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Presidential Options

The countdown to general elections has begun. In any third world country there will always be an element of rigging (in the first world also e.g. US Presidential Elections 2000 Florida), the mood of the electorate is unlike that of 2002, the public will not accept any process less than fully fair and transparent. Intelligence agencies that have a compulsive penchant for “s-electing” favorites will find their effectiveness vastly limited in the prevailing environment, mass manipulation on the scale witnessed earlier is not possible, even “judicious” injecting of funds will invite a very strong street reaction. Those who break the law in the conduct of fair polls should expect to be prosecuted under those laws. The ability of civil servants and the police to locally influence elections in their area of responsibility must be (but probably can’t be) curbed. Mandatory statutory punishments for those trying to desecrate the electoral process will act as a deterrent.  To those given unlawful commands to rig the electoral process, there is only one advice, “Just Say No!”.

A spate of anti- Musharraf media and intelligence reports inspired the post-haste visit of the US – Establishment trio of Negroponte, Boucher and Admiral Mallon to Pakistan for on-the-spot high-level assessment of the situation. The US has no loyalty towards friends who have outlived their utility, they have a bad reputation of throwing them to the wolves. While Musharraf’s troubles have been compounded by the ganging up of non-political forces with politicians due to the Himalayan blunders of his advisors, the fact-finding trio came to the conclusion he isn’t going anywhere yet! Some distinct provisos about the uniform notwithstanding, their statements on departure registered continuing US support for Musharraf. MQM was badly wounded by May 12 but not fatally, while this bloody watershed was a major   setback   for   the   President,   particularly    among    the intelligentsia, the elite and the media, he has survived immediate danger.  This despite the fact that instead of damage-control, the regime’s minions are engaged in force-multiplying damage.

Speculation is ripe whether elections will be held early, i.e. within the next 3-4 months, or in the next 5-6 months. This does not preclude the possibility of a snap Presidential poll in July/August followed by the elections in October/November this year.  Alternative would be to delay the dissolution of the Assemblies till September/October getting the President elected by the existing Assemblies in having the elections in late December. The present regime would be more comfortable in having the election later.  Given the political circumstances on the ground, this option is a non-starter unless called for by a genuinely neutral Caretaker PM because of extenuating circumstances.

On the PM’s advice to dissolve the Assemblies and have new elections, the President can ask him to continue or possibly appoint a Caretaker PM.  The Opposition’s lack of confidence in the present Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has been further compounded by the electoral rolls missing millions of names. Even PML (Q) stalwart, former PM Zafarullah Jamali and his family, find their names missing from the electoral list. NADRA have issued Computerized National Identity Cards (CNIC) to about 80% of the voting population, the data bank available could provide foolproof electoral rolls alongwith CNIC Numbers, addresses, etc for each constituency. Why isn’t NADRA given the job of preparing fresh electoral rolls?

Stage-managing the 2002 Assembly almost came to grief despite extensive manipulation, only a last-minute makeshift sleight-of-hand got the PML(Q) candidate for PM Zafarullah Jamali a slim two-seat margin. This time around the success of such a “calculated  risk”   cannot  be   guaranteed.   In   working   out   a gameplan with the best interests of the country as the major objective, the President will do himself a service by trying regain the moral high ground, he has to make some concessions before they are forced on him. Despite the negatives the masses (and many in the intelligentsia) still do appreciate his many pluses and would like him to continue in a power-sharing arrangement.  The President’s should consult with the Opposition for a consensus choice of Caretaker PM. The Opposition may hold out also for a consensus CEC.  Accommodation of their views will prevent post-election “fraud” accusations. The CEC may take more than 90 days, to prepare fresh electoral rolls, it is important that all eligible voters get to participate. Article 44 of the Constitution states the incumbent President will remain in place till he (or someone else) is elected by Assemblies, the Opposition may have cold feet because fresh electoral rolls will mean delay in elections. Obviously most politicians would be averse to accountability, howsoever impartial! A Caretaker PM should carry out accountability “a la Bangladesh”, including the Armed Forces and the superior Judiciary. The present Bangladesh scenario approximates our problems closely, the correcting of electoral rolls and accountability across the board.

Why should democracy be held hostage for the misdeeds of some individuals? Ten years ago many in the country advised a delay, to quote my article of Dec 5, 1996 entitled “The 90 plus 90 formula”, “while elections are held on schedule within 90 days, the Assemblies should not be called into Session for another 90 days in order that the accountability process for at least a majority of the elected representatives is complete.  Either the President can approach the Supreme Court for adjudicating a time-frame of 90 days post-election or the Caretaker government can approach the Court for the relief, There is a temptation for having  more  than  90 days but while it is necessary to give some time it must be for a very limited period so that those who have got power temporarily, ie. the Caretakers, do not get used to it and try and make it more permanent “due to the doctrine of necessity” as per “the will of the people” a la late Gen Zia. There is great apprehension that unless the accountability process is complete, those who would have been elected but fear accountability will frustrate the process by using public pressure. The “90 plus 90 formula” meets the demands of both elections and accountability, fulfilling both but not at the cost of each other. Most importantly within the parameters of the Constitution it gives legitimacy with respect to public perception” unquote.

The acid test for Pervez Musharraf will come on Oct 8, 2007 when the present Chairman JCSC and VCOAS retire. The President has to take “the calculated risk” of appointing a full-time COAS Pakistan Army, advancing the date will be a sign of good faith and will go a long way in defusing the present situation. Thereafter the aim should be the conduct of free and fair elections, it making least difference as to who the genuinely elected representatives of the people are and to which party they belong to as long as they have sworn allegiance to Pakistan before entering the electoral process. Unless governance of the country is in the hands of those chosen by the people, this will eventually descend into the violent hands of those who control the streets.

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