By Sankar Ray
With few days left for the general elections to elect the 272-member National Assembly (NA) – Pakistan’s Parliament – on 11 May (plus 70 members representing women and religious representatives), Pakistan is confronted with a sanguinary democratic lemma. Will the first successful transition from one democratically elected parliament in the 66-year history of the troubled state witness a free and fair election? The 342-member National Assembly has 272 general seats on which registered voters cast their ballots while 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities. Religious extremism and its concomitant externally-inspired terrorism are at work to subvert the polls in which 90 million voters will be entitled to cast their ballots, including 40 million youths – after 35 million bogus voters have been scratched. Collaboration between the Election Commission of Pakistan and the 25-observer International Foundation for Electoral Systems Activities in Asia to ensure fearless exercise of franchise and a high percentage of voting notwithstanding, even the most knowledgeable political and sociological analysts aren’t hopeful that over 60 per cent of voters will turn up on the fateful May the 11th. But forces are hell-bent to subvert the elections in the NA and four provincial legislatures – Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
To date, 7020 nomination papers have been declared valid after the disposal of appeals for the NA and withdrawal of 2,349 nominations. Some 4670 candidates are in the fray.
According to details, 51 out of 128 valid nomination papers received by the ECP for two seats of Islamabad have been withdrawn, leaving 77 in the race.
258 women candidates are in the contest: 123 are from Punjab, 58 from Sindh, 45 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 32 from Baluchistan. Furthermore, there are 246 minority candidates, 71 for NA, 55 for Punjab Assembly, 55 for Sindh Assembly, 28 for K-P Assembly and 37 for Baluchistan Assembly.
Pakistan People’s Party’s Rehman Malik, Muttahida Quami Movement’s Farooq Sattar and Awami National Party’s Shahi Syed, reposing their unflinching faith in secularism in a jointly held press conference, snapped fingers at the rightwing Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaj Sharif group) and Tehreek-e-Insaf, founded by the charismatic ex-cricket captain of Pakistan Imran Khan for their silence on the terrorists. There is no denying that those political parties, either equivocal or non-committal to secularism, are freely carrying on poll campaign, without any threat from the religious extremists that have a common front with the terrorists, with freedom to carry out their election activities while others have become constant target for the extremists. They said a conspiracy was being hatched to ensure that right wing parties come to power in the 11 May elections. They urged the people to support them in the polls and defeat the “nefarious designs of extremists and terrorists.”
Awami National Party, which even its incorrigible extremists don’t dream cannot get 20 MNAs, has over 700 workers killed during the five years. The reason is it is the most secular and anti-war political party. But ANP rank and file are defiant, refusing to bow down to the terrorists, although they have no allergy even for peace negotiations with the Talibans for the sake of normalisation of economic development. ANP leader and former railway minister Ghulam Bilour, expressing the grit of ANP rank and file said, “My martyred brother, Bashir Bilour, once told me that if we surrender to the Taliban then what will the world say about our country – whether it’s Pakistan or ‘Qabaristan’ (graveyard)!” An emotive Bilour said, “[It will become] a place where people do not raise their voices against zulm (evil).” ANP workers did door-to-door campaign. They captioned their battle as ‘Watan Ya Kafan’ (either the country or the coffin), a slogan born out of Pakistan’s turbulent past, along with Azadi ya Maut (freedom or death), having been rooted in the historic Hur resistance movement against British colonialism.
ANP joined hands with the two major secular parties – the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and MQM, which is popular among urban voters and the business community in Karachi and Hyderabad and was a coalition partner of the PPP at the federal level and in Sindh province. It has, however, fielded its own candidates in all four provinces and has not sought any electoral alliances. The MQM founder and leader Altaf Hussain is unequivocal that the struggle of the MQM would not stop, never to surrender to the terrorists. “Although the innocent workers and sympathisers of the MQM are being targeted by the terrorists, yet it is our strong determination that we will not bow down.”
It may be too risky to forecast the outcome of the structure of the new NA, even by insiders. But it may be said that no party will clinch the absolute majority, meaning the crossing of magic figure 136. However, youths who are not concerned about the democratic and secular future of the state may opt in a massive way for Imran Khan’s PTI, which has caused nightmare for both PPP and PML(N). If the Supreme Court allows former President Musharraf to contest at long last, his part, PML(Q group) will get a good number of seats, but well below 30.
The Left, to be frank, has a semi-colonic existence. Awami Workers Party, was formed out of merger of Workers Party Pakistan, Labour Party Pakistan and Awami Party Pakistan on 11 November 2012, with Abid Hasan Minto as the interim president in the provincial assemblies. They have the most cordial relationship with the ANP.
The International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign and editor, Asian Marxist Review, Lal Khan, a Leninist and a staunch critic of Stalin and Stalin era, thinks that the sustenance of democratic future of Pakistan depends on breach with the “notorious FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) to ‘improve the growth rate’ and to ‘shore up the crumbling economy’, with which all the mainstream parties are embedded. “The policy of wooing foreign and local investment means an appeasement that will prove catastrophic for the interests of the workers”, he added. He has no anathema towards Islam, provided it is an ‘Islamic welfare state’ that we are informed will operationalise by means of charity programmes to support the poorest sections of the society.”
All genuine democratic and peace-loving peoples of India and the subcontinent want Pakistan to move towards true Islamic libertarianism that Jinnah stated on 11 August 1947. But the reality is grim – a reflection of what Neruda wrote nearly 50 years ago. “And one morning, all that was burning / One morning the bonfires leapt out of the earth / Devouring human beings, and from then on fire / Gunpowder from then on, and from then on blood.”
But it’s time to chant the slogan raised by the undivided Pakistan after 1947- “Hindustan Pakistan / Dost Banenge. Dost Rahenge’ (India and Pakistan / Will become friends, remain friends). (IPA Service)