Posts Tagged ‘Elections’

CHUP recently interviewed Mahir Nisar, the Vice President of Future Leaders of Pakistan, an organization that seeks to encourage the growth and development of Pakistan’s future leaders. FLP also strives to promote leadership within the country. It aims to promote awareness on politically pertinent issues affecting the country. The organization established Parliament Watch, a website that encouraged discussion and involvement among Pakistan’s youth in the lead up to the 2008 parliamentary elections. Visitors to the site could read profiles on the candidates and discuss issues with other “Parliament watchers.” FLP has been instrumental in getting the country’s youth more active in Pakistani politics, and CHUP was able to gain further insight from Mahir on their achievements.
How long have you been involved with Future Leaders of Pakistan and what was the inspiration behind forming such an organization?
I have been involved with FLP since its inception in 1997. As one of seven other founding members, we formed this organization with the desire and vision to unite, organize, and represent the youth. Our basic premise for our creation was to counter the ill-effects of the present generation, dynastic politics, and extremism. Our desire to help strengthen the political institutions through various projects is an attempt to meet these specific goals. As we strive to unite the youth of Pakistan, FLP is becoming a force that represents leadership initiative and a new brand of political discourse– one that prioritizes the interests of Pakistan above personal agendas and interests.
FLP’s project, Parliament Watch, garnered a lot of attention among Pakistan’s youth – what do you feel was the project’s biggest success? How will FLP continue to foster this project and continue the involvement of the younger generation?
We went into this project with sound statistical data and knew that providing such information to the people of Pakistan would help spread awareness. No other country in the world has completed a similar project that provides information on over 5,000 candidates and allows the public to comment and rate them. The biggest success of this project was the ability of the Pakistani online community to voice their opinions on the candidates with other fellow Pakistanis, while also being able to rate the candidates through our Candidate Desirability Index (CDI) rating system. In order to foster this momentum, we are currently conducting several projects in anticipation of the next election cycle. Our only desire is to strengthen the political institutions of Pakistan by spreading awareness about the people who form this institution, and on that basis we are currently conducting projects in furtherance of spreading awareness.

As a young Pakistani, what do you feel is the biggest issue currently facing the country? What should be done to counter this problem?

I feel that we lack leadership. We still are running with a personality-based political system without tackling the issues faced by the people of Pakistan. Once we are able to transform the politics of our country to one that reflects issue-based politics, then Pakistan will begin to flourish as a nation. Our organization is constantly trying to foster a new culture among the country’s youth by conducting an array of projects – from those addressing environmental problems to those pertaining to human rights issues. As Pakistanis helping Pakistanis, we are attempting to create a phenomenon that goes above and beyond cultural, political, and ethnic norms. We are creating a Pakistani identity amongst our youth of today for the future leadership of tomorrow.

What role can Pakistan’s younger generation and student activists play in the country’s new democratic era?

If they have a strong desire to be active in the transformation of Pakistan, they should join FLP. Our members hail from different political affiliations within Pakistan, including PPP-P, PML-N, PTI, ANP, etc. We are a diverse group of Pakistanis from different backgrounds and we stand committed to bridging these differences as a group. The youth, being the largest group in Pakistan, must help organizations like ours in changing Pakistan for the better. We believe in diversity because in reality it creates unity. It is our duty as the youth to tackle the issues that were not handled by our parents’ generations. I have a lot of faith in this new generation because they have a desire- a passion to make a difference in Pakistan. They have a passion to see a new Pakistan, a free Pakistan, and a prosperous Pakistan, and we, at FLP, want to be a part of that hope.

