Pakistan Elections 2008: To Vote Or Not To Vote?

Posted on February 17, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Politics
Total Views: 24196


Adil Najam

Although this election remains shrouded in uncertainty, despair and gloom, it is quite clear that – one way or the other – these elections will be yet another defining moment in Pakistan’s traumatic political history.

Pakistan Elections Sharif ZardariImran Khan Qazi Hussain Ahmed

Elections are critical because they give the citizen on opportunity to make their voice heard; to make a statement. This voice is not always heard and is sometimes not made to register, but the opportunity to do so is important unto itself. Yet, political theory also alerts us that opinion can be voiced also through silence. Statements can also be made through non-participation. In terms of elections it is as important to keep an eye on who is voting as on who is not; and why not.

This is most important in this election because the issue of whether to participate in the election or not is itself an important political issue; and each represents a different political statement. On the one hand we could argue – as Imran Khan of PTI and Qazi Hussain Ahmed of Jamaat-i-Islami have – that these elections are not free and fair and therefore should be boycotted. On the other hand it could also be argued – as both PPP and PML-N have de facto argued – that to remain out of the electoral process is itself to legitimize the process and those who believe in democracy cannot really afford to be against elections, even if they are against the autocrats organizing the elections.

Both views are thought provoking and worthy of serious thought. What do you think about this question of whether to vote or not?

To make the case for each proposition, here are two views. The first from analyst Nasim Zehra, arguing that people must vote in this elections. The second from politician Imran Khan arguing against voting.

First, Nasim Zehra, writing in The News:

Why Must We Vote

… Our vote is the only lever of change we have in our hands. A revolution is not around the corner that will change our state of affairs, neither is a perfect messiah arriving for our deliverance. Those of us who are here and who care, which means all of us, must go and strengthen the democratic system by voting. That is the first crucial step to start the birth of a new Pakistan where the Constitution and rule of law will reign supreme, no individuals and no institutions. Already since March 9 those who destroyed the judiciary are greatly weakened and discredited.

Casting our vote is a first necessary step in a system which is full of problems, yet for now this is what we have. This is an interim step in a transition stage. We believe there can be no genuine democracy with a destroyed judiciary, so let’s take this step in the spirit that this will take us closer to our final objective. We are only inching ahead maybe, and that too in a very treacherous environment, but we must. Pakistan needs us to stand up and be counted. Just sitting around and criticising will not do. Boycotting, unless in complete unison by all political parties, too is not a potent tool. We must use the lever which is in our control–let us vote.

Now, Imran Khan writing in the Daily Times:

A Vote Against Voting

… elections by themselves don’t bring democracy. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, loves elections. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been holding elections for 27 years. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov has been in power for 30 years, and has just been “elected” to a fresh seven-year presidential term. Elections are meaningful only if they are perceived to be free and fair, which requires independent referees.

… Unfortunately, most of the political parties have failed to stand up for the democratic process. Major parties like the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) have decided to participate, following the lead of the late Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party. And, of all the major parties that are contesting the election, only the PMLN is demanding the reinstatement of the judges…. So the dividing line in Pakistan is not between liberals and extremists, but between those who support the status quo and those who oppose it. Parties that call themselves democratic are not only going along with Musharraf in this fraudulent election, but are also helping to restore the status quo.

So, what do you think? To vote or not to vote?

26 Comments on “Pakistan Elections 2008: To Vote Or Not To Vote?”

  1. Zafar says:
    February 17th, 2008 12:57 am

    Though I am totally in favour of boycott of elections but I must admit the point of view of Nasim Zehra that a boycott unless in complete unison of all the plitical parties, will not help rather it is going to help those against whom the boycott is meant.

    Political parties, all of them, are too power hungry to come together and boycott completely. Someone somewhere will find a way to go against it, “rassi tura kar bhage ga” we have seen these incidents in the last few months.

    We must vote and regardless the person wins or not, we must vote to the right candidate who does not embazle national exchaquer and does not misuse the powers he/she gets. This probably will not happen this time and probably will not happen soon but it will happen if the democracy process keep on going without any intruption.

