Pakistan Elections 2008: The Flawed Boycott Mantra?

Posted on February 24, 2008
Filed Under >Raza Rumi, Politics
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Raza Rumi

Pakistan votes 2008Much has been said on how the election results are a referendum against the policies of General Musharraf. While there can be little disagreement with this, there is a clear lesson for Pakistan’s urban intelligentsia that had been screaming about the futility of this election.

True, Pakistan’s troubled polity will not transform overnight, nor will the endemic civil-military imbalance dissipate in the air with the formation of the new civilian government. But this is the magic of electoral politics — it allows the least risky path to a civilian transition. The road ahead is messy we know, but that is the only road that a fractured polity can tread.

The classic failure of the Pakistani urban educated will not go unnoticed. Led by the rhetoric Imran Khan, the delusions of the lawyers’ movement and the rake opportunism of Qazi Hussain Ahmed and General Hameed Gul, the boycott chanting individuals and groups should re-examine their standpoint and ultimately their “politics.”

Unwittingly, they took the risky path of de-legitimising the main political parties that have had the roughest time during the Musharraf years. This was also the time, which the electorate vividly remembers, that Qazi and his allies were feasting on the fruits of power in two provinces and were de facto beneficiaries of the establishment. Not to mention that Mr Imran Khan was campaigning for the general during his referendum. The urban classes term the mainstream politics as “feudal” and the participants “uneducated.” This has to change, lest the opinion leaders are relegated to the dustbin of history. This dustbin already contains some rudiments of political streams, not to mention the left parties, such as the one headed by Mr Abid Hasan Minto, harping on the boycott mantra and middle-class pretensions over the National Reconciliation Ordinance.

In a country of 160 million people with strong traditions of democratic yearning, the process of change cannot be articulated outside the mainstream electoral politics, however faulty the political parties. This is the biggest lesson we have learned. Mian Nawaz Sharif who was lambasted for his pragmatism now stands vindicated. And, above all, the vision of Benazir Bhutto, who was attacked left right and centre for insistence on the electoral route, stands validated. There could not have been a better tribute to her legacy.

The PPP may or may not be able to form the government, but that it led the process towards a peaceful, democratic–even quasi-democratic–transition is something that will be recorded in not so unflattering terms by history. By prevailing on Mian Nawaz Sharif not to leave the field vacant, the PPP also takes in some measure the ironic credit of the near-glorious comeback of the PML-N in Punjab.

Another myth, fuelled by this flawed “politics,” traced the rise of Islamism in the North West Frontier Province due to General Musharraf’s backing of the war on terror and the invasion of Afghanistan. What could be farther from the truth. The ANP and the PPP have bagged all the key seats, including those in areas where the spill over of war on terror was intense. The people of the Frontier, before sorting out the mess in Afghanistan through jihad, want peace and an end to the imposed parochialism of the clerics.

The erstwhile sponsored face of Islamism — the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal — has been routed. The people of NWFP have rejected outright these rentier clerics that use Islamisation for power and pelf. There were many who said that Benazir Bhutto’s rhetoric against fundamentalism would be counterproductive; and the results from NWFP and Balochistan speak otherwise. That she could say it so forcefully is partly why she was forced to sleep in the enigmatic precincts of Garhi Khuda Bux.

These elections are also a slap on the face of the global corporate media (and their backers, the global military machine) that had painted Pakistan as a breeding ground for Islamic extremism and, dare I say, terrorism. And the global campaign on declaring Pakistan as the most dangerous country was nothing but trappings of an ignorant and imperial discourse.

In the final analysis, the people and the ousted political parties are the biggest winners, while the Musharraf paradigm has been trashed. Sadly, Pakistan’s naïve intelligentsia has also received a jolt as its boycott mantra will rest in peace along with the “true” democracy project and the rent-seeking devolution plan. The electoral defeat of Daniyal Aziz says it all.

The lawyers’ movement and its ardent supporters in the Pakistani urban bourgeoisie may consider reflecting on and devising ways whereby the incoming parliament is not de-legitimised or unduly pressured. The much abused rule of law is meaningless as a concept without political struggles and parties; lest we would like it to be reduced to debating clubs and internet groups or worse to “letterhead” parties, a phrase that our maverick Maulana of the MMA has added to our political lexicon. If the forthcoming parliament is painted as a sell-out just in case it does not deliver on the shopping list of the boycotters, this would be tragic. Reform is a frustrating and slow process that if derailed in Pakistan takes a decade to resume. Our present plight is a testament to this historical cycle.

