Pakistani Elections: no solution for the workers and peasants

The first general elections in Pakistan since General Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1998 will solve nothing for Pakistan’s workers and peasants. As could be expected, the party created by the outgoing military dictator “won” the elections. In spite of the rigging however the result is still a hung Parliament, with no party gaining an outright majority. Instability therefore reigns in Pakistan. The light at the end of the tunnel, however, is there, with the election of a Marxist MP, as reported in our previous report.

The first general elections in Pakistan since General Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1998 will solve nothing for Pakistan's workers and peasants. General Musharraf, backed by US imperialism, hoped that the elections would mean a peaceful transition to bourgeois democracy and stabilize the situation. For safety's sake, however, he has kept considerable powers in his own hands. He can in fact dissolve the National Assembly. And just to make sure, only university graduates were allowed to stand for election.

However, nothing but further chaos can be expected as long as Pakistan's workers and peasants do not take things into their own hands and establish socialism.

Musharraf's PML(Q) party "main winner"

Pakistan's Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam, PML(Q), is the election's big winner. They received most seats in the National Assembly. This is an incredible success for a party that was founded less than half a year ago. The party is commonly known, even in the Pakistani media, as the "King's Party". This is due to the fact that it was created from above by Musharraf to give him a base in the National Assembly. However, in spite of all this, they have been unable to muster a majority to form a Government. It is a classical hung parliament.

Musharraf had promised renewal and a struggle against corruption, but in the main the PML(Q) consists of old faces from most of the other parties. Many of the party's candidates have previously been subject to investigation by the National Accountancy Bureau, Musharraf's anti-corruption bureau. Among them is Farooq Leghari, who leads his own faction in the "King's Party", called the Millat Party. He has been involved in the scandal around the Mehran Bank, from which he stole billions of rupees. Chaudry Pervaiz Elahi and Shujaat Hussan previously belonged to Nawaz Sharif's party, and have also grabbed millions from banks that subsequently were forced into liquidation. When they joined the "King's Party" their files were closed.

Government representatives have also been busy during the election campaign travelling around the country promising roads, cooking gas and land to the peasants. PML(Q) candidates always appeared on the same platform with them. In addition the PML(Q) received far more coverage in the media.

A popular joke shows the PML(Q)'s role: An army officer has fallen into a deep well. He commands his men to pull him up. He sits in the bucket and bit by bit he is pulled up. When they catch sight of him the first thing they see are the stars shining on his shoulders. They immediately let go of the rope in order to salute him. After three attempts with the same result the officer shouts from the bottom of the well: "Get me a civilian!" However, the question that Musharraf has to ask himself is this: will the civilians all be pulling in the same direction to save him?

Fundamentalists make some inroads in NWFP and Baluchistan

The Islamic fundamentalists must also be counted as one of the election's biggest victors. Six religious sects joined together in this election to form a coalition, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), and they received 16% of the seats in the National Assembly. Previously the fundamentalists had never received more than 5% of the vote. Their strongholds lie in the barren mountainous and extremely underdeveloped tribal areas and the provinces of North West Frontier (NWFP) and Baluchistan along the Afghan border. They mainly belong to the same people as the Taliban, the Pushtuns.

They are united by their common hatred of US imperialism, because the US ceased funding them. Without the war against Afghanistan they would never have united. Religious conflicts have gone on between them for centuries and previously they did not hesitate to storm each other's mosques and accuse each other of blasphemy. In the NWFP and Baluchistan they have replaced the local nationalist parties that normally were in conflict with the central government and have the same feudal views on democracy and women as the fundamentalists. Now the nationalist parties are paying the price for bowing down to the military and US imperialism and submitting to the anti-Taliban coalition.

But in Sindh and Punjab almost no support for fundamentalists

The fundamentalists have also received support from a part of the state apparatus, above all the ISI, Pakistan's secret police. The ISI is trying to regain the ground it lost during the war against Afghanistan. This is a sign of big conflicts even within the heart of the state.

In Sindh, where 20% of the population live, the fundamentalists received no seats at all in the National Assembly and in the Punjab, Pakistan's largest province where 60% of the population live, they only gained 4 seats. Musharraf is probably not completely dissatisfied with the advances of the fundamentalists. Paradoxically, it can strengthen US support for him. Washington is of course very worried about the advances of the fundamentalists, but for the working class they are far from being the biggest problem at this stage.

