Before the results had come in, President Musharraf appeared on the state-run Pakistan Television, calling the vote "the voice of the nation" and the "mother of elections" must be accepted. But in fact this was the Mother of all Frauds. The provisional results for the elections to the National Assembly, as of midday today (Tuesday 19th February) are as follows:
Even by Pakistan standards this was a massive exercise in vote rigging. Overnight, the masses have been robbed of victory by the intriguers in Islamabad and Washington. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto immediately stirred the masses into action. If the elections had been held at that time, there would have been a landslide victory for the PPP. Nobody seriously doubts this. For that very reason the ruling clique, in agreement with the Americans, decided to postpone the elections.
The turnout was low, and this worked against the PPP. No figure was yet available from the Election Commission about the turnout from about 82 million registered voters at polling stations across the country. But reports from all the four provinces said it was lower than 41.76 per cent of the previous elections in 2002, when the PPP polled the largest number of votes but did not win enough seats to form a government because of President Musharraf’s policy to sideline the party along with the PML-N.
The low turnout has several explanations. The right wing of the PPP did not wage any campaign, relying exclusively on the sympathy vote of the masses after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. By delaying the elections for over a month, the regime (advised by the Americans) allowed sufficient time for the initial mood of indignation to cool down, while they used the state apparatus to prepare rigging on an unprecedented scale. This was a contributing factor in the massive abstention, since most people understood that the result would be decided in advance.
Acts of violence were deliberately organized to create a mood of terror and intimidation in the run-up to polling day.
According to the Economist:
"Even by Pakistan’s wretched standards, the election campaign has been bloody. Since the murder of Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), on December 27th over 450 people have been killed in political and insurgent violence." (Economist.com, February 18th, 2008)
Although those who planted the bombs were members of extremist groups – jihadi fanatics, Taliban and MQM fascists – the strings were being pulled by sections of the Pakistan state itself. In the weekend before the elections, 47 members of the PPP were killed in the North West Frontier (Pukhtunhua). In Balochistan, violence raged on Election Day. In Karachi, the MQM organized a bomb attack against the Marxist candidate Riaz Lund. Many people were afraid to come out and vote under these circumstances. Why risk your life when your vote is meaningless anyway?
Deal with Washington
Pakistan does not decide its own destiny. Its fate is decided in Washington in line with the current interests of US foreign policy. This result was obviously the result of a deal between Musharraf and Washington, to prevent the formation of a PPP government, which would have been under the pressure of an aroused working class. The tactic was to build up Nawaz Sharif in order to bring about a coalition of the PPP right wing and the PML-N. As part of this deal, Musharraf would have to ditch his own "party" – PML-Q – known as the "king’s party", and the PPP would have to ditch its left wing. That is the real meaning of the election result.
The "king’s party" was humiliated in the elections, and the vote for Nawaz Sharif’s party was unexpectedly high. This gives the excuse to the PPP leaders to enter a coalition – something they have been preparing for a long time. For months they have been talking about a policy of "National Reconciliation", "democracy", "liberalism" and so on. The word socialism was conspicuous by its absence. In other words, even before the elections, they were preparing to sell out and form a coalition.
Nawaz Sharif, a failed politician who was completely finished in 1998, is now making a "miraculous" comeback, thanks to the CIA, Musharraf and the PPP leaders. It is quite clear that all his attacks on Musharraf were so much hot air and demagogy, calculated to cash in on the anti-Musharraf vote. Now he has done a deal with the very same Musharraf who only yesterday he was denouncing. Likewise, he has been preparing a deal with the PPP leaders. That explains the cheap farce of his conduct after the assassination of Benazir, when he went to the funeral to give his tearful condolences to the Bhutto family, taking care to be seen praying on television.