Ultimately, the causes espoused by the urban groups and lawyers’ movement could only be negotiated and articulated by a sovereign parliament and a responsible executive that is answerable to the electorate. Mercurial benches at the Supreme Court or overzealous TV talk show hosts, important as they are, cannot replace this imperative.

– This article also appeared in the Daily News of Februrary 21, 2008

36 responses to “Pakistan Elections 2008: The Flawed Boycott Mantra?”

  1. Aqil Sajjad says:

    Dear Raza Rumi:
    You wrote:

    “e. If there had been full participation in the elections, there would have been a greater turnout and a better chance of defeating the status quo parties.”

    I beg to differ. The boycott calls issued by members of the urban middle class had absolutely no relevance in rural constituencies. At best this part of the urban middle class has some influence in some urban centers in northern punjab. And in these urban constituencies, it was PML-N that clearly came out on top because of its unequivocal stance on the judiciary. So the theory that the boycott calls somehow reduced the no of the anti-establishment seats does not seem to stand the test of scrutiny if you look at the results in the relevant constituencies.

    The only place where not boycotting might have produced better results for anti-establishment parties is Baluchistan where the nationalists decided not to participate. However, even here, one can not be sure because places like Dera Bugti were totally out of bounds for neutral observers, and the PML-Q’s relatively better performance in Baluchistan suggests that there may have been more rigging in this province. But in any case, the nationalists are certainly not the ones you would associate the urban middle class (the main object of your criticism) with.

  2. Idrees Malik says:

    Excellent article. Time has proved that boycott was definitely not a good idea. I think now everyone should give democratic forces a chance to strengthen Pakistan.

    But the key question still remains unanswered. What we have to do, as a nation, to make Mush Mush realize that its time for him to go away. Disappear! He is way toooooo ‘dheet ‘

  3. syed ali raza says:

    firstly lets get this urabn myth out of every one’s mind that MQM some how scares Karachiites into voting for them MQM’s support for Military was understandable since they have also been on the other end of a horrendous military operation against them reasons for which can best be summed as NEFARIOUS, & i am willing to debate any one under the sun, point to point on that matter, now that aside i do understand that one of the main characteristic of “PAKISTANI QUOM” is that they suffer from acute amnesia no matter which ethnic/class/sect; since they ended up electing the same old characters who have been looting the country & would do the same again just wait few weeks, every one on this forum will also come to see that how the so called “FREE & FAIR” media in PAKISTAN will be tamed & neutered just give it couple of weeks too !! so all this kicking and screaming about MUSHARAF sounds very pathetic , every sane & logical person realizes that the insistence of NAWAZ & AITIZAZ to reinstate the JUDGES who themselves were sworn in on the basis of 2002 PCO is hypocritical especially for NAWAZ who unlike MUSHARAF actually had his political party workers PHYSICALLY attack the SUPREME COURT so plz give me break already!!

    as far as EIDEE MAN goes, eidee u can not present an IOTA of proof in favor of YOUR argument so why bother!!

  4. Laila Ahmed says:

    For the record, 33 million out of the total registered voters of 80.9 millions voted in these elections and the turnout was 41%, about the same as in 2002. Had it not been for bomb blasts and fear of more on the polling day, the turnout could have been higher. Maybe, it was artificially higher in Karachi due to MQM’s propensity to overkill. However, this does not change the overall picture and the mandate given to the (former) opposition parties.

  5. Rafay Kashmiri says:

    @ 22 to 27 % turnout in these elections, is a serious
    set back to the usual Democracy routine of the past,
    I don’t recall any previous elections in Pakistan with such
    a “tiny” turnout.

    @ MQ’s illusions about “Mullahs out of our hair in NWFP ” ?

    Wali-Zardari is not at all that “hairy” victory overflowing
    “zulf-e-Damangir of Waziristan and Tank hinding the “healthy” round abouts of Fazlu behind the decision to sit on the ” hard” benches in prov. Assml.
    Anyway NWFP apparently opted for “encore” the last
    nirvanic obscurantism of another term of “Asaar-Qadimah”
    politics of “dye-hard Marxists ” fighting a new strong armed
    opposition. The last round of Marxists in NWFP.

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