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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Pakistan's referendum: Is it fair?
Pakistan's cabinet has unanimously approved a national referendum on extending President Pervez Musharraf's term of office for five years.
He has made it clear that he intends to legitimise his rule through a national vote ahead of parliamentary polls scheduled for October.
The move has sparked a bitter debate in the country. Pakistan's independent human rights commission has called it a farcical exercise.
It has urged General Musharraf to restore democracy by holding free and fair elections.
General Musharraf came to power in a coup in 1999. In June 2001 he declared himself President of Pakistan.
Is the referendum justified or undemocratic? Should the country hold full presidential elections?
It is extremely important that Mr Musharraf is given the opportunuty to implement the policies introduced by his govt. This is for the sake of Pakistan. The last 50 years of this country's existence have gone to waste. With the exception of Mr Jinnah & his lieutenant Liaquat each one of the rulers turned out to be working in self interest and against the interest of the land of Pakistan. I hope an ordinary citizen will use their vote to say yes with overwhelming majority. In today's situation there is hardly any room for a no vote. Best of wishes Mr Mushaffaf.
Here is something all of those who don't support the referendum should think about. Have any time during the history of our country have we had any freedom from corrupt individuals in the government? Have we ever been respected in the world for our contributions to it? Has our country been branded by the international country as a haven for terrorists? Now think of this: if we still had those corrupt government parties who are boycotting the referendum would we have been clear of any of these problems of terrorists in our country? No thanks to them! They are the ones who support the terrorists...just look at their track record in stopping competition...they kill each other. And then they have the nerve to say that the General isn't building a democratic government free of corruption and a country free of terrorists and extremists?
Shaikh Ghulam Mustafa, Larkana, Pakistan
In Third World developing countries with limited literacy rates, politics is always relative. If it's not Musharraf then who?
For the last 50 years we were a nation without direction wandering around in circles. In the process Pakistan has seen more than 25 years of civilian dictatorships and military democracies and here we are one of the most corrupt, uncivilized, weak and poor country.
Musharraf has given us a direction. Those who argue that referendum is un contitutional needs to go through the constitution again. Referendum also seems to be the most logical solution for the transition from extra constitutional but legal government to a democratic government in October 2002. The people of Pakistan have an option to accept or reject their president - what's wrong with that?
The General's decision to go along with the West against the fundamentalists was right. He has also saved his nation from being taken over by Taliban like government. I hope the people of Pakistan vote for the General.
I believe I can trust Musharraf for the simple reason because he isn't right wing nor left wing. He is neither stealing whatever money we have left in the country and he is a moderate who understands the world unlike previous "elected" Presidents. He handled the volatile situation with the terrorists with ingenuity - something we have lacked in the government for years. The streets are safer. Our economy is beginning to grow as well as our national pride and dignity.
What referendum? What elections? As long as US is happy with him and he is acting in US interests, he'll be the king. This is true anywhere in the world.
If he wins he stays, if he loses he stays.
whether or not he is the right man for the job, this kind of mock election does no one any favours.
How could Musharraf justify his pledge and sincerity towards the nation? He originates within the same society as the corrupt politicians. He's just another military dictator who intends to carry on as his predecessor. The biased referendum will legitimize his power irrespective of the public opinion. No matter people vote against him or in favour, the results have already been declared i.e. his success. I've never seen fair elections in Pakistan.
Musharraf's government has done a much better job, as compared to the so called "elected" prime ministers, who were too busy building their own wealth. I am all for referendum and as a Pakistani would vote for Musharraf to stay.
Like a typical bull in a china shop, Musharraf is bulldozing his way through. It doesn't bother him whether in the process, the constitution gets (further) trampled, the country becomes a laughing stock or the will of the people of Pakistan get pulverized.
Opponents to referendum argue that it is unconstitutional. Please be honest about that constitution. We have seen five democratic governments under that constitution (putting aside the 6th one of Junejo as under Zia-ul-Haq). Where did those constitutional governments lead us to? Whether Zia and Ayub were right or not in their referendums, Musharraf definitely is. He is the only one in our 50 years who has delivered and is keen on it.
Give the terrorist tenure?! This guy is the only head of state in the world who talks loose about using nuclear weapons. I am not even sure he realizes the impact of using such weapons. The fallout will kill him too! This fellow foments hate and is bad for Pakistan. He has ensured that people do not have an alternative to him. The referendum is a farce.
I think the decision of Gen. Pervez Musharraf is in the best interest of Pakistan. No one should forget the he is the only leader in Pakistan who revived the image of Pakistan as a modern Muslim country , who helped the USA to fight against terrorism.
This referendum is unconstitutional and illegal.
