Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Pakistan People's Party feeding a democratic deficit

Tariq Ali, writing in the Independent lays out the problem that has become evident in the selection of a successor in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. As much as Bhutto was prepared to expose the rigging of Pakistani elections, her own Pakistani People's Party is no shining light of democratic process.
A triumvirate consisting of her husband, Asif Zardari (one of the most venal and discredited politicians in the country and still facing corruption charges in three European courts) and two ciphers will run the party till Benazir's 19-year-old son, Bilawal, comes of age. He will then become chairperson-for-life and, no doubt, pass it on to his children. The fact that this is now official does not make it any less grotesque. The Pakistan People's Party is being treated as a family heirloom, a property to be disposed of at the will of its leader.

Nothing more, nothing less. Poor Pakistan. Poor People's Party supporters. Both deserve better than this disgusting, medieval charade.

Benazir's last decision was in the same autocratic mode as its predecessors, an approach that would cost her – tragically – her own life. Had she heeded the advice of some party leaders and not agreed to the Washington-brokered deal with Pervez Musharraf or, even later, decided to boycott his parliamentary election she might still have been alive.
Tariq Ali's column goes on to describe the fetid corruption and rot in the inner workings of the PPP. The few principled politicians are outnumbered by shiftless sycophants.

Bhutto herself named her own successor in her Will. A 19-year old, not yet old enough to hold office, whose only qualification is that he is of her bloodline. The appointment of her widower and two others to govern in her name would be nothing short of scandalous anywhere else.

As it should be in Pakistan.

Lacking an inner-democracy, the PPP has put its own faith in an aristocracy on display. Name, not competence, decides who would lead a democratic Pakistan. Even less than two weeks before the scheduled election date, a political party that actually believed in democracy would have been able to draft a consensus candidate. Not a bloodline heir.

The US-brokered deal to create a power sharing arrangement between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf had the appearance of a sham from the beginning. The Bush administration supported Musharraf and his military-led government. It was only the unraveling of Musharraf's hold on power that spurred the sudden call for elections and the inclusion of Bhutto.
The Bush administration has no real interest in a Pakistani democracy. They've dealt with the military with some marked success. Cheney has shutout any criticism of Musharraf within the adminstration and the actions of Musharraf over the past few months have attracted only mild criticism.

In early December US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher:
"It's not going to be a perfect election," he said. He was asked if Pakistan could have a free election if Musharraf lifted the state of emergency as promised.
Which is as much as telling Musharraf that it doesn't have to be a perfect election. In fact, since there is no qualification to what would constitute a "perfect" election, Musharraf now possesses incredible latitude to corrupt a vote, and he can hold out Boucher's statement as a permission slip directly issued by the Bush administration. Because what the Bush administration wants is the illusion of an election. Pretend democracy will do fine - it worked for them.

And now, even if there is an election and the Pakistan People's Party wins, Pakistan will end up with a titular prime minister named Biliwal Bhutto Zardari, and an unelected political triumvirate.

Shades of royal ascension. Except that Pakistan is in such a mess that it cannot afford an Edward VI nor what would naturally follow such a ridiculous idea.

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