Musharraf’s Dipping Popularity Says it All

Gulf News, December 19, 2007

A politician usually knows when his support has worn out. A general, however, must wait for intelligence reports or the siege of his command post to realise that he has lost a battle.

Even after declaring himself civilian president of Pakistan and getting an endorsement from India’s National Security Adviser to the effect that New Delhi considers him Pakistan’s “elected” leader, Pervez Musharraf remains a general at heart. Since his command post is intact and his intelligence machinery has not reported his rout to him, Musharraf continues to insist that he faces no political crisis.

If only the Western media would stop reporting bad things, he told Newsweek’s Lally Weymouth last week, things in Pakistan would be as stable as they have been since Musharraf took power in the 1999 military coup.

An opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in November showed that Musharraf’s approval ratings in Pakistan have sunk lower than those of US President George W. Bush.

Sixty seven per cent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign immediately whereas 70 per cent believe his King’s party (the Pakistan Muslim League-Q) does not deserve re-election. Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), with 30 per cent support, emerges as the single largest party in Pakistan’s multi-party system.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) is in second position with 25 per cent support. Most people would prefer a Bhutto-Sharif coalition to rule the country rather then the Musharraf-Bhutto alliance favoured until recently in Washington.

Instead of facing the facts, Musharraf’s spokesman has turned around and made the absurd argument that a poll of a few thousand people cannot represent the views of 160 million Pakistanis. Until a year ago, the IRI polls showed Musharraf as quite popular in the country and at that time none of his supporters questioned the validity of opinion polling methodology.


The unavoidable truth is that Musharraf’s political support in Pakistan has almost evaporated. Even after the official withdrawal of the state of emergency, Pakistan’s ruler is virtually ruling by the strength of the State, not on the basis of his personal credibility.

There is bad news even for Pakistan’s permanent institutions of State in the latest IRI poll. The Pakistan Army has long been the most respected institution in the country and it enjoyed a favourable rating of 80 per cent in IRI’s polls over the last several years. In the most recent polls, the Army’s rating first dropped 10 points to 70 per cent and now stands at 55 per cent.

The media and the judiciary, from whom Musharraf says he is now trying to save Pakistan, are now the most favourably rated institutions in the country. The media’s 78 per cent approval shows how out of touch Musharraf and his sycophants are with the current reality of Pakistan.

The Bush administration wants Musharraf to survive and has been willing to let him retrace some of his missteps. The withdrawal of the emergency was another occasion for the State Deptartment to speak of “positive” developments in Pakistan. But just as American officials called upon Musharraf to “do more” in fighting terrorism, they are now calling upon him to “do more” to restore democracy in the country.

Whether Musharraf does more in reversing his authoritarian course will depend largely on the domestic and international pressures building up against him. The legitimacy and credibility of the January 8 election is going to be a major test in this respect.

The government’s hopes of holding a partially credible election with results that change little in the power structure are unlikely to be fulfilled. Either Musharraf would have to take the risk of allowing opposition success at the polls to secure the election’s acceptability or he would ensure massive rigging to keep his party in power at the cost of all credibility.

It is bad enough to have little support at home. It will be worse when the lack of support at home is accompanied by a total absence of credibility abroad.