PPP emerges as second largest party

The second largest party in the National Assembly is the Pakistan's Peoples Party (PPP). Their leader is Benazir Bhutto who, after corruption charges, decided to go into exile in London and Dubai. The party was founded by Benazir's father ZulfiquarAli Bhutto in 1967. Ali Bhutto swept to power in the 1970 as a result of the revolutionary movement in 1968 with a full-blooded socialist program. In 1979 he was hanged by the brutal pro-American Islamic military dictatorship led by Zia-ul Haq. Since then Benazir has lived off the glorious memory of her father and managed to win two general elections in 1988 and 1993 after the downfall of the Haq dictatorship.

Her regime caused an enormous disappointment. Nothing was done about Pakistan's organic corruption. Economic and social misery multiplied as Benazir implemented the IMF's policies. In the general elections in 1997 the PPP was decimated and only received a handful of seats in the National Assembly. The turnout was a mere 17% which shows that the PPP supporters did not vote for any other parties, but simply stayed at home. In this election turnout was 36% and the PPP gained seats.

Despite membership of the Socialist International the PPP is far from being a European-style social democratic party. No congresses are held and it has hardly any functioning local branches. The PPP is more like a movement with a dynasty at the top. Within the movement there is everything, ranging from feudal landlords to the strong revolutionary Marxist tendency around the journal Class Struggle.

The threat of the "red" candidates

On the day before the elections the largest daily paper, the Jang identified "three red candidates". One of them, Ch. Manzoor Ahmed, editor of the Class Struggle and publisher of the Asian Marxist Review, was elected to the National Assembly for one of the seats from the town of Kasur, east of Lahore. His main slogan was "An irreconcilable struggle for socialist revolution". An important factor which prevented rigging against Manzoor was that the Pakistani State had been informed that I was coming from Sweden to specifically monitor the elections to the National Assembly in Constituency 139 where Manzoor was standing. The main reason why I specifically went to that constituency was that he was standing against three of the richest people in Pakistan. On Election Day we patrolled the whole constituency and checked many of the polling stations.

Rauf Lund, one of the Class Struggle's outstanding leaders, waged a marvellous campaign in Jampur in South Punjab for a seat in the Punjab Provincial Assembly. A powerful speaker, he electrified his audiences with calls for the expropriation of the rich and the formation of soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers to take over the running of society. However, in this backward rural area the vote-riggers of the local feudal landlords managed to stuff sufficient number of votes into the ballot boxes after the polls had closed and he lost. After his election defeat thousands gathered to protest and vowed to fight on. The third red candidate Ghulam Abbas, a candidate from Sialkot for the National Assembly and a sympathizer of the Class struggle, was also defeated by the vote-riggers.

The election's biggest loser is the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), PML (N). This is the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party, which formed a government after the 1997 elections. Sharif now lives in a comfortable exile in Saudi Arabia to which he fled with his companies and his billions after Musharraf had deposed him. During his short time in power Sharif managed to establish the most corrupt regime ever in Pakistan. That is quite a record for Pakistan. And hardly a murmur was heard when Musharraf replaced him.

The rest of the seats in the National Assembly are taken by a mixture of so called "independents", most of whom are tied to Musharraf, and smaller regional parties.

Pakistan is a country of enormous national, ethnic, religious and class conflicts. The newly elected National Assembly is not going to be able to resolve any of them. In fact it will be a mirror in which many of these conflicts will be reflected, even though it will be in a distorted form as workers and peasants will not at all be present in proportion to their role in society.

As the contradictions increase the likelihood of a new military dictatorship increases. But this time it would be a much more brutal one than Musharraf's, and it would have its finger on the button to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

A strong Marxist tendency is present this time

However while the ruling elite prepares to clamp down on the workers in the future, there is also growing opposition on the left. The election of Ch. Manzoor Ahmed and the campaign of Rauf Lund show quite clearly that there is enormous potential support for the genuine ideas of socialism among the Pakistani masses. They are an indication of a growing revolt that is developing from below, just like the one that we saw at the end of the sixties, that led to the 1968 revolution.

This, however, there is one important difference. There will be a revolutionary leadership prepared for such a development and that is gathered around the Class Struggle. It organises workers and peasants of all nationalities and religious and ethnic backgrounds in a joint struggle against all exploiters. This tendency offers the only real hope of preventing a new dictatorship from taking power in the future. And a victory for socialism in Pakistan would immediately change the situation throughout the giant Indian sub-continent, and prepare the road for a socialist world.