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PPP Delays PM Decision

The party of recently slain Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), delayed nominating the country’s Prime Minister on Thursday, “casting the nuclear-armed nation deeper into political limbo after elections,” reported the AFP. The News added that the decision will be made in the coming days. The PPP was expected to nominate the party’s vice chairman, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, but delayed the decision due to discord over this choice. The AFP noted, “Party insiders said the dispute hinged on the fact that Fahim, the PPP’s long-term vice-president, hails from the southern province of Sindh, the Bhutto clan’s powerbase. Some party leaders wanted a prime minister fro, Punjab province, which is home to more than half of the country’s 160 million people and where Sharif’s party outnumbered the PPP in provincial polls.” Dawn also commented on this party intrigue, reporting, “…dark clouds of uncertainty appeared on the horizon recently in what seemed to be an orchestrated whispering campaign suggesting a sidelining of the party old guard from the main PPP power base of Sindh province, though there was no indication if possible alternatives mentioned were involved in the potentially damaging exercise so soon after the party’s election victory and while the new coalition of former political foes was yet to take shape.”
Benazir’s husband and the party’s co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari, said he would be in the running for the PM position because he had not contested for a National Assembly seat. Yesterday, a Pakistani court dismissed the five corruption cases against Zardari, oft-known in the country as “Mr. Ten Percent,” in what Reuters labeled “a major step towards clearing the way for him to hold government office.” The news agency added, “Pakistanis convicted of a crime are barred from standing for election and while Zardari has never been convicted, corruption cases have been hanging over him, raising doubts about his future.” PPP spokeswoman Farzana Raja told reporters, “These cases were always used as a bargaining chip by our opponents but they failed to bend the resolve of our leadership. They failed to prove any of the charges. It has vindicated our stance.”
The discord over the PM nomination is interesting, particularly if the Sindh-Punjab element is truly behind this fracture. Amin Fahim has been a longtime ally of Benazir Bhutto and effectively led the party during her exile. By choosing the leading Punjabi PPP contender, Ahmed Mukhtar, an industrialist who is reportedly close to Zardari and defeated the chief of the PML-Q in the recent elections, over Fahim, the PPP could upset party rank and the wishes of former PM Benazir Bhutto. Moreover, this could have further ramifications for party support, especially the PPP’s traditional power base in Sindh province. Ultimately, the delay and reported party intrigue merely adds to the national uncertainty over the political future of the country.

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An interesting perspective by Center for American Progress’ Caroline Wadhams on the elections in Pakistan.

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The results from Monday’s election are official – not only did the opposition win, but elections were relatively free and fair, there was little reported violence, the Karachi Stock Exchange finished at significantly higher levels, and President Pervez Musharraf and the political party that backed him, the PML-Q, accepted defeat. These developments alone should be recognized as progress, especially in regard to prior fears of poll rigging and security concerns. Today, the Washington Post piece, entitled, “Pakistan Remakes its Political Landscape,” reported, “By Tuesday evening, with most of the vote counted, the two major opposition parties had won 154 of the 272 elected seats in the National Assembly, compared with 38 for the PML-Q. In all, the assembly has 342 seats.”Even more notable was the voter turnout. According to Pakistan’s Daily Times today, “The most remarkable showing was in Rawalpindi, repeatedly targeted by the terrorists in the past year. Voters came out much above the national average of 40 percent to vote for the PML-N, paralleling the reactive vote for late Ms Benazir Bhutto in rural Sindh.” The Times added, “Unsurprisingly, the decline of the MMA in the NWFP has allowed the secular ANP to make a remarkable comeback, opening up new possibilities of repairing the cultural fabric of the province presently threatened by suicide-bombers.” Prominent lawyer and PPP member, Aitzaz Ahsan further underscored the significance of the results, and told the Washington Post, “General Musharraf represents the rule of man over law, and the resounding verdict of the people is that they yearn to be ruled by laws, not men.”

I tend to be a realist, especially when it comes to Pakistan, and while I recognize the great achievements this week, I also acknowledge that the elections left the political landscape far from clear. As the Post noted, neither the PPP or the PML-N gained a clear majority and neither has put forth a concrete PM candidate, “thus opening the door to complicated coalitions and deals.” And lest we forget the political failings of both parties while in power in the 1990s. The NY Times reported, “American officials were particularly skeptical of Mr. Zardari, who has faced corruption charges in Pakistan and abroad and has come to his current position of leadership only through his wife’s death.” Former PM and PML-N head Nawaz Sharif also faced corruption charges during his two terms in power. Although both leaders agree essentially on opposing terrorism and cooperating with the U.S., the two parties have been long-time political rivals. Therefore, their recent talks of a Coalition government is both significant and remains contingent on whether they can put their historical differences aside for “a greater good.” So far, they have announced that they will take a new approach to fighting Islamist militants, “pursuing more dialogue than military confrontation,” reported the NY Times. They also pledged to undo the crackdown on the media and restore independence to the judiciary.

