Rigged Local Elections in Pakistan: ICG

International Crisis Group
Pakistan's Local Polls: Shoring Up Military Rule
Asia Briefing N°43; 22 November 2005

Pakistan's military government rigged local elections in August and October 2005 to weaken further the mainstream opposition parties and lay the ground for its supporters to dominate forthcoming parliamentary elections. The elections were marred by serious violence, which may well become worse in future polls as ethnic, religious and regional rivalries are stirred up. President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to maintain military control over politics are likely to limit the state's mechanisms for dealing democratically and peacefully with its many internal conflicts -- unless the U.S. and others make clear, as they should, that they will withdraw political, military and financial support in the absence of genuine moves to restore power to civilians.

The government manipulation of the local polls involved gerrymandering of districts to break up support for political opponents of the military; reshuffling of officials to ensure those favourable to the military controlled elections in key areas; rejecting the nominations of opposition candidates; giving direct support to certain candidates in what was supposed to be a non-party election; and direct rigging at the polls, including ballot stuffing, intimidation and seizure of voting stations.

Crisis Group argued in a March 2004 report that the main rationale for President Musharraf's devolution plan was and remains regime legitimacy and survival. As the military-led government enters its sixth year, the imperatives of regime survival have become more pressing. To this end, the Musharraf government distorted its own devolution plan further through the rigged polls. This political engineering is increasing divisions at local and provincial levels, which in turn are producing greater political violence. At least 60 people died, and more than 500 were injured during the local elections.

The military government has presented its plan for devolution as an effort to improve public services, attracting considerable support from donors. But far from being a technocratic solution to the problems of local governance or an effort to empower people, the devolution process is a political project to maintain military power, something further revealed by the extent of rigging of the local polls. In the absence of representative rule, ethno-regional and political disaffection will continue to pose serious risks to the country's political and economic development and stability.

The election process risks worsening relations between the central government and the four federal provinces, which has already led to a low-level insurgency over political power and resources in Balochistan. Redistricting along ethnic lines in Karachi risks reviving the violence that blighted the country's main city for more than a decade. These elections have left political parties weakened and divided, have reduced political participation by women, and worsened local clan and ethnic rivalries. Limiting the political space for secular democratic parties has always boosted the position of extremist and religious groups in Pakistan.

Putting in place supportive local officials will help Musharraf ensure that his supporters win future parliamentary elections. In the 2002 election, Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) party won only a narrow victory because of opposition from many local officials, who can have a major impact on voting. The rigging of the local elections and the lack of independence of the Election Commission mean that there can be little faith Musharraf will live up to promises to return Pakistan to democracy and allow the next parliamentary polls to be free and fair.
Islamabad/Brussels, 22 November 2005

For detailed Report, see: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3799&l=1


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