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Pakistan: A golden opportunity to oust Musharraf

By Farooq Tariq

The masses have spoken once again. They do not like the military dictatorship. They want Musharraf out. They have acted in their own manner to express their hope to oust Musharraf. The massive anti-Musharraf vote across Pakistan on February 18 speaks for itself.

Anyone who seemed to be supporting the military dictatorship has been punished. The pro-Musharraf Muslim League Q (PMLQ) lost badly despite pre-poll rigging. The religious fundamentalist parties taking part in the elections were the worst hit. It was an electoral revolution against the military dictatorship, thanks to the advocates' [lawyers'] movement that has spearheaded the struggle against Musharraf in a different arena.

Contrary to the analysis of many, the boycott campaign by the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) helped the anti-Musharraf vote to be expressed in a united manner. The tone of all the 18 mass rallies of the APDM was anti-Musharraf. The boycott campaign was particularly successful in Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Here the split in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal [MMA -- an alliance composed of four powerful religious parties] on the question of the boycott strategy was the fundamental reason for the victory of the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

If the APDM parties had taken part in the elections, the MMA might have been united. In that case, the MMA might not have humiliated the way it was. From 13 per cent in 2002 general elections, the MMA voted dropped to less than five per cent. The MMA cannot play a part in any future government's formation.

If Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (Justice Movement), the left parties and the nationalist parties of Baluchistan and NWFP <197> the main parties behind APDM -- had taken part in the general elections, the anti-Musharraf vote would have been divided. It may have helped the PMLQ to win some more seats.

It was an all-out attack on Musharraf from all fronts. Those boycotting and those participating had one popular slogan in common, ``Go Musharraf, go!’’.

The advocate's movement and the courageous stand by the top judges had made Musharraf very unpopular. He did not believe the pre-poll surveys, which predicted less than 12 percent support for him.

The defeat of pro-Musharraf parties has a lot of parallels to the historic defeat of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during the 2004 Indian general election. The so-called ``India shining’’ sloganeering was repeated by PMLQ during this election campaign with massive advertisements in the electronic and print media. That ``development’’ at the cost of suffering of human beings will never pay back in political terms is a lesson of this humiliating defeat of the PMLQ.

PMLQ leader Choudry Shujaat Hussain was so convinced of his development work in his constituency that he slept in the afternoon of the election day. He commented on February 16 to a private television channel, ``I have provided electricity to every village of this constituency, there is no need for more campaigning.’’ He lost both seats that he was contesting. He forgot that while he provided electricity to all the villages of his constituency, at the cost of other districts, the prices of everyday items had not come down but increased tremendously.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PMLN) landslide in Punjab was due to Nawaz Sharif's clear stand on the restoration of the judiciary, lowering of prices and no compromise with Musharraf dictatorship. The demand for the restoration of the top judges is very popular in Punjab, particularly where the advocates' movement has been more vocal.

Unfortunately, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of assassinated Benazir Bhutto hesitated on the question and ultimately decided not to support the demand of restoration of judges. It paid the price in Punjab where, despite the wave of sympathy following Bhutto's murder, the PPP was unable to capitalise fully the anti-Musharraf vote.

The masses have spoken. Now the leaders of the PPP and PMLN have to act accordingly. They must demand the immediate resignation of Musharraf. They must take up the question of the restoration of the judges immediately. They must not share power with Musharraf.

They must change the economic priorities of the Musharraf era -- the implementation of the neoliberal agenda. The masses have suffered a lot because of these polices. There have been unprecedented price hikes because of the so-called free market policies. Musharraf has acted upon every [word of] advice from the IMF and World Bank. His tall claim of economic growth stands absolutely exposed.

I wrote an article, ``Can Musharraf Survive?’’ on January 25, 2008. It starts, ``It seems that Musharraf is on his last leg. He has become the most detested and despicable president in the history of Pakistan. No longer are there progressives, liberals or moderates in his camp. His enlightened moderation has been buried with the passage of time.’’ It goes on, ``The Pakistan Muslim League Q (PMLQ), Musharraf's favorite, is in absolute crisis after the recent shortages of food items, electricity and gas. The PMLQ candidates are the target of anti-Musharraf consciousness. The general perception is that if you are against Musharraf, do not vote for the PMLQ. Following Benazir's assassination, the wave of sympathy has opposed the PMLQ. Unless there is an all-out rigging of the election, there is no guarantee that Musharraf-supported candidates will win the election. If the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) candidates gain a majority in the next parliament, Musharraf will find it very difficult to repeat what he did following the 2002 election, when he bribed many PMLN and PPP parliamentarians to join hands with the PMLQ to form a majority government.’’

It ends on this note, ``Boycott, or no boycott, the future scenario seems more and more problematic for Musharraf. His departure seems written on the front door of every home.’’

We had understood the processes that were going on among the working class in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) does not have the mass base to bring this anti-Musharraf consciousness to its conclusion: the end of capitalism and feudalism and for a socialist Pakistan.

The LPP along with other left parties will continue to press demands for the total isolation of the military from politics. Those responsible for atrocities under military dictatorships should be brought before peoples' courts: real accountability for the generals in politics.

The vote on February 18 is a vote of no confidence in Musharraf's policies. The PPP and PMLN must change the economic policies of Musharraf. Otherwise, after a brief honeymoon period, they will be seen as those who have betrayed the wishes of masses.

The parties of the rich and the capitalists, the PPP and PMLN, have been able to capitalise on the anti-Musharraf feelings of the masses. They cannot go very far against the diktats of the IMF and World Bank. There is no other alternative but to build a party of the working class. That is what Labour Party Pakistan is all about.

[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Email labour_party@yahoo.com. Visit http://www.laborpakistan.org or http://www.jeddojuhd.com]

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