And what about the fate of Musharraf? The AFP reported Wednesday that the President has rejected demands to quit, calling instead for a “harmonious coalition.” The news agency added, “Musharraf was making his first official comments since Monday’s crucial parliamentary vote, which left him fighting for his political life after his allies suffered a heavy defeat.” Despite his call for this “harmonious” alliance, both Sharif and Zardari have called for his resignation.

The bottom line? The elections were only the first step – whether or not these parties can successfully address Pakistan’s multitude of problems remains to be seen. [Image from the NY Times]

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The federal parliamentary election results, which are still being counted, dealt a significant blow to the Musharraf regime, since most of the cabinet members serving in the PML-Q pre-emergency government lost their contested seats. If the results continue to pan out as expected, then we will have a PPP-led coalition government with the PML-N. Therefore, they will have the power to choose the next Prime Minister. Possible PM candidates would include Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, two notable PPP figures.
However, the opposition victory is only the first of many battles. If the new government lives up to its pledge to fight for the restoration of the judiciary, they will be at logger-heads with the President. If they get a 2/3 majority in the Parliament (as they should have) and vote to restore the judiciary, Musharraf will be left with 4 potential options:
1) Accept the Parliament’s demands
2) Cut a side deal with one or more of the parties in the coalition government and derail the efforts to restore the judiciary— PPP would be the most likely to indulge in that
3) Refuse to allow the restoration of the judiciary and dissolve the newly-elected Parliament citing that he is “looking out for the best interest of the state”

4) Analyze the situation and lack of public support and resign

If the President were to resign, the new Chief of Army Staff– Gen. Kayani would have two choices:

1) Declare himself President and continue with business as usual
2) Proclaim that the Army was leaving politics and let the Senate decide the new president and Pakistan would return to the road of democracy

The above analysis is the opinion of a CHUP contributor, Fahad Hasan. If you would like to provide your own election analysis, please email CHUP at changinguppakistan@gmail.com.

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Polls Close, Counting Begins

According to news sources, President Pervez Musharraf‘s “allies” faced a “crushing defeat” in today’s parliamentary elections. According to CNN, “In the first three counts to finish, the provincial assembly seat in Balochistan went to the Pakistan People’s Party — the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — while two independent candidates won seats from the northern tribal areas, said Chief Election Commissioner Qazi Muhammad Farooq.” The NY Times reported, “Almost all the leading figures in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that has governed for the last five years under Mr. Musharraf, lost their seats, including the leader of the party, the former speaker of Parliament and six ministers.” The AFP similarly reported, “High-profile victims who lost their seats included party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and almost all of Musharraf’s former cabinet, including close presidential ally Sheikh Rashid.” Although official results are expected Tuesday, early returns indicated that the vote “would usher in a prime minister from one of the opposition parties, and opened the prospect of a Parliament that would move to undo many of Mr. Musharraf’s policies and that may even try to remove him.” The Times assessed, “The results were interpreted here as a repudiation of Mr. Musharraf as well as the Bush administration…American officials will have little choice now but to seek alternative allies from among the new political forces emerging from the vote.”
Pakistan’s Daily Times reported that the PPP (technically the PPPP for electoral purposes) is leading in the National Assembly and in Sindh province, the PML-N is leading in Punjab, and the ANP (the Awami National Party) is reportedly leading in NWFP, with the PPPP a close second. According to Pakistan First, a site that is providing up-to-date election results (via Parliament Watch), the PPP won 34 seats in the National Assembly, the PML-Q won 21, and the PML-N won 52 seats. The NY Times cited unofficial results from Aaj television that forecast that the Pakistan Peoples Party would win 110 seats in the 272-seat National Assembly, with Mr. Sharif’s party taking 100 seats.According to the Washington Post today, “The mood across Pakistan was one of apprehension as voters headed to the polls Monday morning. Local media here reported dozens of bomb attacks and violent clashes across the country.” CNN, however, provided a different account, reporting that “relatively little violence” occurred today and there were “no overt signs of tampering.” [Image from NY Times]

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The elections are upon us, and I’d like to say good luck to all who are going out to the election stations to vote. Please be careful – given the current security situation, extremist groups have been targeting polling centers in an effort to destabilize the country and intimidate voters.I’d also like to take a moment to promote a really great organization that is providing updated news on the elections, Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP) that started Parliament Watch, a site that allows users to discuss issues, rate candidates, and provides continuously updated election news. Check it out! – http://www.pw.org.pk

