At democracy’s crossroads?

Linked with Praful Bidwai – India.

Published on The International News, by Praful Bidwai, August 17, 2007.

(The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi).

All South Asians who value freedom must feel relieved that President Pervez Musharraf dropped the disastrous idea of imposing a state of emergency on Pakistan, which would have allowed him to postpone the legislative and presidential elections due soon. Musharraf seems to be undertaking some sobering introspection to the point of admitting that his popularity ratings have declined and accepting part of the blame for dismissing Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry – a deplorable move on which he had to eat crow.

Yet, it would be wrong to attribute Musharraf’s decision to some new-found respect for democracy. He blinked because there was tremendous pressure from the United States, exercised through threats and hints, capped by a 17 minutes-long 2 a.m. telephone call by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Secondly, Musharraf probably calculated it’d be far too risky to further inflame adverse popular opinion against the army. Another eruption of public protest–probably worse than the agitation against Chaudhry’s sacking-would rob his regime of whatever’s left of its legitimacy. A just-released Indian Express- CNN- IBN- CSDS- Dawn- News survey says 55.4 percent of Pakistanis want him to quit as army chief before the presidential elections; only 29.6 percent accept his continuation.

However, Musharraf hasn’t fully reconciled himself to holding free and fair national assembly elections, which former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif can contest. On August 11, he again opposed their return from exile because it might create a situation not “conducive” to elections. Nor has Musharraf given up the idea of contesting the presidential election in uniform, or as a bizarre alternative, nominating civilian loyalists–Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz or Chaudhary Shujat Hussain–for the contest if the Supreme Court rules against his candidature. That would be a weird case of illegitimate substitution and a travesty of democracy … (full text).

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