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Election of a general: Did Musharraf beat his rivals?

October 9, 2007

Posted By Philippe Khan 

Saturday, the 6th of October was an important day in the lives of Pakistanis who were awaiting the outcome of the presidential elections. Probably what made this day more important was the controversial presidential term of General Preves Musharraf, who was previously elected in 1999.

Even though Musharraf promised to bring “true” democracy, law and order and economic revival to the country, his presidential term has been surrounded by many questions regarding his foreign policy, especially tensions with neighboring India over Kashmir.

His internal policy has not been lauded either. July 2007 witnessed one of Pakistan’s most tragic events under Musharraf’s rule, when the president ordered his security forces to storm the Red Mosque and its adjacent Islamic school in Islamabad, leading to the deaths of more than 100 people. 

Now, there are conflicting opinions in Pakistan. According to a BBC article, even though Musharraf’s supporters were seen on the streets celebrating on Saturday, enraged lawyers and political activists were protesting against him. 

Musharraf has been trying to silence his opponents for months, particularly after he suspended the country's Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in March 2007. This decision triggered huge protests across the country against the president’s perceived flouting of the rule of law. Back then, it looked like this was Musharraf’s last presidential term; however, the return of the Chief Justice to his post has helped to calm down critics. 

Musharraf’s opponents argue that it’s unconstitutional for him to run for presidency while holding the post of army chief. In addition, they also object to the fact that he was re-elected by outgoing assemblies - where his coalition has a majority - weeks before they should be dissolved for a general election that is due by mid-January.

Despite the disappointments, Musharraf contested the presidential elections in the military uniform. 

The BBC reported that according to the election commission, Musharraf won by a landslide. "It will be a great victory for the president and democracy," said Mushahid Hussain Syed, secretary-general of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) party.

However, this isn’t a clear victory. The president still has to wait for the decision of the Supreme Court, which should rule on the legality of Musharraf standing for president while army chief.

Even though the court allowed the election to be held, it blocked the election commission from announcing the official results until it has finished dealing with the complaints about whether the general is entitled to run for presidency in the first place, a ruling expected to be announced after the 17th of October.

Musharraf’s opponents believe that the court would rule in his favor, but others think that former Prime Minister Benzair Bhutto, who is seeking a power-sharing deal with the president, still has a chance.

According to the BBC, some analysts say that -- with corruption charges against her now dropped and Musharraf's election still to be ratified, Bhutto has more room to push for concessions. However, others believe that the fact the election has gone ahead is a fait accompli which the court will find hard to overturn. 

The opponents’ side is filled with disappointment as it looks like the battle is already lost. "If you put a gun to the nation's head, the election will take place ... There is no way people can stop it”, said Asma Jehangir, a senior lawyer and leading human rights campaigner.

Before the elections, there was more optimism among Musharraf’s critics, who argued that the presidential election should have been held after the forthcoming parliament and assembly polls. They were confident that Musharraf is so unpopular that his parliamentary support would have dwindled, and hence he would not have been re-elected.

But as the Supreme Court has implicitly accepted the government's position that it is the current parliamentary and assemblies that should choose the next president, even if the election commission may not be allowed to say anything, everyone thinks that Musharraf would be granted five more years in power. 

Jehangir sees no hope in the court’s decision; "The Supreme Court is not ready to take a difficult decision," she says. "Since the chief justice was restored, they have taken the middle of the road." 

Even if it looks like the battle is lost, Jehangir and her colleagues think that the court case is a necessity. "Even if they do lose, it will leave behind a controversial judgment", she said. 

However, such moral lessons don’t seem to be appreciated in Pakistan, whose people are only concerned about who will be the next president as they have little say in shaping the future of their own country. 

"How much can they struggle with a military that is adamant about staying?,” asks Jehangir.

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