Monitoring the elections in Pakistan

Erik de Bruyn, leader of the left wing of the Flemish Socialist Party in Belgium has been invited by the PPP to monitor the elections in Pakistan. In particular he is monitoring the elections in the industrial belt of Karachi where the socialist PPP candidate Riaz Lund is challenging the ruling extreme right wing party, the MQM. You will find here a first personal report published yesterday Sunday, February 17th on his blog.

Entering Karachi along the wide six-lane boulevard one could get the wrong impression of the city. It feels like you are in a one-party state dominated with the gigantic posters of Ahaf Hussain, the leader of the extreme right wing, MQM, that dominate the scenery. But those impressions are wrong. There is clearly an election going on and what an election, in this mega-poll involving twelve million inhabitants, voting in twenty different National Assembly seats.

It is impossible in the short space of a few days to get a global view of the elections in a city which has a population that is bigger than Belgium. So I will "limit" myself to the districts of C-257 and C-258 in the east of the city. The very proletarian C-257 is as big as Brussels. It has one million inhabitants and 386,376 voters, (70 percent of the population is below the age of 25), 198 polling stations and 792 ballot boxes.

When you turn into the narrow streets of C-257 the picture you get changes immediately. In the absence of any sewage system the impression is often literally "breathtaking". Litter is burnt on the streets, but unlike in Naples it is not the exception, it is an everyday occurrence without interruption.

The area is a mix of very rudimentary working class homes and real slums, interrupted by some plots of rural Pakistan. Here live the people who earn their living at the Bin Qasim docks, in the textile mills of Korangi, in the national steel mills.

The posters of the bandit Hussain of the MQM are nowhere to be seen in this neighbourhood. Only the black-red-green colours of the Pakistan Peoples Party are visible. All the lampposts are painted in those colours. This is not the propaganda of big money as in the centre of Karachi. This is the campaign of the poor. Here I have come across the most miserable slums I have ever seen in my life and I've seen quite a lot of them.

Here we see a sea of PPP banners, much more impressive than the Barnum campaign of the MQM along the boulevards. The leader of this campaign is PPP candidate Riaz Lund, a parliamentary candidate of steel. As a trade unionist he saved the Karachi Steel Mills from being privatised.

Yesterday [Saturday] at the end of a PPP meeting he was shot at. But he remains stoic and smiling. Vote-rigging and bullets are answered with contempt because of the lack of political content of his opponents.

The morale of other PPP activists is also very high. Workers from the steel mills, but also from the docks, together with textile workers and postal workers have gathered here to participate in the campaign for the election of Riaz.

Anyone who wants to see a warm and open party at work - including with the right of tendencies - a PPP rich in its diversity, must come to see the PPP in Karachi. Honest and fair elections would without any doubt guarantee the election of Riaz Lund to parliament. But of course everyone is aware of the fact that massive vote rigging is being prepared.

The MQM feels it is losing ground. It can only win through fraud and intimidation. Rumour has it that the postal votes (from the military and detainees for instance) will be massively falsified. Two "district returning officers" whose task consists of overviewing the elections proceedings have quit the job. They do not wish to be accomplices of the fraud imposed on them.

We can also expect that armed MQM gangs will try to take control of isolated polling stations. The authorities have also decided to halt all public transport. It has been requisitioned to transport "officials" to the polling stations. It would seem they are more important than the voters themselves!

It is very clear how people are going to vote here. The final election result, however, is not. The "only thing" they can do is falsify the elections. However, the course of history cannot be falsified so easily. The massive support for the PPP in general and for Riaz Lund in particular, expresses the will of the people for fundamental social change in this country where capitalism is like a smoking pile of litter.

Today I saw tens, hundreds of optimistic, intelligent men and women waging the campaign for the PPP. Social revolution is on the move here. Religious obscurantism will be wiped away not by sending soldiers to the mountains of Afghanistan! Socialism will be built here. It is an urgent need. Anyone who is not convinced of this, I invite them to exchange their place in Belgium for a corner in the slums of Karachi.

Erik De Bruyn, Karachi, February 17, 2008

Source: de rode voorzitter  

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