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Archive for October, 2002

The Dust Settles, Somewhat

It is only now beginning to dawn on the people of Pakistan that despite themselves they have managed to pull off somewhat of a miracle by not even giving a “heavy” (Mian Nawaz Sharif-type) mandate (10% of the available vote) to any of the political parties. With the Election Commission reporting 40% plus of voting percentage, PML (Q) and PPP-P got almost an equal number of votes, nobody got more than 10% of votes that could be cast. Claiming a “revolution” to anyone who will listen, MMA’s vote tally amounts to a grand 4%. The number of seats does not truly reflect the reality on the ground in the “first-past-the-post-system”. The MMA constituent parties got almost the same number of votes they normally get in any general election, this time their votes were counted together in a Qazi engineered “alliance”. With the main PML split into PML (Q) and PML (N), and both PPP and ANP also split in NWFP, MMA swept them aside in close races. A low turnout in any election always helps the more organized political machine, whose rank and file is more likely to turn out to vote en masse. The anti-American factor helped solidify the MMA vote in the border areas of NWFP and Balochistan but not as overwhelmingly as given out to be. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI (F) may strut his stuff as a potential PM but with less than 60 votes (including the ones reserved for women) in the National Assembly out of 340, or less than 20%, Maulana Sahib’s expectations are rather over-ambitious. At best his posturing is a bargaining position, meant to get maximum benefit for himself, his party and the alliance, MMA, and in that order. As a close ally of Ms Benazir, he managed that to his benefit in the last PPP regime.

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National Consensus

Within hours of the polls closing on Oct 10, a very wrong perception of the early returns, which was indicating that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal was sweeping the polls in NWFP and Balochistan, sent alarm bells ringing all over. Analysts took it to mean an overwhelming majority in Punjab and Sindh as well. Within minutes almost every news channel in the world was predicting a “Talibaan” government in the country, attributing this to the “wave” of anti-American feeling “rampaging” through Pakistan. As later results clarified, the “wave” was confined mostly to the western border in areas adjoining Afghanistan. Available statistics and educated analysis thereof reveals a different picture. The vote MMA garnered hardly exceeds what the alliance partners individually obtained in the 1997 Elections. There is certainly anti-American feeling, but that had very little to do with the vote, the core concerns affecting the individual voters were more earthy, food, clothing, shelter, medicine, education, transportation, access to potable water, electricity, gas, etc. An additional worry was the lack of employment, followed by corruption and law and order. Moreover the other major parties were very badly split.

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Mixed Trend

According to a pre-polls survey conducted by Research & Collection Services (RCS) on behalf of THE NATION, despite winning 18-20% of the nationwide vote, the alliance of religious parties Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), was not translating this vote bank into seats. This wrong surmise was the only real casualty of the survey with respect to NWFP, MMA confounded skeptics in the Province by sweeping the polls, and doing far better in Balochistan than expected. The alliance was far more potent electorally in these two Provinces than in Punjab and Sindh. Not to say that they did not cause a couple of upsets in Sindh, particularly in Karachi where, despite controlling the Local Bodies in an election boycotted by the MQM, they were not expected to create any dents in the MQM vote bank. Other than their traditional strongholds in the mountains the MMA swept aside the liberal ANP and the PPP-P in their Peshawar valley fiefdom. The local alliance between ANP and PPP-P proved fatal for the two political parties. Only Aftab Sherpao’s faction of PPP survived this onslaught, and that only because of seat adjustment with MMA.

The MMA emergence is a great blessing in disguise for Pakistan. For the first time since 1947, the Shia-Sunni divide has been bridged, they voted for the same cause. And Iran’s model gives us hope, to stay the pace of the modern world, the Mullahs had to come into line, including the treating of women as equal to men. Things went more or less as predicted in the rest of the country, except that in Lahore, PML (Q) was routed because of the clean seat adjustments between PPP-P, PML (N) and MMA. Electorally the results in Balochistan remained as mixed as usual. The MQM lost ground very slightly in Karachi and Hyderabad but was compensated by the almost 30% increase in urban seats. By the time this goes into print, the final results will be in but these are hardly likely to be so dramatic as to change the political kaleidoscope predicted by the THE NATION’s pre-polls.

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Idealism versus Pragmatism

In matters of State objective idealism always gives way to rank pragmatism. Gen Pervez Musharraf articulated his seven-point agenda within days of taking power, the vision was that of an idealist. In preparing the nation for real democracy, his solution is that of a pragmatist. And by the way there is no duality of personality here, over the past 38 years one has seen it to be in consonance with his character. Between the idealism the President embodies and the pragmatism he has adopted, the fault-line is blurred by the doctrine of necessity. In the hard world of realities and given the adverse circumstances, pragmatism is perhaps the only course that any leader of a beleaguered nation, such as ours could have adopted, not only for the sake of the nation, but being inexorably linked with the reforms he has enacted, for his own continuity. The starkest example was his swift decision in Sep 11, 2001 to abandon decades plus of foreign policy alignment to seek security for the State in a region made suddenly untenable for countries like Pakistan to continue civilized existence. Musharraf’s decision was certainly not popular, it was hugely unpopular among the masses, but in the given environment it was correct, Our heart may have been with the Taliban but it was neither logical nor right, we stepped at just the right time away from an extremism to which our masses have never subscribed to.

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