The base of the PML-N is made up of the petty bourgeoisie – small shopkeepers, small traders and petty businessmen. But Sharif himself is a big capitalist and an enemy of the working class. He represents the big landowners and capitalists of Pakistan. With the help of the state and Saudi millions, he succeeded in mobilizing his base, yearning for the "good old days" when Sharif was in power, filling his pockets and helping them to fill theirs. But the base of the PPP is the workers and peasants, who are yearning for escape from their misery and a fundamental change in society. The corrupt right wing of the PPP cannot arouse any enthusiasm in the masses with their chatter about "National Reconciliation" and "liberal democracy". The masses were prepared to fight for a change in society, as we saw after the murder of Benazir. But that frightened the cowardly and venal PPP leadership even more than it frightened Musharraf.
US imperialism had backed Musharraf despite its oft-repeated commitment to democracy. For the imperialists, democracy, like humanitarianism and the rights of small nations, is just an empty word that serves to conceal their real interests. But the regime of Musharraf was a weak regime, and was unable to deliver its promises to Washington. Beset by Islamist insurgency, terrorism, splits in the state and political chaos, the dictatorship was crumbling. Realizing that it was leaning on a broken reed, Washington decided that it was time to change course. For some time it had been cultivating relations with Benazir Bhutto, who they were pushing to reach a deal with Musharraf.
The strategists of US imperialism came to the conclusion that Musharraf was no longer any use to them and was disposable. They were looking to Benazir Bhutto to take over instead. But events on the streets of Pakistan overtook the calculations of the ruling circles. The splits and conflicts at the top were providing a breach through which the accumulated discontent of the masses thrust itself forward. As we predicted, the return of Benazir Bhutto brought millions of workers and peasants onto the streets. This is not thanks to, but in spite of, the policies and conduct of Benazir. The masses do not read the small print and only saw in Benazir’s return a hope for solving their most pressing problems. Pakistan is in the grip of economic collapse, with severe unemployment and mass misery. The discontent of the oppressed masses was revealed to the world in the mass demonstrations of three million people that greeted the return of Benezir Bhutto. The reactionaries in Pakistan were naturally hostile to the PPP and to Benazir, whom they saw as the most visible head of the mass movement. They began to prepare the murderous campaign that culminated in the assassination.
The imperialists were not afraid of Benazir Bhutto, who lost no opportunity to pose as a pro-western "moderate". But behind Benazir and the PPP stand the masses who yearn for a change. They are loyal to the original socialist aspirations of the PPP and are demanding roti, kapra aur makan (bread, clothing and shelter), which Pakistan capitalism is not able to give them. The imperialists originally wanted to balance between Sharif and Bhutto. They wanted to push them into a coalition as a safeguard against the masses. But Washington was taken aback by the mass mobilizations that accompanied Benazir’s return. The question arose as to whether a PPP government would not be too dangerous because of the expectations it would arouse in the masses. They began to reconsider their position.
All serious observers agree that there was widespread rigging. The names of voters had been removed from the electoral lists, and simply went missing, while dead people voted. Certain candidates were given hundreds of ballot papers to fill in as they wished. The polling stations were situated in places where the "right" people would vote but always far away from areas where it was clear the vote would go the other way. In this way a large part of the electorate was effectively disenfranchised. The police and other officials were used to intimidate voters. This was widespread.
This kind of rigging is absolutely typical and can be multiplied a thousand fold in every city, town and village in Pakistan. Many complaints were made to the Election Commission of Pakistan but the commission systematically rejected them. Naturally! What confidence can be placed in an Election Commission that has been set up by a dictatorship with the explicit purpose of rigging the election?
There is nothing new about rigging elections in Pakistan. But this was something qualitatively different. This was not the old crude, indiscriminate rigging. It was carefully calculated to eliminate certain candidates while favouring others. The main aim was to eliminate the PPP Left from the National Assembly. It is noticeable that candidates from the PPP right wing were allowed to "win" while those on the Left were excluded by the most blatant rigging.
In Kasur, the well-known Marxist MNA (member of the National Assembly) Manzoor Ahmed was in a very strong position. He organized a very successful campaign and had the support of the workers and peasants. His victory seemed assured. But the ruling clique and the PPP right wing had other ideas. Manzoor had always been a thorn in their side. For the whole of the last period, Manzoor skillfully used the National Assembly as a platform to defend the workers, cause and advance the ideas of socialism. Especially his role in defeating the plan to privatize Pakistan Steel convinced the ruling clique that there could be no place for a workers’ MP in the National Assembly.