  2. Owais Mughal says:
    February 17th, 2008 1:17 am

    I agree with what Zafar said in the comment before mine.

  3. temporal says:
    February 17th, 2008 1:44 am

    yes vote!

    vote for any candidate other than one from PPP, or ML (any alphabet)

  4. ahsan says:
    February 17th, 2008 2:21 am

    Will lower turnout means no credibility for the elections? It means Musharraf does not have support of its public and cannot be trusted but will this alone change everything? No, not really. But it can be a good way of protesting. Protest by not participating. Because our leaders will not care about respect, dignity, or credibility but history will respect our opinion. Numbers don’t bring complete picture but they bring good chunk of it. 10 to 15% turnout will be a slap on the face of dictatorship. They can forge that too but they cannot forge history. From 10 to 20 years from now if history books would say that Pakistani public completely boycotted the elections then it would bring our hostilities against tyrannical regimes at least in the annals of history.

    Hazrat Imam Hussain lost his life in Karbala but his sacrifice still shows us the face of evil. Socrates also drank the cup of poison and accept death but his stance will never die. Winning or losing does not matter. Our boycott may not make any difference today but it will make difference tomorrow. It would tell the whole world that Pakistanis are not ready to stand with anything which is unconstitutional or against the law. It would tell our future generations that we can stand for the rule of law.

    Our kids would definitely ask us that why we are not going to vote when everybody else is going? But we need to tell them that we cannot participate in anything which would take our country to another term of destruction.

    It is not as black and white as I put it. It is tough decision to not vote. I do not know whether next time I would have chance to vote or not but it is a matter of principle. Rather I would recommend all to go to the polling stations and cancel your vote so no one else can go and stamp it.

    We need to understand the difference an individual can make. The flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a storm in Texas. Isn’t that an amazing statement? Physicists call this theory “The Butterfly Effect” to explain how the breeze produced by a butterfly’s wings could set of a series of reverberations that over time have a tremendous affect on weather patterns thousands of miles away. Now imagine the impact of millions of butterflies…

    It is a tough decision. No doubt but we need series of tough decision to move out of these tumultuous times. Our silence will break the shackles Inshallah. At least I believe my silence, my hatred for this mockery of democratic process would make a difference. And I urge all of Pakistanis to believe that their anger would make difference. All good things come to light and they will one day, I believe.

  5. Yousuf says:
    February 17th, 2008 3:37 am

    Maximum turnout, IMHO, is an effective way to reduce rigging chances. It’d leave little room for casting bogus votes.

    Remember, it’s the people’s voice and protests that made Mush come this far: retiring, having elections. There’s still a long road ahead (restoring CJ) and casting vote (be it any party) is essential for that. There’s a difference between a landslide and a 51:49 victory. “Langri Looli jamhoriat jaisi bhi hai, amriyat se behtar hai”.

  6. anna says:
    February 17th, 2008 5:52 am

    I do like to see this election process 2 be in a Peaceful manner but Khoahish kerna alg baat hay & what is really going on is Very Distressful & Painful for me .
    I wish there wont be any election & instead all parties jointly boycott & have their ONE VOICE against the LAWLESSness of this regieme & thus expose Those Behind the present Scenario , i.e USA.

  7. Zafar says:
    February 17th, 2008 6:03 am

    Dear Ahsan; you gave the example of butterfly effect but at the same time you choose not to vote and stay indifferent from the situation by choosing so. If we all do not vote then there will be no butterfly effect because we all choose to stay still and not bothered to make that little movement required to create the butterfly effect collectively.

    The adverse effect of not voting is lot more than the effect of voting no matter who wins or loose. If we all who think that the there will be no difference at all then there will be none and we do not have the right to complaint lateron.

    If we all choose to vote for the correct and right candidate and I am sure there will be one in each and every constituency then we can make a statement by increasing the number of votes casted against a bad person no matter if he/she has won that particular seat. This fact will be recorded in the history but not voting will not be recorded in the history. We can not be inconsiderate and indifferent to the situation in our back yard and then complain of all the evils happening there.

    We have to act and act now, as I said earlier it will not make a difference now probably will not tomorrow either but the morning of our great great grand children will be bright only if we choose to act today and start that butterfly effect today or let me say tomorrow i.e., 18th February 2008.

