Bomb blasts cast shadow over Pakistan’s milestone election


Reuters | May 11, 2013,

Bomb blasts cast shadow over Pakistan's milestone election
A woman voter holds her ballot paper and stamp while moving to a polling booth inside a polling station in Karachi on May 11, 2013.
ISLAMABAD: A string of militant attacks cast a long shadow over Pakistan‘s general election on Saturday, but millions still turned out to vote in a landmark test of the troubled country’s democracy.

The poll, in which some 86 million people are eligible to vote, will bring the first transition between civilian governments in a country ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history.

A bomb attack on the office of the Awami National Party (ANP) in the commercial capital, Karachi, killed 11 people and wounded 35. At least two were wounded in a pair of blasts that followed and media reported gunfire in the city.

An explosion destroyed an ANP office in the northwest. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Television channels also reported an explosion in the city of Peshawar.

Pakistan’s Taliban, who are close to al-Qaida, have killed more than 120 people in election-related violence since April. The group, which is fighting to topple the US-backed government, regards the elections as un-Islamic.

The Taliban have focused their anger on secular-leaning parties like the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the ANP. Many candidates, fearful of being assassinated, avoided open campaigning before the election.

The people of Pakistan hope the polls will deliver change and ease frustrations with the Taliban, a frail economy, endemic corruption, chronic power cuts and crumbling infrastructure.

Disenchantment with the two mainstream parties appears to have brought a late surge of support for former cricket star Imran Khan, who could end up holding the balance of power.

Khan, 60, is in hospital after injuring himself in a fall at a party rally, which may also win him sympathy votes.

Results from nearly 70,000 polling stations nationwide are expected to start tricking in from around 10pm (1700 GMT).

“The problems facing the new government will be immense, and this may be the last chance that the country’s existing elites have to solve them,” said Anatol Lieven, a professor at King’s College, London, and author of a book on Pakistan.

“If the lives of ordinary Pakistanis are not significantly improved over the next five years, a return to authoritarian solutions remains a possibility,” Lieven wrote in a column in the Financial Times.

The army stayed out of politics during the five years of the last government, but it still sets the nuclear-armed country’s foreign and security policy and will steer the thorny relationship with Washington as NATO troops withdraw from neighbouring Afghanistan next year.

With no clear-cut winner, weeks of haggling to form a coalition will follow, which would raise the risk that the government is undermined by instability.

That would only make it more difficult to reverse the disgust with politicians felt among the country’s 180 million people and drive through the reforms needed to revive its near-failed economy.

Power cuts can last more than 10 hours a day in some places, crippling key industries like textiles, and a new International Monetary Fund bailout may be needed soon.

The party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif looks set to win the most seats in the one-day vote. But Khan could deprive Sharif of a majority and dash his hopes for a return to power 14 years after he was ousted in a military coup, jailed and later exiled.

Pakistan’s best-known sportsman, who led a playboy lifestyle in his younger days, Khan is seen by many as a refreshing change from the dynastic politicians who long relied on a patronage system to win votes and are often accused of corruption.

Late surge for Imran Khan

Voters will elect 272 members of the National Assembly and to win a simple majority, a party would have to take 137 seats.

However, the election is complicated by the fact that a further 70 seats, most reserved for women and members of non- Muslim minorities, are allocated to parties on the basis of their performance in the contested constituencies. To have a majority of the total of 342, a party would need 172.

Khan appeals mostly to young, urban voters because of his calls for an end to corruption, a new political landscape and a halt to US drone strikes on Pakistani soil. About one-third of the country’s population is under the age of 30.

Early opinion polls had put the share of votes for Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party as low as single figures. However, a survey released on Wednesday showed nearly 25 percent of voters nationally planned to vote for his party, just a whisker behind Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).

The Herald magazine poll showed Sharif’s party remained the front-runner in Punjab, which, with the largest share of parliamentary seats, usually dictates the outcome of elections.

It also pointed to an upset for the PPP, placing it third. Pakistan’s politics have long been dominated by the PML-N and the PPP, whose most prominent figure is President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto.

“The PPP didn’t take care of the poor masses and always engages in corrupt practices whenever they come to power,” said Sher Nabi, a banker from Peshawar.

“So we’ve decided to vote for the PTI candidate this time and test Imran Khan to see if he proves as honest as he claims.”

Pakistan, which prides itself on its democratic credentials, ordered the New York Times bureau chief in Islamabad to leave the country on the eve of the polls, the daily said on Friday.

A two-sentence letter was delivered by police officers to the home of the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, it said.

“It is informed that your visa is hereby cancelled in view of your undesirable activities,” the Times quoted the letter as saying, without explaining what was undesirable. “You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours.”