General Musharaff is proving to be a tin-pot dictator through his one-man referendum. His actions are worse than Zimbabwe's Mugabe who at least had an opposition he could rig. I feel sorry for the people of Pakistan who deserve better. Next there will be a clampdown on the media. The muted response from the west to this dictator makes a mockery of any democratic ideals.
I am really scared. What if the referendum is held honestly and it goes against the good General? Oh my God! He has to stay for the good of the country.
Pakistanis are good at this: " the king is dead , long live the king". These people also had praise for Ayub, Zia when they were in power. The moment they got dethroned, each in his own way, all abuses were showered on them. Looks like Musharraf is also heading this way.
Your question is not relevant. Referendum is about power and General is holding the whole coercive machinery of the state in his hands. For powerful, fair or unfair doesn't matter. I think Pakistan army and intelligence agencies have the tremendous power to destroy and destruct. But it can do anything constructive. Doesn't matter even if it is led by an angel.
Khalid Hameed, Pakistan
How can the referendum Musharraf is holding be fair? No one is allowed to talk against it, people are not given a choice, anyone can vote anywhere in the country away from their areas, mobile ballot-casting is allowed and national identity card is not needed to vote. Now how can we say it will be fair when anyone of his own people can vote as many times as they want, and in his favour? If someone wants to talk against the referendum - it's 3 years in prison. It's a shame, a desperate move to stay into power like Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq did.
Whether people vote for him or not, he will be elected as president for another 5 years since no elections in the history of Pakistan were fair!
Recent examples (last 12 years) demonstrate this: Gen. Waheed brought Benazir after overthrowing Nawaz, and the trend continued.
Imagine these people asking for referendum to extend their presidency: Idi Amin,Agustino Pinochet,Sami Abacha,Sadam Hussein,General Franco,Joseph Mobutu and many other military dictators. I can't believe this man.
Felt utterly disturbed by news that he has decided himself and will continue his illegitimate government. As usual all who matter will keep silence, especially the courts and judges who oath to safeguard the constitution. It is a shame that not a single Muslim country has true democracy!
Nazrul Islam, Quebec, Canada
What difference does the referendum make? The west, America and Britain in particular, need this black sheep right now, so his referendum will be legitimised.
Besides, it makes no difference what the Pakistanis want as long as Bush and Musharraf themselves want it!
The referendum is unfair. It does not support multi-party democracy, severely restricts candidate choice and hence cannot and does not follow the principles of democracy. I know the people of Pakistan have had traumatic experiences with democracy in the past. But, as for any other country, Pakistan must be given a chance to succeed with democracy, and hopefully she will!
Musharraf referendum is right in the present scenario. If the West thinks that an elected government is what the essence of democracy is, so they are wrong, democracy means how it works. And I believe the Musharraf government is very much democratic as compared to other elected governments.
I just finished listening to the speech by Musharraf on the referendum issue. All I can say is that if you are a well wisher of Pakistan, then you will support him on his journey to make Pakistan prosper. Otherwise, you can stay silent on the sidelines and speak without analyzing the details. He is the best thing that can and has ever happened to Pakistan.
Saima Hameed, London, England
When General Musharraf came to power in a coup d'etat the western world roundly condemned the action because it didn't fit into the democratic norm, to which most western countries subscribe. Attempting to cast a country like Pakistan in the same image doesn't necessarily fit the mould.
Considering the disparate groups contending for power in Pakistan, I am of the opinion that only a leader with a strong hand can be reasonably expected to hold the country together. I think the events of the past 6 months demonstrate the correctness of that opinion. Also, considering that an attempt was made several years ago to turn Pakistan into an Islamic republic should make clear to everyone the dangers posed by such a development. I hope General Musharraf receives a strong mandate in the upcoming referendum.
Why doesn't in the West allow us to do it our way?
Why is that they have to tell us what's wrong and what's not? All we, people of Pakistan want, is to be left alone and please don't give us these lessons of democracy as we are now sick and tired of this western type of democracy. Let us decide what we want to do and how we want to live. To us, it is not important how a person comes in power. All we care about is a person who can deliver.
Pakistan's referendum should be and it will be TOP class.
Thiruvengadam Ramakrishnan, US
Does it matter whether it's fair? Surely it's better than the sham of a democracy we've had in the last decade!
I do not think so that the results will be fair. It's old wine in new glass.
Let there be a referendum, before we start judging whether the referendum is fair or not or how clean it is. A referendum is part of the democratic process, so the question of fairness does not arise. I see the Indians have come out in force to try malign Pakistan yet again. But the question remains it is nobody's business except for the people of Pakistan. As a Pakistani I have full trust in the integrity of Pervez Musharraf and in his ability to lead Pakistan.
Muhameed Ali Shahani, Pakistan
Although the general was against corruption in the beginning, it does not legitimise his destruction of the democratic institutions. Democratic machines have to be let work. There is no room for dictators in today's world any more. They have to go. If Musharraf wants to be president, he should resign and present himself to the legal system to prove him innocent and then he should contest the election for presidency.