    I urge every one to get up early and vote early not to the party with better agenda but to the person whom you feel, in your constituency, is the right person, who is pious and not a theif, who will not misuse our trust in him. We need persons today to start with, choosing parties depending upon their menifesto and agenda is a long shot and probably it requires a different post from ATP, there goes another idea for ATP to post, Vote or not to Vote based on menifesto in today’s Pakistan.

  8. February 17th, 2008 7:55 am

    Adil Bhai,

    Vote with a heavy heart as without our superior judiciary it is a farce election but the only route to ensuring their restoration.

    Vote for all candidates who support the restoration of the pre Nov 3 judiciary namely the PMLN even if you dislike them as we need to use the vote as a tool of protest for a purpose. ( Please note I am not a supporter of the PMLN)

    Lastly for friends in Lahore NA-121 & PP-129 please support Munnaza Razaq, why you may ask see the link (scroll down) below:



  9. Anwar says:
    February 17th, 2008 7:56 am

    It is a catch 22 – shall we elect crooks democratically through elections or shall we bycott the elections? What is the guarantee that those who committed crimes, when elected, will or will not face the music of justice? Unfortunately, I agree with both points of view and I wish there was an alternative course to take..

  10. Salim says:
    February 17th, 2008 8:43 am

    I will exercise my solemn duty and vote on election day no matter the intimidation. I expect to be welcomed by bombs, not petals. I expect to be caned and teargased, but I will stand up for my country. I will vote even if it means giving my life for my beloved Pakistan.

  11. meengla says:
    February 17th, 2008 8:56 am

    Option to boycott elections was off the table for PPP when Maulana Fazlu firmly decided to take part in the elections; Fazlu was so determined that he virtually broke the back of MMA (a good thing, I might add!).
    Allowing MMA/MQM/PML-Q to run away with a victory unopposed would have been stupid on part of major political parties. The establishment can run away with Zia and Mush’s referendums, turn non-party 1985 elections to party-based National Assembly, make IJI in 1988 by using ‘agencies’ (read Hamid Gul)…all this and there is nothing the people of Pakistan can do about it in face of jackboots supported by the West.
    In its entire history, the PPP only boycotted the 1985 elections and that decision was immediately regretted by BB Compared to 1985, 1990, 1997 elections, the PPP now can smell blood and is going for the kill which will involve impeachment of Mush, restoration of judiciary, reforming the ‘agencies’, starting a healing process in Baluchistan, formation of a national govt….
    All above can be only possible if the status quo changes and the best way achieve that is to expose instances of rigging to mobilise public.
    Finally, I salute the political insight of BB post Nov. 3: When the whole society was agitated and asking for a boycott, she correctly countered that ‘there would be no need for rigging if we boycott the elections’. Had the PPP/PML-N boycotted then on Feb. 19th PML-Q and its allies would be declared as winners while the protestors would be called sour losers. A few thousand people baton charged, jailed but Pervez Elahi swears in as the new PM of Pakistan. Yes, the same can still happen even now but the forces of political mobilization are being unleased now and that can lead to anything if rigging happens.

  12. zakoota says:
    February 17th, 2008 11:35 am

    Keeping in view what Musharaf has done to judiciary, army, media and almost every other institution, I think election under him would be the most incredible elections ever. He’ll give some seats to MQM from Punjab and interior Sind to get some support in the parliament.
    I fully support the decision of Imran Khan, Qazi Sahib and Mehmood Akazai not being a part of it.

  13. libertarian says:
    February 17th, 2008 12:54 pm

    Boycotting is dangerous business. Today’s boycotter’s are tomorrow’s secessionists.

  14. meengla says:
    February 17th, 2008 1:35 pm

    In my opinion, nobody has put the case for democracy in Pakistan in a better way than the following article by The News’ Farrukh Saleem. I think it is appropriate for me to copy/paste it here because the ‘archives’ of The News go only so far back. Read every word and ponder. And perhaps shed a tear or two for Pakistan.

