Musharraf has effectively blocked attempts by the two major political dynasties, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, to be involved, charging them with corruption. He has amended the constitution 29 times and circumscribed civilian government with a military-dominated “National Security Council”. Musharraf will make all judicial appointments, e.g.
Three candidates have now emerged for prime minister in Pakistan, though this office will not have nearly as much power as in the past. The Pakistan People’s Party is led by Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a Sindhi Sufi pir or leader and great landholder. Fahim is the “eldest son of the spiritual leader, poet and intellectual of Sindh, Makhdum Muhammad Zaman Talibul Maula.” He is running from Hala in Sindh, and since he is the pir or saint of Hala, he will certainly win his seat. In the partyless elections of Jan-Aug. of 2001, the PPP candidates picked up about a third of the votes, better than any one rival party. If the PPP does as well this time around, it may well be in a position to form a government. Fahim is not known as a dynamic leader, and he belongs to the section of the party known as the “feudals,” rather than to that of the progressive, younger urban segment that offers more hope for Pakistan’s political future. As a Sufi, Fahim is deeply opposed to the fundamentalist version of Islam, which typically decries shrines and mystical Islam. He is a man with substantial credentials as a Muslim traditionalist. The PPP at one point, at least, had more promising young leaders.
The PPP’s main rival, the Muslim League, has split in two. The Muslim League (N) remains in principle loyal to ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. It is now likely to be led by Raja Zafrul Haq. He used to be Gen. Zia ul-Haq’s stalking horse in the 1980s and may be considered on the far right of Pakistani mainstream politics. When the Deobandi movement had its international conference near Peshawar in April of 2001, being addressed by Mulla Omar and Bin Laden by videotape, Raja Zafrul Haq sent a message that “that the conference would go a long way to achieve Ummah’s solidarity. He said that all the systems perceived by the mankind during different ages had failed and only Islam stood high guaranteeing wellbeing for the people.” Someone who thinks that the movement that produced the Taliban was helping achieve the solidarity of the Muslims seems to me a little scarey as the prime minister of Pakistan post-9/11.
The PPP and the Muslim League (N) have been trying to form an electoral alliance, such that they will even avoid running against each other in many electoral districts, ensuring their common strength by deciding beforehand where each will put up candidates.
The other half is the Muslim League (Quaid-i-A`zam or QA), which has declared itself independent of the Sharif family and named itself for Pakistan’s founder. ML (QA) has been an unwavering supporter of General Musharraf, to the extent that it is now known as the “king’s party.” The other parties suggest that the Pakistani government is giving it perquisites and help to enhance its chances at the ballot box. It is possible that the Muslim League (QA) will be so strengthened by these measures as to do unexpectedly well in the polls, but I personally doubt it. One prime candidate for leadership of the party is Mian Azhar, a former governor of the Punjab. He was recently picketed by the labor wing of his party for having excluded them. He has rivals for leadership in the party and is not a sure shot.
The secular and rather organicist Muttahida Qaumi Movement (United Popular Movement or MQM) may do well among the Urdu speaking “mohajirs” of Karachi and Hyderabad Sindh. Previous bans on the party, which was involved in paramilitary violence, have been lifted. I think this must be because the MQM’s ideology, which is secular, makes it a counter-weight to the Jama`at-i-Islami, which has also at some points been popular among the Urdu speakers.
As usual, the small religious parties are unlikely to get more than 3-5% of the seats.
The possible governments that might be formed all seem likely to be be right of center and promise to be weak and circumscribed by the military. In a country where most people are peasants or urban workers, only holders of a university degree can even run for office. Such democracy.