Already last summer there was an attempt to remove Manzoor from the PPP slate, when he was summoned to London to explain his actions to Benazir Bhutto. It is very clear that the CIA would have told Bhutto in no uncertain terms that she must get rid of the Marxist MNA before the elections. But at the last moment, she failed to act, fearing the consequences in the Party rank and file. But the plan to get rid of Manzoor was still in place and has now been carried out by other means.
In the last election, which he won, Manzoor got 28,732 votes. In this election, after an exemplary campaign, where he again put forward the revolutionary socialist programme, Manzoor got 43,232 votes – a substantial increase. Yet he lost to the candidate of Nawar Sharif’s PML-N, who allegedly got 52,000 votes. The local PPP right wing did their best to sabotage Manzoor’s campaign, and in some areas actually called on people not to vote for him. The local Party refused to collaborate with him. In spite of this deliberate sabotage, Manzoor succeeded in almost doubling his vote. But there was no way he was going to be admitted to the new National Assembly.
The result was decided, not by the workers and peasants of Kasur, for whom Manzoor is a hero, but in the higher echelons of the state and the right wing leaders of the PPP for whom Manzoor was an embarrassment. The selective nature of the vote-rigging, and the complicity of the PPP right wing with the state, is shown by the fact that in other parts of Kasur, right wing candidates of the PPP who could never win an election in the past were elected.
Rigging in Karachi
The MQM, as we predicted, rigged the election in Karachi. They claimed to have won in seats where the Pakistan People’s Party was supposed to have won easily following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In the solid working class area of NA-257, where the Marxist candidate Riaz Lund had organized a spectacularly successful election campaign, the declaration of the result was unexpectedly delayed. As comrades watched the television impatiently, the results from even the smallest villages in the Himalayas were announced, but they remained silent on NA-257. The results from the polling stations indicated that Riaz was in the lead.
According to the "official" result, which was only announced at nine in the morning of the 19th, Riaz got 46,080 votes, which is more than double the result of the PPP candidate in the previous election. In 2002 the MQM candidate Muhammad Shamim Siddiqui won the seat with 45,480. But when the result was finally announced, the MQM declared "victory", with 134,448 votes. This is an impossible result and it shows the blatant character of the rigging. The comrades in Karachi calculate that Riaz won by a margin of about 27,000 votes. The proletariat of Karachi, who were mobilized in great numbers by his inspirational campaign, knows this. They know that they were cheated and robbed of victory by the gangsters of the MQM and the chief bandit, Musharraf, who stands behind them.
In Waziristan, where comrade Ali Wazir waged a very courageous campaign, the results were still not known today. There is a total news blackout. Ali Wazir had to wage his campaign in the most difficult and dangerous conditions of all. The pro-Taliban reactionaries threatened to kill him and made every effort to carry out their threat. These gangsters organized bombings against candidates and parties that did not support them. Nevertheless, despite the risk to his life, Ali won the sympathy of the poor workers and peasants of Waziristan, who are sick of the fundamentalists and the Taliban. He organized a mass rally of 10,000 people – something that has never been seen in Waziristan.
Despite the news blackout, it is clear that the religious fundamentalists are in decline. The MMA, the fundamentalist party which ruled the NWFP for five years, appeared in danger of being wiped out from both the National Assembly and the Frontier legislature. This is an answer to those misguided "leftists" in Europe who have been supporting the reactionary fundamentalist movements.
In a recent document we wrote:
"The crisis in Pakistan is not a superficial political crisis but a crisis of the regime itself. Weak Pakistan capitalism, rotten and corrupt to the marrow, has led a vast country of 160 million people into a horrific impasse. For more than half a century the degenerate Pakistan bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of carrying the Nation forward. It now finds itself in a complete impasse, which threatens to drag it down into a horrific abyss.