    Indian democracy

    Sunday, February 17, 2008
    Dr Farrukh Saleem

    India’s democracy is a 60-year story of corrupt politicians, assassinated leaders, dynastic politics, food shortages, poverty, chronic unemployment, an inefficient bureaucracy, prime ministerial scandals, bribes, tax evasions, embezzlements and an abundance of secessionist as well as faith related violence. In 2005, Transparency International found that more than 50 percent of Indians had “firsthand experience of paying bribe or peddling influence to get a job done in a public office (India Corruption Study 2005; Transparency International India).”

    Shekhar Gupta must be one of India’s finest of journalists (Shekhar is editor-in-chief of Indian Express and anchors the famous ‘Walk the Talk’ on NDTV). If memory serves me right, it was something that Shekhar wrote and that column is the inspiration behind what I am about to say.

    Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Great Soul’, Father of the Nation, was assassinated — shot and killed — by Nathuram Godse, an extremist Hindu who had convinced himself that Gandhi was going out of his way to favour Pakistan. Jawarharlal Nehru, India’s first PM, ruled for 17 long years but failed to arrest India’s growing poverty. Under Nehru, the state of Bihar went through a series of famines, mass starvation and death. The Nehru Dynasty was founded when Nehru managed to get Indira, his daughter, elected as the president of Congress.

    Gulzarilal Nanda became India’s second PM (after Nehru died of a heart attack). Lal Bahadur Shastri took over from Gulzarilal (after Gulzarilal had been in office for a mere 13 days). Shastri, a ‘Nehruvian socialist’, failed to pull India out of an economic and a food crisis. After Shastri’s death, Gulzarilal became PM for another eight-day tenure.

    In 1966, Indira Gandhi became PM and remained so for the following 11 years. Indira, who remained stuck to Shastri’s economic policies, confronted a severe balance of payments crisis, consecutive crop failures and a devaluation of the rupee. In 1975, Indira exposed her authoritarian streaks by imposing a state of emergency. On June 1 1984, Indira ordered Major General K S Brar to put an end to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s Sikh-purist theocratic movement for the establishment of Khalistan (‘Land of the Pure’). Indira’s ‘Operation Blue Star’ desecrated Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, and the Indian Army recorded 83 deaths plus 492 civilians killed. In the immediate aftermath, an unspecified number of Sikhs deserted the Indian Army and then in October ’84 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

    Rajiv Gandhi, a professional pilot, became India’s seventh PM and the third from the Nehru Dynasty. Rajiv tried to open up India by reducing import duties. Rajiv then got embroiled in the Bofors Scandal in which he was accused of receiving kickbacks. While the Bofors case was being investigated, Rajiv was assassinated by an LTTE female suicide bomber.

    Islamabad is a mere 425 miles from New Delhi. Muhammad Ayub Khan studied at Aligarh Muslim University and trained at the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. General Muhammad Ayub Khan became our youngest full-rank general and Field Marshall Muhammad Ayub Khan ruled Pakistan for nearly 11 years.

    Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan went to Punjab University and finished first in his class. In 1947, Yahya was the only Muslim instructor at the British Indian Staff College. Brigadier Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, commanding the 106 Infantry Brigade, was only 34 years of age. General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan ruled Pakistan for nearly two years.

    Muhammad Ziaul-Haq attended St Stephen’s College, one of India’s leading educational institutions. Muhammad Ziaul-Haq was trained at the distinguished U S Army Command and General Staff College (Fort Leavenworth). Muhammad Ziaul-Haq trained the Jordanian Army and saved King Hussein’s monarchy. General Muhammad Ziaul-Haq ruled Pakistan for 10 years.

    Now, look at India. Sixty years of corrupt politicians, assassinated leaders, dynastic politics, food shortages, poverty, an inefficient bureaucracy, prime ministerial scandals and an abundance of secessionist as well as faith related violence. Look at what a bad democracy has delivered.

    Now, look at Pakistan. Thirty-one years of direct rule by Sandhurst-disciplined, Fort Leavenworth-trained, smartly-dressed, intelligible, meaningful, well intentioned Gentlemen Cadets.

    Just look at the wide variety of fruits of a bad democracy. A democracy mere 425 miles from Islamabad.

