A vote against voting —Imran Khan

VIEW: A vote against voting —Imran Khan
Daily Times, February 13, 2008

As Pakistan gears up for its parliamentary election on February 18, many observers hope that the vote will usher in a period of stability and calm by lending popular legitimacy to the government. But sometimes democracy is best served by refusing to participate. The upcoming election, to be held under the illegal Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) implemented following President Pervez Musharraf’s state of emergency on November 3, is such a case, which is why my party and its coalition partners are boycotting the vote.

To be sure, contesting the election would provide my party with a great opportunity to take issues to the people. In fact, my party’s support has been growing, with opinion polls now indicating that it is the second most popular in the frontier province — and gaining ground in every other province.

But 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.

When my party started eleven years ago, we called ourselves the Movement For Justice. We demanded an independent judiciary, because we believed that democracy and prosperity are impossible without the rule of law, and that the rule of law requires a judiciary that can act as a constraint on the government. Having gone to university in western countries, we were inspired by the American system of checks and balances.

So it is a shock to us that the US State Department keeps talking about free and fair elections and abolishing the state of emergency, but without mentioning the reinstatement of the judges — including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — that Musharraf illegally dismissed. If the judges are not reinstated, how can there be free and fair elections? Who decides what is free and fair? Musharraf?

This is where the battle lines are now drawn, and where the future of the country will be decided. If the Chief Justice and the judges are reinstated, we can move toward a genuine democratic system. But if Musharraf manages to get his own PCO judges established in the country, then we will head toward a period of turmoil. After all, how can the party of a man who has less than 5 percent support win the election now without rigging it?

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.

Fortunately, the people of Pakistan — students, opinion makers, and, above all, lawyers — are standing up for the judges, doing the work that should have been done by political parties. We see lawyers marching, getting beaten up, filling the jails, and yet remaining resolute. They are suffering huge financial losses by boycotting the courts, and yet they are determined that the Chief Justice must be reinstated.

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.

The solution to dysfunctional democracy is not military dictatorship, but more democracy. Pakistanis understand democracy, because we have a democratic culture. Our founder was a great constitutionalist, and Pakistan came into being through the vote. The problem has been that because we have lacked an independent judiciary, we have not had an independent election commission. So all our elections, except for one in 1970, have been rigged.

India, with which Pakistan shares a similar background, went through 40 years of dysfunctional democracy with a one-party system. But in the last 16 years it has begun to reap the fruits of genuine democratic competition, because an independent judiciary and electoral commission gives people confidence that their vote can make a difference. Until we have the same in Pakistan, no election can be free and fair.

For two and a half years, I supported Musharraf and believed his promises to bring genuine democracy to Pakistan. I’ve learned my lesson about Musharraf. But, more importantly, no military dictator can succeed where Musharraf has so clearly failed. Winston Churchill once said, “War is too serious a business for generals.” The same is true of democracy. —DT-PS

Imran Khan is the Chairman of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) political party. A philanthropist and sportsman (cricket captain of the Pakistan team that won the World Cup), he was a member of Pakistan’s parliament until its dissolution last year. He is the Chancellor of Bradford University in the United Kingdom


Anonymous said…
Benazir Bhutto (inspite of flaws, if any) was the last hope for Pakistan. When the ISI/Panjabis/ Army / Terrorists combine eliminated her physically, they cut the chain that held the 4 provinces of Pakistan together.

I do not want to exaggerate, but the fact is that there is no leader that is acceptable and popular with all the 4 provinces in Pakistan.

Pakistan will collapse, Imran. No one, i repeat no one., can save it now. No Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, Imran Khan, Mullahs and Qazis, Musharraf and not even Parvez Kiyani. That stage is now crossed.

Indian Army will have to intervene and liberate Sindhu Desh. The next to get out would be Baluchistan. This will happen in the next few years.

It is time to UNDO the stupid partition of India that was achieved on the bases of fabricated lies. (Sorry Mr. Jinnah).
Anonymous said…
To loose hope is to loose faith in God. One must be optimistic and strugle for truth and justice. Situations worst than these have turned around. Infact, I am actually seeing light at the end of the tunnel as this is the first time that the nation has risen in favor of an institution instead of individual...and that is the institution of judiciary.
Only if BB would have not cooperated with Musharraf to get her cases written off Musharaf would have been history. She has the party and the power to do it. But she was thinking about her self instead of the nation. And again if Asif Zardari would not have taken the short cut and ran after the sympathy vote after the her brutal murder Mush would have been histroy agaain. But instead of running after change they all run after power...But there is still and will always be light at the end of a tunnel. Stay strong and stay truthful
Anonymous said…
Asif Zardrai will be brown nosing with Lal Krishna like his forefather did and GM Syed's like be pushed back to Arbistan where they belong.

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