April 9, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 1851

Editorials in Pakistani Newspapers: 'The Elections Proved That Democracy is The Best Revenge; Benazir Bhutto's Political Vision Has Won; People Are Desirous of Democracy Taking Roots; Rise of A Secular Party is A Message From the People of NWFP That They Are Not Extremists; Mandate Against U.S.-Created Status Quo in Pakistan'

April 9, 2008
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 1851

In Pakistan’s national and provincial elections held on February 18, 2008, major opposition groups - assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) - have emerged respectively as the two largest victorious parties ready to form a government. The Pakistan Muslim League (Q), which supported Pervez Musharraf during the past five years, received a drubbing so thorough that its senior leaders, including 23 former federal ministers, lost. Islamist leaders such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) also faced a humiliating defeat in the polls, which were boycotted by major religious parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami of Qazi Hussain Ahmad. The boycott had little effect.

In the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the religious parties grouped under the banner of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, who lost power after five years, while the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) emerged as the largest party, though it fell short of forming a government on its own. The secular ANP, which stands against Taliban-led violence in Pakistan’s tribal region and is known for its friendly relations with Afghanistan and India, is expected to form government in the NWFP.

Urdu-language newspapers in violence-torn Pakistan have said they are optimistic that the country has a fresh chance to rid itself of recurring violence and move toward political stability as well as to an enduring path of democracy and a course of moderation in national life. A few have argued that the people’s verdict is against the U.S.-led status quo in Pakistan. It has also been argued that the emergence of a secular party in the NWFP is a message from the people that they are not all extremists.

Some newspapers have also expressed satisfaction at the achievement that these were the first elections to have been held after the National Assembly, i.e. the lower house of parliament, and the four provincial assemblies completed their tenures for the first time in Pakistan’s history since its creation in 1947. Many newspapers felt satisfaction that the elections were held on schedule and people’s participation was mostly enthusiastic.

The following are election reactions from the Pakistani media:

"It has Been Proven that Democracy is the Best Revenge; Benazir Bhutto’s Vision has Won; It is a People’s Verdict”

In an editorial on February 20, 2008, the Urdu newspaper Roznama Ausaf noted that democracy has proved to be the "best revenge" against all things wrong in Pakistan, quoting a similar statement of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It observed:

"The people’s verdict that came on February 18, 2008 has proved Benazir Bhutto’s statement that democracy is the best revenge. The workers [of Pakistan People’s Party] took revenge for Benazir Bhutto’s martyrdom by making it the largest victorious party; whereas Nawaz Sharif took revenge for the historical cheating of October 1999 [when he was toppled in a bloodless military coup by General Pervez Musharraf] by recording a big success.

"If we observe it carefully, this is a victory of Benazir Bhutto’s political vision. Her vision that we must participate in elections has come true, and today when she is not present among us we offer our tributes to her." [1]

Musharraf’s Defeat is Due to His Support for the War on Terror; “A Victory of Martyred Female Students of Jamia Hafsa"

The right-wing Roznama Ausaf blamed the defeat of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and religious leaders such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman on their religion-related policies and the government’s role in the War on Terror. It said the government’s decision to carry out a military operation in Islamabad’s Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa madrassa, where Islamist women had begun a small rebellion against the government and a movement for Shari’a, had an impact on the people’s vote.

"The truth is that some leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) had taken their audacity to extremes. To prove President Musharraf’s wrong policy, they used to test the public’s patience [by defending them] on television screens... With the aid of the state power, they had brought the people to face a ruthless situation... For them the decision of military operation in the Lal Masjid was correct, the participation in U.S.-led War on Terror was right... They forgot that Allah’s cane has no sound [when it hits and delivers justice]; they did not think that one day they would also have to face the people’s court." [2]

"We understand that this is the people’s victory. This is the victory of people who have to face humiliation for small things like wheat flour [due to rising prices]. This is the victory of the martyred female students of Jamia Hafsa who were killed mercilessly. The people became so ruthless in this regard that they taught a lesson even to the religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) which was established in the name of religion. Maulana Fazlur Rahman lost from his home constituency... The religious voters took revenge for the MMA’s role [or the lack of it] in the Lal Masjid military operation." [3]

"Maulana Fazlur Rahman Lost Due to Support for Pervez Musharraf; Religious Parties Did Not Curb the Violence in Tribal Areas Which They Could Have Done; Rise of a Secular Political Party in the North-West Frontier Province is a Message From People That They are Not Extremists."