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A car bomb killed 27 people and wounded 93 on Saturday when it exploded in front of a (Pakistan People’s Party) PPP election office in Parachinar, in northern Pakistan. The blast, reported the AFP, increased security fears on the last day of campaigning, just two days before the elections. According to CNN, “The office was used by PPP parliamentary candidate Riaz Hussein, according to party spokesman Nazir Dhoki. The explosion occurred late in the afternoon.” Some of the dead were workers for the political party, and the Associated Press cited Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz who said “the suicide bomber drove into a crowd as they were preparing to eat.” Although he did not speculate on who might have perpetrated the attack, the AP noted, “Monday’s elections are taking place against a backdrop of rising Islamic militancy throughout Pakistan, and many candidates have been discouraged from holding large rallies. Security fears are highest in lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border.”
An article in today’s Dawn reported that the federal government has warned the provincial police chiefs to “step up security” following intelligence reports that suicide bombers may strike “in the next 72 hours” to sabotage the Feb. 18th elections. Dawn added, “Sources said that high-level talks were being held to review plans for the protection of sensitive installations and important political figures.” Also interesting is that the government has indicated threats of attacks on some Arab diplomatic missions in the country, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq.Despite today’s bombing and security-related developments, much press coverage surrounding Monday’s election have been devoted to the issue of “poll rigging.” According to the aforementioned AFP piece, “Opposition groups have accused Musharraf’s administration of rigging the polls to head off possible impeachment if a hostile parliament is voted in.”

In response to this widespread concern that the polls will be manipulated, “Tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians have signed up as election monitors,” reported the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The news agency added, Pakistan can ill afford the kind of problems that have sparked unrest following past contests. “Voters will be choosing members of Parliament. The party that winds up on top will nominate the next prime minister, who will share power with embattled President Pervez Musharraf. Voters will also select governments in the nation’s tribal regions and four provinces, two of which have been run by a coalition of conservative Islamist parties [referring to NWFP and Balochistan.” If Monday’s elections are seen as credible, that could defuse national tensions and unrest and perhaps “nudge Pakistan’s fractious political parties to form a more unified government,” the WSJ assessed. The article cited some significant statistics based on the IRI poll released this past week – namely, if the main party that backs Musharraf, the PML-Q, wins the elections, 79% of Pakistani polled would feel the elections had been rigged. One can only imagine the riots that could follow if such a result occurred.

The President is obviously fully aware of these allegations and concerns and has pledged free and fair elections. According to the Daily Times editorial today, Musharraf told political parties, “The winner should not be arrogant and the loser should accept his defeat with grace.” The Daily Times called the worries associated with the polls and the President’s subsequent responses, “a complex psychology of action and reaction between those who are holding the election and those who are participating in them.” The editors added, “The rigging fear is a genuine fear, not nursed by the political parties alone. The media and neutral observers in Pakistan have raised very convincing objections to the way the Election Commission has handled the electoral list. In fact a case against these apparent irregularities is in the Supreme Court, investing the whole issue with legal significance.”

As someone who watches the current U.S. presidential race and the upcoming Pakistani elections with equal fascination, the differences in the political atmosphere stand in stark contrast to one another. Whereas U.S. voters’ biggest complaint seems to revolve around super-delegates, Pakistanis are worried about rigged polls, security surrounding election stations, and whether a perceived rigged election would bring further unrest to a country already laden with overflowing tensions. I am not saying this is not expected of a developing nation recovering from years of conflict, corruption and ping-ponged authoritarian rule – I am merely highlighting the scale of our problems. Although the number of political parties participating in this election have dropped dramatically, there seems to be so much more international attention, so much more at stake, and so much more that could happen if the results are not to our liking.

Before I end today, I’d like to highlight another great piece by Khaled Ahmed in Pakistan’s Friday Times. He wrote, “The new government will be a ‘negotiating’ government. It will negotiate with Al Qaeda and Taliban Tehreek in the Tribal Areas about the nature of the state…It will negotiate with the elements behind the insurrection in Balochistan on what the federal government will retain out of the powers mentioned in the Constitution…It will similarly have to negotiate with the sub-nationalisms gathering strength in the NWFP and Sindh…” In his opinion, new elections will be demanded soon enough after this new government “is shell-shocked by the challenges of governance it faces and loses its head.” – Thoughts?