 

 

Third gender and the poll vault in Pakistan


 | Apr 16, 2013, 05.17 AM IST

If, in the run-up to the general elections in Pakistan, you haven’t heard of a candidate by the name of Bindiya Rana, I won’t hold it against you. Centre-stage characters – Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, and the new-ish kid on the block, Imran Khan, have devoured much of the media space. Yet, it is folks like Rana who are leading a quiet, potential cultural revolution amidst the madness of electioneering as Pakistan readies for a fresh round of timely elections.

And just who is Bindiya Rana ? She heads the Gender Interactive Alliance, an NGO that acts on behalf of the transgender community, better known in Pakistan as the Khwaja Sira community or less pleasantly to the rest of South Asia as the hijra community. Both Rana and Sanam Fakir, president of the Sanam Welfare Association in Sukkur, will be the first transgender people to be running for elections in Pakistan. Both are vying provincial assembly seats on strong anti-corruption mandates, and promise that new legislation – that has given them the power to vote, will bring in hundreds, if not thousands of new voters from their community.

The legal credit goes to the supreme court of Pakistan, which accorded the Khwaja Sira a right to a third-gender category and the ability to record-it-as-it-is in newly issued National Registration and Database Authority stamped identity cards. In November 2011, the SC ordered the election commission to collect data on the community and register them to vote.

Of course, not all is rosy in this contested space. For one thing, despite the SC order, less than a third of the country’s presumed 500,000-strong transgender community have been given ID cards. There are also a number of representative bodies that differ on how the community should be identified; in addition to the two organizations mentioned above, there are the Shemale Foundation of Pakistan and the All Pakistan Eunuch’s Association.

What’s got the entire legal apparatus working out the rights of one small community when suppression of all others seems to be the norm? Could it be fear of an impending bane or the lust for a big, badass boon?

For a healthy does of reality, we turn to Bihar. It turns out that since 2000, efficient local tax collectors discovered that hiring hijras as contract tax collectors could significantly enhance their collection rate. The idea worked – and those who would normally shut the door on the mid-level revenue official – coughed up their dues when confronted by the embarrassment of a public spectacle right outside their elite homes. For their good offices, the participating hijras received 4% of all collections.

Inspired by their South Asian brethren, the folks in the income tax offices in Pakistan found this to be a good, if not brilliant, idea. The result would have the direct benefit of extracting revenue for the state, and the side one of distracting the community from sex work. The only difference in the approaches – and an important one – is that in Pakistan, official jobs – with benefits – were created for the Khwaja Sira folks. I wonder, however, what the job position is titled. Can you apply if you’re not from the community? In any case, the tactic seems to be working from the point of view of state revenue earnings.

Normally Scroogish folks rush over to pull out 1,000 rupee notes sewn into their mattress springs in the hope that the hijra – known to have spiritual powers endorsed in the once-syncretistic traditions of this region – will dance, clap and sing showering boons over banes.

The writer is a Delhi-based Pakistani journalist

 

 

Pakistan’s Ashraf government makes history


Raja Pervez Ashraf (June 2012)PM Raja Pervez Ashraf is facing corruption allegations
BBC

Pakistan‘s PM has hailed as “a victory” for democracy the completion of a full term by an elected government for the first time in the country’s history.

“No-one will be able to harm democracy in future,” Raja Pervez Ashraf said.

An interim government will now be installed until the next election, which is expected to be held in May.

Since Pakistan was founded in 1947, government were often overthrown in coups, toppled by political infighting or end in assassinations or murders.

But overhanging the democratic transition is the continuing militancy and growing sectarian unrest, the BBC’s Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad says.

‘No rivers of milk and honey'”There is a long history of tussle between the democratic and undemocratic forces in Pakistan, but the democratic forces have finally achieved a victory,” Mr Ashraf said in a televised address to the nation.

He added that Pakistan had finally managed to strengthen “the foundations of democracy”.

And admitting that his governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) may not have been “able to provide rivers of milk and honey”, the prime minister said it had tried its best to alleviate the country’s problems.

Residents walk through debris after a bombing in Quetta, Pakistan. Photo: February 2013Pakistan continues to be racked by sectarian violence and Taliban insurgency

Mr Ashraf also promised that the forthcoming elections would be free and fair, and said he hoped the parties would reach consensus “amicably” on which of the rival candidates should head the caretaker cabinet.

Pakistan’s parliament was dissolved at midnight local time (19:00) GMT, and the interim administration is expected to be installed in the next few days.

Two opposition parties – led by ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former cricket star Imran Khan – are expected to present the greatest challenge to the PPP in the elections.

At the same time, Mr Ashraf is facing a corruption investigation over allegations that he took bribes while he was a minister.

Mr Ashraf, who became prime minister after his predecessor was forced out amid a dispute with the judiciary, has been in the job for less than a year.

 

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