By Dr. Nayyer Ali

Free Elections in 2007

February 24 , 2006

My support for Musharraf, which I have always felt was a necessary evil and nothing more, was based on my view that certain critical reforms in Pakistan had to take place that no elected government would ever contemplate. They included abandoning the Taliban and the Jihadis in Kashmir, privatizing the economy, opening to India, dropping trade barriers, and reform of the banking sector. They also included bringing the debt burden under control, controlling sectarian violence, and ending high level corruption.
These were all huge changes that Pakistani politicians were not willing to entertain for a variety of reasons. Many analysts have noted that state controlled resources prevent democracy because elites are unwilling to lose control of the assets (oil). It was the huge state owned businesses that played a similar role in Pakistan’s political economy.
Of the 25 largest businesses in Pakistan before 1999, my guess is that all were state-owned (WAPDA, KESC, banks, steel, PTCL, PSO, OGDCL, NRL, PAF, PIA, railways, gas companies, PPL, etc.). This state-owned economy poisoned Pakistan the same way state-owned oilfields poison the political economy of the oil states. By unloading much of these into private hands, Musharraf has transformed Pakistan’s political economy, while also boosting Pak’s growth rate to 7% per annum level.
At this point, I cannot honestly say that his presence is absolutely essential. In fact, it is time for Pakistan’s development to move to the next phase, one that would mean true democratic governance. As such, I think Musharraf should announce that his government will step down in September 2007, hand over to a caretaker and an independent election commission, and the country should have a free election. I personally think that his record of accomplishments is solid enough that he could certainly make a compelling case for re-election. I certainly would vote for his party.
In order to have a real democratic transition though, several structural flaws in Pakistan’s constitutional structure need to be fixed. They include:
Lift the ban on floor crossing. All MNAs must be free to vote their conscience and represent the voters who elected them. Otherwise a Prime Minister becomes a national dictator.
1. Define the role of the President. If he is a figurehead, then he must lose all authority over the government. If not, then the President should be a nationally elected office.
2. The process for amending the constitution is far too easy and must be changed to one that ensures amendments take place after prolonged consideration and truly reflect a national consensus.
3. Retain the reserved seats for women.
4. All political parties must have internal free elections for head of the party. No “President for Life” as Benazir Bhutto styles herself.
5. Before Benazir and Nawaz Sharif and other corrupt politicians are let back into the process, there should be a national truth and reconciliation commission. Any corrupt practices confessed to the commission will be pardoned, but if a politician does not do so, then an impartial NAB should pursue cases against him/her.
6. Term limits for all constitutional offices including the President should be in the constitution.
George Bush, if he wishes to redeem his Presidency and the rhetoric about democracy that he indulges, should make clear to Musharraf that this is what the US expects.
Musharraf by 2007 will have had eight years at the helm, equal to two terms for a US president. That is certainly more than enough time to make a difference in the life of a society and nation. I think that on balance he has done a remarkably good job. He will leave Pakistan in much better shape than he found it. He should have the good sense not to overstay and lose his place in history as the best leader Pakistan has had after Jinnah.Comments can reach me at


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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