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On Saturday, 25 people were killed and 35 were injured in a suicide attack targeting an Awami National Party election rally in Charsadda. The ANP is a secular political party that competes against Islamist parties for support among the NWFP’s ethnic Pashtun community. One man, who attended the funeral of two of Saturday’s victims, told the Associated Press on Sunday that the ANP has “promoted peace” in the turbulent province, adding, “We do not understand why such a big attack happened.” According to the AFP, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz linked the attack to the wave of bombings perpetrated by Al Qaeda-linked militants, “that have claimed more than 70 lives this year.”
Pakistan’s Daily Times reported that the ANP announced a three-day mourning period for the victims. Dawn cited Afrasiab Khattak, the party’s provincial chief, who asserted the explosion was “a conspiracy to delay the polls.” Reuters, in its article today, also quoted ANP spokesman Zahid Khan, who reiterated Khattak’s statements, noting, “This attack is carried out by the forces who want to subvert elections.” The AFP added, “The bombing has further raised fears for the security of general elections on February 18…” Image from the AP.

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On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to stick to his pledge to hold free elections, but added that she understood that democracy “is not something born in a minute,” reported Pakistan’s Daily Times today. The official told reporters traveling with her to Berlin for meetings on Iran, “We are all working very hard with the Pakistanis to try and ensure that the elections will be an opportunity for Pakistan to get back on a democratic path and an opportunity for Pakistanis to come together.” However, she asserted, “These elections need to be elections that will have the confidence of Pakistanis.”The issue of free and fair elections has recently been a source of contention among Pakistanis and the international community as a whole. Despite Musharraf’s recent assertions during his Europe trip that power will be transferred to whomever wins the upcoming February elections, Pakistanis are still skeptical of the leader. A significant article released by the Associated Press today reported that “an influential group of retired officers from Pakistan’s powerful military” has “urged” Musharraf “to immediately step down” from power, noting his resignation would both promote democracy and help combat religious militancy. In a statement released late Tuesday to the media by the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen’s Society, they stated, “This is in the supreme national interest and it makes it incumbent on him to step down.” The AP news agency underscored the significance of this development, noting, “The group of former generals does not speak for serving officers, but its tough stance is an embarrassment to Musharraf whose popularity has waned considerably in the past year. It could strike a chord within the army’s current ranks — which are forbidden from expressing political opinions — over how a once-respected institution has lost a lot of support among the wider public as Musharraf’s personal standing has eroded over his maneuvering to stay in power.”

I think this week’s poll falls in line with Wednesday’s news coverage – should our focus be on free and fair elections if the security situation is increasingly deteriorating? Will a new, democratically elected regime be able to handle a war that is being waged in our own country? On Wednesday, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made statements addressing this issue. According to Reuters, Sharif said Pakistan’s “perilous” security situation is hindering the campaign for the Feb. 18th elections “with politicians putting their lives at risk when they go out to seek votes.” The former PM told reporters, “Elections are around the corner but what sort of an election campaign can one conduct? How can we go out?”

The security situation, inflation, and issues related to the elections all present the chicken and the egg problem – does a more secure country allow for a better electoral process? Does inflation further exacerbate violence, and vice versa? The United States has grown increasingly concerned with the problematic security situation in Pakistan, and the Bush administration has been under growing pressure from Congress to cut aid to the country, “or impose restrictions linking democratic reform to funding levels.” On Tuesday, Sec of State Rice emphasized that this assistance was important and would continue, reported the Daily Times. She stated, “We have to have a long-term, consistent, predictable relationship with Pakistan.” Such assertions do not mean the U.S. is satisfied with Pakistan’s actions regarding extremism and intelligence collection in the country. However, according to an article in Wednesday’s Dawn newspaper, a U.S. official noted, “We have to be careful conducting operations in a sovereign country, particularly one that’s a friend of ours and one that has given us a lot of support. The blowback would be pretty serious.” The News also cited the U.S. official, Dell Daily, the State Department’s counter-terror chief, who added, “Pakistan’s new military chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, already has shown he is an aggressive commander, and U.S. officials are confident he will make progress. If Pakistanis ask for help, the United States will provide it.” [Image courtesy of the Daily Times]

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