Prospects of Free and Fair Elections in Pakistan

Democratic establishment linked to free elections
By Khalid Hasan: Daily Times, June 9, 2007

WASHINGTON: A meeting held here on Thursday heard speaker after speaker emphasising the necessity of holding free, fair and transparent elections in Pakistan for the establishment of a truly representative and democratic government.

The meeting, organised by the New York-based Association of Pakistani Professionals at the Johns Hopkins University, heard Adil Najam, associate professor at Fletcher’s, say that a democratic election in Pakistan is a bigger issue than the election question itself. He said in the past Pakistan has seen an “amazing run of inept politicians, an overzealous military, interfering hegemons and an impatient parliament.”

He stressed that the Pakistani people should not view themselves as being incapable of holding free and fair elections. The beauty of democracy is that it allows “exit without grace” when a sitting government’s popularity goes down. He cited British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s departure later this month as a case in point. Sadly, he noted, in Pakistan, governments have always gone out in disgrace. He attributed the rise of extremist forces in the country to the alienation by the state of liberal politics and politicians.

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said Pakistan’s rulers had no exit strategy. They seem to think that they have come for life-long terms. As for the coming election, it would be the first to be held under the watchful eye of a fully independent Pakistani media. However, elections alone do not constitute democracy, he cautioned, while calling for the taking of a holistic view of the situation, especially with reference to the current standoff. He said elections could be divisive or they could help build unity and consensus. The principal question is: Can elections in Pakistan be free and fair with equal opportunity for all? He felt that the Pakistani diaspora should serve as the conscience of the nation by focusing on the human rights situation and the development of the country. Expatriate Pakistanis should not align themselves with this or that political party.

Dealing with a question about the war on terror, both Askari and Najam were of the view that it is going to remain a major issue of importance for Pakistan, as well as the international community for in the foreseeable future.

Askari said there might be a “stylistic change” in the conduct of the war of terror in days to come. The two academics said the international community does not seem to be ready for free elections in Pakistan. Askari said the international community should not worry about the outcome of the elections.

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