I believe that Musharraf had good intentions when they went through with the military coup in 1999. He is a smart man and it would be safe to say that so far he has made a majority of fruitful decisions for his state. I believe two of his top goals are to revive the economy of his nation and to bring peace. He has been very strong too in the face of mass opposition to his many wise choices. Many would agree he has done his best and few would be good enough to replace him. Therefore, if I had the choice, I would choose him as President again.
Fair or not. The country needs a stable government and leadership. Musharaaf has proven himself gold in the current situation. If the referendum remotely resembles the polling of fair public opinion to legitimise his presence, so be it.
What is the point of such a referendum for power, given the fact that there is only one candidate, and the results are already known ? Musharraf can as well go to the courts for an indefinite extension where he has his people sitting as judges and the verdict is as predictable.
The General is doing a good job and referendum would legitimise his status, I think the way he has preformed in the last three years, he deserves to be on the top.
Military dictators always win "elections". If Musharraf plays his "anti-India" and "freedom fighters, not terrorists" lines I can see him winning with a landslide!
Whatever Musharraf has accomplished so far has been in the interest of his country - no one can doubt that. He should keep on going! People who doubt his ability should look at what Bhutto and Sharrif have achieved in the past 12 years - nothing but corruption and the very near collapse of the Pakistan economy. So good luck to him.
Murad Quasim, Australia
The referendum is totally unjustified and undemocratic. This is a rascal action by a rascal person.
Its funny how people think. Most people are of the opinion that they will get a chance
to decide. Others hope that the referendum will not be tampered with. How optimistic!
What happens if there is a landslide of "no" votes? Is General Musharraf just going to say "Oh dear, tough luck" and walk away?
Haven't they learnt anything from the past? Power acquired through brute force is not just given away.
Free and fair elections are not a western solution or influence but a democratic way of life.
A referendum forced down people's throats negates everything that democracy stands for.
Hoax, hoax, hoax - that country has a habit of living with lies & fakes.
Robert Mugabe has a presidential election in Zimbabwe and fixes the result so he can't lose. The result? Zimbabwe gets suspended from the commonwealth for a year, and UK politicians queue up to criticise Mr Mugabe.
General Musharraf has a referendum and doesn't allow anyone else to stand for president, so the result's fixed before it starts. I trust UK politicians will queue up to condemn him, and to get Pakistan suspended from the commonwealth for a year?
Muz Mumtaz, UK
The General needs to deliver which he has failed so far since he forced himself into power against yet another corrupt leader Nawaz Sharif since 1999. Ever since, the state of affairs in Pakistan have worsened, be it economy, politics, law and order, security, foreign investment and debts etc. etc. Though he has got immense authority but seems neglecting responsibility which comes along. It's a pity that so far, nearly all the leaders (elected or forced) have taken this country for a ride. This referendum is useless until he addresses the core issues of the state right away e.g. delegating power.
The question is not whether the referendum is fair or not. The true question is whether Musharaff is the right person to head Pakistan, and the answer is definitely yes !
We in the "West" should stop thinking that democracy as we know it can and must be applied everywhere: many countries are not ready for it and some will never be.
Traditions, education, cultural differences and customs, including religious behaviours, prevent democracy from being understood and seen as the best system to practice.
Having lived and worked in Pakistan for many years I can assure you that democracy is not a solution there. It rather needs a strong and determined leader as people in that part of the world are more inclined to rever, respect and honour a "chief" than a democratically elected presient as we are used to in the West.
Yes it is, keeping the current conditions in mind.
Ibrahim Raja, Sweden
This referendum is similar to one made by General Zia ul Haq, in 1984, to extend his term in office as Pakistan's president. President Musharraf has pulled an old page out of an old script. He is going to go through the same movements and motions.
Referendum is just one of the many ways with an ultimate goal of legitimising the ambition of President to hold the office for the next 5 years.
The only question is do each Pakistani citizen can freely & fairly cast their vote in favour or opposition of such move for election ?
Those who understand only the language of military and militancy naturally get ruled by military and militants. Pakistan is no exception.
Musharraf must understand that if he wants peace with India, Pakistan must first have a legitimate government. Musharraf is making some good steps in the right direction, and hopefully things will soon improve between India and Pakistan, resulting in a military de-escalation on both sides.
Fahd Arshad, Pakistan/USA
So far General Musharraf has done a wonderful job in dealing with the War on Terror and I doubt any of the previous PM's can do what he did, and we must not forget that he may have averted a nuclear catastrophe in East Asia. I don't see anything wrong in having a referendum now and elections later as long as the people of the land can decide what they want and the results are free and fair.