"Only the masses, led by the working class, can show a way out of this nightmare. The real constituency of the PPP is the masses: the millions of workers and peasants, of revolutionary youth and unemployed who came onto the streets, after the assassination of the PPP leader. They were not cheering an individual but an ideal: the ideal of a genuinely democratic and just Pakistan: a Pakistan without rich and poor, without oppressors and oppressed: a socialist Pakistan."
There is no need to change a single line of this. But the immediate perspective has proved to be more complicated. The maneuverings and intrigues are taking place in the corridors of Islamabad and Washington. They have sufficient resources to rig elections and rob the people of their choice. But they do not have sufficient resources to solve the deep-seated problems of Pakistan society. The stage is therefore set for further turbulence and upheavals.
The election campaign itself was a huge success for the Pakistan Marxists. They intervened with candidates in four constituencies: in Karachi, Kasur, Waziristan and the North West Frontier (Pukhtunhua). They produced over one million posters and leaflets and organized mass rallies and demonstrations with a participation of tens of thousands of workers and peasants. This was a marvelous school of revolutionary training. Over 500 comrades were sent to different areas to work in the campaign. They learned how to reach the masses, how to listen to them, how to connect with them and advance timely transitional slogans that reflected their basic problems, while all the time advancing the idea of socialist revolution.
In this election campaign, the Pakistan Marxist Tendency (The Struggle) was really put on the map. It gained enormous prestige among the worker activists and youth. This has enormously expanded our periphery of contacts, friends and sympathizers. The real target now is to build on these gains, recruit new comrades and strengthen the tendency at all levels. The immediate target is to reach 5,000 active comrades by the end of the year. That will place us in a very strong position to take advantage of the situation that is now going to accelerate.
It is likely that the masses will at first adopt an attitude of "wait and see" in relation to the new government, especially if, as seems likely, the PPP is part of it. But this period will not last for long. The problems of the masses are too deep, the class divisions in society too sharp, to permit a prolonged truce. The workers and peasants will demand food, clothing and shelter, which the government will not be able to give them. The Marxists in the PPP will demand there be no coalition with Nawaz Sharif. They will put forward the demand that the PPP break with the bourgeois and return to the original socialist aims of the Party.
The movement of the masses has brushed aside all the other tendencies that purported to stand for Marxism. Now there is only one serious force on the Left in Pakistan, and that force is The Struggle. Big possibilities will now open up for the Pakistan Marxists. They have shown in practice how they are able to connect with the masses. In the next period, the programme and policies of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois reformists will be put to the test and will stand exposed in the eyes of the masses. The tide of history will begin to flow in the direction of revolutionary socialism and The Marxist Tendency.
London, 19th February 2008.
- Monitoring the elections in Pakistan by Erik De Bruyn in Karachi (February 17, 2008)
- Pakistan Elections – class contradictions sharpening as the election campaign heats up by Adam Pal (February 15, 2008)
- Campaign: Elections in Pakistan 2008 – Support socialist candidates by PTUDC
- Pakistan Elections: Reactionary MQM preparing for massive rigging in Karachi by Adam Pal (February 8, 2008)
- The Pakistani Elections: Marxist MP Manzoor Ahmed vs. Wealthy Industrialist by PTUDC (January 28, 2008)
- Pakistan: "If the regime tries to rig the elections, there will be a social explosion" by marxy.com (January 24, 2008)
- Pakistan: Elections in South Waziristan offering a socialist alternative to imperialist hegemony and fundamentalist barbarism by Paras Jan (January 24, 2008)
- Bomb Blast in Karachi – Fascist MQM tries to sabotage the mass movement by Adam Pal (January 16, 2008)
- The intervention of the Pakistani Marxists in the movement against the assassination of Benazir Bhutto by Adam Pal (January 9, 2008)
- Pakistan: Government covers up the crime – masses demand action against conspirators by Alan Woods (December 30, 2007)
- Pakistan: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto by Alan Woods (December 27, 2007)