Election 2008 Results –
Pakistan returns to that Elusive Democratic Learning Curve

In a Q & A with the Financial Times (February 8th, 2008) concerning the upcoming elections in Pakistan, novelist Tariq Ali stipulates “Very few people in Pakistan believe that the elections will be fair. The interim government is packed with Musharraf cronies, the Election Commission likewise. The only question is whether the results will be cleverly or crudely rigged.

From all reports neither a clever nor crude rigging has proven to be the case. Good for Musharraf that he ‘allowed’ the people their say, and very good for us the people that International watchdogs closely monitored the proceedings. In fact, over all the elections were conducted peacefully with no discernible rigging and the results speak as much: the opposition parties won the majority of seats, this despite the President’s rather ominous prediction that his party was going to win… (What was his motive behind this? If the voting was not to be rigged, why give statements casting blemish on ‘free and fair’? Or was he simply full of faith that indeed the people, the Qaum, they love him?)

Well, whatever the President’s state of mind, the state of the country seems on the mend thanks to the people who turned out to vote. And double thanks to the voters in the northern areas for the defeat of the Taliban-types though one must keep in mind that the Taliban type parties boycotted the elections in protest of the Lal Masjid incident, and so were not available to be voted in. Also boycotting the election was Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf party in protest of the ousting of the Supreme Court Justices. Had these parties been standing, would the election results be the same? Might there have even been higher voter turn out? Out of 80 million registered voters in the country only around 35 % showed up. Why? A general apathy after the President’s predictions? A frustration with the same old political parties standing anew? A fear of random bombings and mayhem?

Uplifting election results withstanding, the threat of random violence (state or non-state instigated) remains, and the public is dubious regarding political parties—both PPP and PML-N— whose past performances in office have been far from laudatory. Well, at least Pakistanis can’t be accused of completely forgetting past conduct. Let us then remind ourselves of the years 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999 when either the late Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif wereunceremoniously dismissed from power. In all cases, far from an uproar most Pakistanis then were rather complacent if not outright pleased. Well, here we are, 2008, and the same parties are in the majority again and this time the army, savior-in-general, is also in the doghouse. Not that the army should ever be the solution to end a democratically elected government no matter how botched a job they’re doing. As Pakistan has witnessed in the recent past, a dictator, no matter how benevolent, is at the end of the day a dictator.

Fact remains that Musharraf has maneuvered himself to be President elect for the next five years. Recently Nawaz Sharif ‘vowed to impeach Mr. Musharraf if he (Nawaz) had the combined support of two thirds of the parliament’. After yesterday’s results as we await the full picture of the coalition to emerge, it is necessary to remember that there is a time for political punches and there is a time for handshakes and that now is the time for handshakes no matter how half hearted. Hopefully the opposition parties are not so keen to wrought ‘justice’ that they forget their first duty is not to address personal grievances but rather to do what is best for Pakistan today, and tomorrow when things have settled down and the PPP and PML-N recall that not only do they have issues with Musharraf but that they were not always best of friends amongst themselves.

Only time will tell whether Pakistan will fall into fusion or into further friction…Here’s to hoping that, one day, we learn—rich, poor, young, old— to vote for party policies rather than personalities. For now, regardless of the caliber of the personalities/parties voted in, the cause for celebration is a return to democratic process and thereby a return to a nation’s democratic learning curve, for only in voting again and again and again will we one day get it right, or as close to right as is possible anywhere. In the meantime, let’s also hope no one gets injured from the celebratory fireworks going off in every street and every corner of Pakistan.

(originally published in Pak Tea House)