Egyptian-Style Democracy – Or Pakistani?

Egyptian-Style Democracy – Or Pakistani?

There’s a joke that made the rounds in Egypt in which Jimmy Carter, who’s up for reelection, calls Anwar Sadat to bellyache about his low poll numbers and his fear that he’ll lose to Ronald Reagan. Sadat says: “Don’t worry. I’ll send my finest election observers to help you.”

Upon the observers’ return, Sadat asks: “Well, who won the American election?”

One of the observers responds: “Of course you Mr. President.”

Pakistanis will probably find this joke funny in a not so ha-ha kind of way.
The conventional wisdom is that “President” Pervez Musharraf in big trouble politically if his ballot box stuffers don’t work up to their optimal efficiency and that it’s likely that in the long run he’ll end up using up one of his nine lives. The fact is that he can very well lose by winning. Reports prior to the elections have indicated that there will be widespread fraud and vote rigging. Opposition leaders have either been safely tucked away in jails, placed under house arrest or assassinated. The media have been neutered. Turnout is low. People can’t find their names on voter lists. Rioting may break out.

That’s some election you got there, Pervez.

Then again you never know. Hope springs eternal.

The absurdity of calling what’s happening today in Pakistan an “election” has tempered the enthusiasm of even the enablers in Washington. Richard Boucher recently told a Congressional committee that he was looking for “as free an election as possible,” whatever that means.

Speaking from Lahore, Joe Biden, who is serving as an election observer, said he was “mildly optimistic” that the election would be “fairly credible.”

Wow, now those are two ringing endorsements.

The fact is that despite American fears of what or who could rise to power in Pakistan in the event of Musharraf’s demise, it’s well known that he has been shaking down the West like a bunch of suckers for years. 9/11 could not have come at a more opportune time for the Pakistani dictator, who now presides over this election-like event to please those who have been lavishing him with blackmail money, er, military aid, for years. It remains to be seen not only whether the events of today will yield an outcome that is acceptable to those involved, but more importantly whether the people of Pakistan believe they got a fair shake. And given what’s already been reported, that ain’t likely to happen.

And before the bleating begins about Islamists with their fingers on the nuclear trigger, remember that many of the high-profile prisoners who have been banged up in jail or their homes since martial law was declared are not wild-eyed loonies, but rather respectable, secular, well-educated middle- and upper-middle class citizens – in other words, the sorts of people we’d be lucky to get to run for office over here, let alone over there (Exibit A: Aitzaz Ahsan).

If Pakistan gets set up this time and screwed again in the bargain, if opposition leaders continue to languish in custody and the media are censored, there will be many to blame.