Mr Hosni Musharraf

Indian Express , December 13, 2007

Musharraf’s language and demeanour are the same as that of Egypt’s ruler Hosni Mubarak at the time of the 1987 elections for the Egyptian parliament. Twenty years later, Mubarak is still in power and the Egyptian people still have no real choice between leaders.

Egypt is a nation of a thousand NGOs and several political parties but there is no serious political challenge to Mubarak’s authority. Mubarak marginalised the real opposition, allowed western funded NGOs to work within pre-defined spheres, and has regularly held elections without allowing alternation in power.

Musharraf’s guns are trained on Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif for a reason. Having served as prime ministers, the two are visible reminders that Pakistan can be ruled by someone other than Musharraf. Once they are out of the way, Musharraf can follow Mubarak in holding election after election, changing rules and judges as often as he likes, and control the country with the help of the security services and large amounts of US aid.

Incidentally, Mubarak (who started out as an air force general) has been a civilian and out of uniform for the last 25 years but that has not eased the grip of the military and the intelligence services on Egypt’s polity. Musharraf’s decision to continue to live in ‘army house’ after ostensibly handing over command to General Ashfaq Kayani reflects his desire to be Pakistan’s Mubarak.

The holding of free and fair elections is not a technical issue; it is a matter of intent. A ruler or government that has no intention of sharing or transferring power is unlikely to hold free and fair elections.

Most of the fix for the coming elections is already in — manipulated voters’ lists, gerrymandering, intimidation of opposition candidates and arm-twisting of local influentials to support the king’s party. The rigging will be selective on election day, outside of the view of foreigners and the media as far as possible.

The primary purpose of the regime would be to influence the outcome both in terms of who gets elected and how many seats each party gets. Thus, the opposition might get a significant number of seats but individuals with an independent mind could be made to lose.

After the elections, a second round of manipulation will take place to create factions within each party and to manage a pliant coalition. This would be similar to what happened in 2002. A coalition cobbled together in the same manner as 2002 after a fraudulent election euphemistically described as ‘flawed but acceptable’ by the US government will not advance democracy in Pakistan.

If the ban on a twice-elected prime minister running for a third term is not lifted, there will be no real choice for Pakistanis because then Musharraf would be able to appoint anyone he likes as prime minister.

Musharraf’s desire to exclude Bhutto and Sharif and thereby pave the way for choosing a prime minister himself is another sign that he is following the Hosni Mubarak role model. But while Musharraf may want to emulate the Egyptian model, Pakistani civilians will not roll over and play dead.

Prolonged unrest might follow a rigged poll in Pakistan.

By failing to understand the differences between the political history and aspirations of Egypt and Pakistan, Musharraf might be risking considerable and prolonged unrest in trying to emulate Mubarak.