In an editorial on February 20, 2008 the pro-Jamaat-e-Islami newspaper Jasarat blamed the defeat of Maulana Fazlur Rahman on his support for Pervez Musharraf, stating:

"The basic reason for the decline in support of Maulana Fazlur Rahman is Pervez Musharraf. Right or wrong, an impression had gained ground that Maulana Fazlur Rahman is a supporter of Pervez Musharraf; but the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam [also] received setbacks in the North-West Frontier Province because of the disintegration of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.... Now the parties which were part of the MMA will realize the importance of the alliance." [4]

The regional newspaper Roznama Mashriq, the most influential newspaper in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, reflected on the defeat of religious parties in the province, noting that the elections have proved that "when juxtaposed with people’s expectations and sentiments, ideologies and measures" promised by these parties could not win. [5]

"In the last elections people in the nation’s two important provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan had heard the promises of simplicity, self-dependence and especially claims for the implementation of Shari’a made during election campaigns by MMA and voted them to power by the largest majority in the country’s political and electoral history; the MMA enjoyed power for five years in the NWFP fully and in Baluchistan with the help of Pakistan Muslim League (Q). Not only that. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the general secretary of MMA and member of the National Assembly, was made the Leader of the Opposition [in the national parliament] for his ‘intellectual compatibility’ with the federal government.

"However, it is sad to note that during these past five years, the MMA did not care for the sentiment of its voters: neither Shari’a was implemented nor simplicity was seen in the government function, nor the culture of VIPs ended; nor the meetings as promised during elections campaigns were held in madrassas and mosques for the resolution of people’s problems. This is how the MMA failed comprehensively to implement its poll manifesto." [6]

The Peshawar-based newspaper blamed the religious parties for not playing an effective role in curbing the Taliban-led violence in the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border "which they could have effectively done." It also noted, "The inconsistency between words and actions was the reason for the defeat of the MMA, which is a moment for reflection for its leaders." [7]

In another editorial, titled The Beginning of A New Era, Roznama Mashriq noted that the people of the North-West Frontier Province have a new chance to get rid of the image of being extremists. It observed:

"With respect to the special interest of the people of the North-West Frontier Province, the elimination of the label of extremism from them in these elections and the emergence of a secular political party [Awami National Party] on the national horizons for the first time is [good]. Whereas the ANP’s win is important as a political party, it is also a message from the people of NWFP that the special label of extremism on them is a result of narrow-mindedness. The people of NWFP are as mature as the people in other parts of the country.” [8]

The leading newspaper Roznama Jang also noted in its editorial of February 20, 2008 that although Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, and other small parties had boycotted the elections, "the defeat of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) and other Ahle Hadith groups showed that people have rejected the religious parties." [9]

"The Popular Mandate is Against the United States-Created Status Quo in Pakistan; No Space for Continuation of Pro-U.S. Policies in the New Possible Government Set-up"

The right-wing Urdu newspaper Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt, in an editorial on February 21, 2008, described the electoral verdict as a vote against the U.S.-led status quo in Pakistan, observing:

"The people... have rejected pro-American policies adopted by Gen. (R) President Pervez Musharraf and all measures and announcements aimed at continuing those policies. The people therefore want an end to the U.S.-patronized individual dictatorship in the country and a stable and real democracy in which national interests could be secured and the nation put on a path toward Islamic democratic welfare society in accordance with the thinking of the nation’s Founder [M A Jinnah] and [Islamic poet] Iqbal." [10]

The newspaper noted that following the popular verdict, the chairman of Pakistan People’s Party Asif Zardari and the leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N) Nawaz Sharif both have demanded the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf, arguing that "there is no space for the continuation of President Musharraf’s individual power and his policies in the possible new government set-up." [11]

Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt demanded that in view of the popular verdict that President Musharraf should himself take note of the new imperative and resign. It also said, "The people have voted in favor of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari in order to break the U.S.-created ‘status quo’ in Pakistan." [12]

"Many Challenges Lie Ahead For Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif; President Musharraf and Victorious Leaders Should Refrain From Confrontation; Time to Demonstrate a Culture of Tolerance and Patience"

In an editorial on February 20, 2008, Peshawar-based Urdu newspaper Roznama Khabrain noted that doubts about the holding of the elections on time, fears of rigging to engineer victory for Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League (Q), claims by boycotting parties that those participating in the polls would regret it, and forecast of low voter turn-out have all proven baseless.