    The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:


  15. Muhammad Zafir Zia says:
    February 17th, 2008 2:40 pm

    Vote or not to vote…………..
    The thing as far as I see, not to vote is a better option. There might be many people who might not agree with my view.
    These elections are not free, fair and transparent…………..Those parties who suppported Musharraf i.e PML-Q and MQM are being given leverage……………We saw newspapers showing the state machinery being used by PML-Q and MQM in their election campaign……….Political victimization aginst members of the opposition has been very much seen……………During last five years apart from SINDH no governor had a political affiliation…………….How can there be free fair transparent elections in SINDH when its Governor (Eshratul Ebad) belongs to political party i.e MQM……………..All symptoms clearly show that the present setup under which elections are being held is false and reveals favoritism………
    How can one expect to win, when judiciary is not independant, media is under strict scrutiny and there is no rule of law………………
    Until and unless faith on the election commission is not fully resstored, no elections can prove desired and progressive results……………….
    Although it is a very hard decision to take, to boycott elections and stay away from the mainstream politics………….APDM took a principled stand and should be highly appreciated and there their deision to boycott be endorsed…………

  16. February 17th, 2008 3:23 pm

    I am officially getting ready to launch my support for MQM based on their recent responsible attitude and statements.

  17. readinglord says:
    February 17th, 2008 6:47 pm

    I was in favour of voting and had intended to poll my vote today but after reading the fiendish remarks attributed to Mush in the News of today as pasted hereunder:

    “He also described sacked chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as

  18. February 17th, 2008 7:05 pm

    Look at this picture of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. This shows how our people are fooled by politicians.
    Nawaz Sharif made us believe that Zardari was Mr. 10% and a bad man , Now NS has united with him. I have said this before and I will say again I just can not believe NS was PM of Pakistan and twice. His brother Shahbaz Sharif is much more credible.
    They are all criminals but MQM at least learned from their mistakes and been showing some responsibility.

  19. Taban Khamosh says:
    February 17th, 2008 7:30 pm

    Vote Baby Vote!

  20. Umar says:
    February 17th, 2008 10:39 pm

    I can’t vote, being in the US, but if I were back home, I would vote for the PPP, all things considered… My reasons:

    1. The PPP is the only nominally progressive (with the stress unfortunately being on nominally, but nevertheless) party which is electable… there might be better parties (or leaders) around, but are they electable, beyond their own constituencies? Do they have a shot at forming the government?

    2. The PPP is the only mainstream party that can claim to have solid representation everywhere in the country… the recent blast in Parachinar being a case in point: the have an office and supporters even there… they have formed governments in all provinces at one stage or the other, and the fact that if they form the government the smaller provinces will be solidly represented in the government, will help in the healing process…

    3. Last but not least, the mere mention of the PPP (or Bhutto) name is guaranteed to boil the blood of any Fauji officer AND any mullah… I would vote for the PPP for the sole purpose of watching the aforementioned two despicable excuses for human beings cringe…

  21. Qureshi says:
    February 17th, 2008 11:17 pm

    Well we already have reports of some violence so there is also the fear that some people will just be too afriad to vote even if they wanted to.

  22. Sabyasachi Majumdar says:
    February 18th, 2008 4:08 am

    I hope PML-N wins. NS is a good business minded PM and PML-N has taken a clear stand against military rule and for the deposed Supreme Court judges.

    All the best to the people of Pakistan and may this election be the first step towards achieving MAJ’s vision of Pakistan.


  23. February 18th, 2008 10:58 am

    Boycott was the only option for me cause Election under musharraf will be useless and without judges, you cant expect free and fair…

  24. Aamir says:
    February 18th, 2008 6:17 pm

    wow are you pessimists now ready to admit your were wrong about Musharraf and the elections?

    Can you also enlighten me on what promises Mr Nawaz Sharif ever kept to the nation?

  25. yousaf says:
    February 19th, 2008 3:37 am

    pppp shold be won this election(2008).Because she was a real leader.

  26. February 18th, 2009 2:01 am

    Casting vote is the only thing to express our feeling and ones decisions, that’s why every one must cast his vote being loyal to his country.

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)