Being from Pakistan, I can say by fact that most of the educated people are in full favour for him to stay in power so he could get rid of mullahism even if it takes a referendum to do it. All these political parties are calling this un-constitutional but I ask them that if they respect constitutional.
General Musharraf follows in the footsteps of his predecessor General Zia. They say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Nowhere in the world this is truer than in Pakistan. General Musharraf is no different than all the dictators that came before him. He thinks he has the God-given right to rule Pakistan until he seems fit, hence his ploy to hold a referendum.
Technically there is nothing wrong with a referendum except that when these are held in Pakistan, the outcome can always be predicted. He would never allow any scenario less than a landslide "yes" vote to ever come true. The whole premise of his rule in Pakistan is by force. This is not a person who would give that up easily. So this vote is not and must not be considered a democratic vote for the transfer of power. Can anyone explain to me what a dictator will do in the case of a "no" vote? What he is saying to the people of Pakistan is that you must vote for me or else I am staying in power anyway!
Akhlaq Nabi, Pakistan
I completely and fully support the referendum. It will not only give a chance to all Pakistanis to voice their opinion but also gives a hope that Pakistan will continue on the path that will bring prosperity to the country. Since independence the only governments that did anything for the country are military governments. Democratically elected governments have left Pakistan further and further behind in the list of third world countries. President Musharraf has been trying very hard to lead Pakistan into a new era and I think it is for people of Pakistan to decide whether they want to give him a chance to do so or not.
I would strongly say that referendum is not fair and reject it. He should hold free and fair election in the country to allow people of Pakistan to choose their own leader, which is their basic right.
I think the General has handled the WTC crisis better than any one else could have handled it. As long as the referendum is fair (a big if), everything should be alright. We have to keep in mind that there was no public uprising when he came into power which implied a tacit approval of the masses. He has steered the country through this crisis very adeptly.
If he indeed is so popular, and has the confidence of having the support of the people, why does he not have a presidential election and let others contest, campaign and debate? Or why does he not form his own party which would contest the general elections? The referendum looks more like the theatrics which he seems to have mastered over the years. By the way, it's worth remembering that like all the previous military dictators of Pakistan, he too had promised elections within a couple of years. None of his predecessors did what they had promised. Zia stuck around for decades.
Going by General Musharraf's record in office, one has to accept, however grudgingly, that he is the right person to lead Pakistan. His decision to go after Islamic extremists and his support for the war against Al-Qaeda are sufficient to convince me that the General has got his priorities right. The only people who will be unhappy with Musharraf staying in power are our Indian neighbours. And for good reason too. Unlike his elected predecessor, he knows what to say to the Indians, and how to say it.
Why not a general like Pervez Musharaf a brave and commited to the right path is many times better than the corrupt politicians who have looted the public money for their self greed. These corrupt politicians were elected by the same people but they were betrayed . Now they have a chance to elect the best man to bring back the wealth and dignity to the country. The last two years have shown what he has done - no one in the history of Pakistan has done before because they did not have the courage. I believe right minded people will elect him and he will be as legal as those corrupt politicians think they are.
If Pervez Musharraf was serious about democracy, then he would choose elections and not a referendum. As is often said, people get the government that they deserve. If Pakistanis are willing to accept a military dictator as their head of state, endorsed through a referendum, then that's what they deserve. The fault largely lies with the long history of democratically elected but highly corrupt governments from both main political parties. Corruption and abuse of power under the name of democracy is perhaps worse than a token democracy. Most of the Western democracies would care little, of course, as long as the ruler is willing to toe their line. It is up to Pakistani people to fight for their own freedom and real democracy, and prosperity but unfortunately there is very little hope of that happening as long as they continue to be deprived of modern education.
The people of Pakistan are getting a chance to voice their opinion through this referendum. As long as it is fair, I think the world community should respect the outcome.
Yes, of course Pakistan should hold a presidential election. And if Musharraf wants a referendum too, then why not have one? So long as the results of both are not tampered with and are a fair representation of what the electorate wants, and are acted upon accordingly, then how much more democratic can you possibly get? What's the problem?
Being a Pakistani I am all for the referendum to be held. It will allow us, the people, to decide if Musharraf should remain President of Pakistan for the next five years or not. Generally the Pakistani public do support him for his modest views and more importantly for his policies to revive the Pakistani economy but we have to wait and see if his policies and actions bring him the seat of the presidency. I for one am going to vote for him.
Michael, Dublin, Ireland
He is no different from other dictators. He is bound to fail. His actions are not welcome around the world. The Pakistani people have got the government they deserve.
General Musharraf must leave the throne and allow the people to decide what they want. I think the reason why Pakistan has become a hub of terrorists and terrorism is because people have had no proper say there. It happens in countries where there is a military ruler like Iraq. Decisions made in these type of countries are mood swings of these rulers and that is dangerous to world peace. I think the world community must force them to leave the throne and let the people rule.
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
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