The daily underlined the need for a "politics of reconciliation instead of revenge and clash because only in this way the process of democracy will mature in the country." [13]

"The people by expressing their viewpoint in these polls have put the victorious leaders in a challenging situation. While it is a time for joy for Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League (N), it is also the start of challenging times for them. The two parties have already announced their intention to form a joint government. Even their representation in the National Assembly has made it imperative for them. In fact, Nawaz Sharif has also been calling for a national government [of all parties]. This means he is desirous of meeting the difficulties and challenges before the nation at the national level [through consensus]." [14]

The pro-establishment daily Roznama Pakistan, in an editorial on February 20, 2008, urged President Pervez Musharraf and leaders of political parties to refrain from political confrontation and respect the electoral verdict. It said:

"The people have demonstrated a higher political maturity; and the society has paved the way for a peaceful transfer of power. Now it is the responsibility of the President, the newly-elected Assembly and the political parties to make this great public struggle result in for the establishment of a democratic system." [15]

The Peshawar-based Urdu newspaper Roznama Aaj, in an editorial entitled Requirements of the New Era, noted that people now want to forge a new kind of reconciliatory politics in the country. It observed:

Every compassionate Pakistani feels the need for shunning the bitterness of the past and the need to promote a new political culture. President Musharraf’s statement, in which he said that he is ready to adopt reconciliatory behavior with the leader of the new government and to work happily with the new government, was [just] the first of its kind."[16]

In an editorial on February 20, 2008 the Urdu newspaper Roznama Express, which is published from 11 Pakistani cities, reflected on people’s eager participation in the elections despite the threat of suicide bombings on the polling day, noting:

"Due to threats of terrorist attacks on the election's date, it was feared that people wouldn't go to polling booths and the voter turn-out would be low. By expressing their will people have proven that they want change in the country and are desirous of democracy taking roots and flowering in the country." [17]

The daily warned, however, that the defeat of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q), which supported President Musharraf, should not be interpreted as if people were totally dissatisfied by its role in the government. It noted that this is the only party in Pakistan’s history that has completed its full five-year constitutional tenure.

"This is the first party that completed the constitutional tenure of its government and presented itself before the people once again for vote. If people did not trust its candidates and did not accept its agenda, it can not be inferred that people are dissatisfied over its performance during the past five years... The leader of Pakistan Muslim League (Q) Chaudhary Shujaat Hussein has accepted defeat, which is a good act. The losing parties should study the factors that led to their defeat in the general elections... The biggest issue today is to strengthen the political and democratic process." [18]

The daily warned that the allegations that political parties and democratically-elected governments had not been able to complete their tenure and in fact had in the past "invited" the military to intervene in national affairs are "correct to some extent." [19]

"It is impossible to dismiss this fact that if political parties had lived by the principle of ‘live and let live’ by adhering to democratic norms, than martial law would never have been imposed in the country. Now that as a result of general elections a new era is going to begin in the country and a new government is going to be formed, the need is to demonstrate a politics of patience and tolerance." [20]

[1] Roznama Ausaf, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[2] Roznama Ausaf, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[3] Roznama Ausaf, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[4] Roznama Jasarat, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[5] Roznama Mashriq, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[6] Roznama Mashriq, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[7] Roznama Mashriq, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[8] Roznama Mashriq, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[9] Roznama Jang, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[10] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt, Pakistan, February 21, 2008.

[11] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt, Pakistan, February 21, 2008.

[12] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt, Pakistan, February 21, 2008.

[13] Roznama Khabrain, Peshawar, February 20, 2008.

[14] Roznama Khabrain, Peshawar, February 20, 2008.

[15] Roznama Pakistan, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[16] Roznama Aaj, Peshawar, February 20, 2008.

[17] Roznama Express, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[18] Roznama Express, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[19] Roznama Express, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

[20] Roznama Express, Pakistan, February 20, 2008.

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