ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Civilian Dictatorship and Praetorian Democracy

Asif Zardari's election to the presidency may seem to represent the triumph of democracy in Pakistan. The larger question, however, is what kind of democratic rule is this going to be with so much power vested in the presidency? Months after what seem to have been fair elections to the National Assembly, Pakistan is apparently steering towards civilian authoritarianism. To the middle class Pakistani elite, whose preferences are peppered with contradictions, military rule promising a liberal social lifestyle is perhaps more to its liking than democracy with its uncertainties.

LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIASeptember 13, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly8Civilian Dictatorship and Praetorian DemocracyS Akbar ZaidiAsif Zardari’s election to the presidency may seem to represent the triumph of democracy in Pakistan. The larger question, however, is what kind of democratic rule is this going to be with so much power vested in the presidency? Months after the fairest elections ever to the National Assembly, there is a fear that Pakistan could move towards civilian authoritarianism. To the middle class Pakistani elite, whose preferences are peppered with contradictions, military rule promising a liberal social lifestyle is perhaps more to its liking than democracy with its uncertainties.S Akbar Zaidi (sakbarzaidi@gmail.com) is a social scientist based in Karachi. For supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the election of Asif Zard-ari as president of Pakistan, signals the final nail in the coffin for the Musharraf era and the ultimate revenge of democracy. For some, a Zardari presidency is seen as a “triumph of representative politics”, with the belief that this move will lead to a “dec-ades-long democratic journey”. There are reasons for PPP supporters to celebrate this crowning of Zardari as president. Their leader for the last 30 years was assassinated while she was campaign-ing for the elections held earlier this year. It was expected that Benazir Bhutto would become the prime minister, since she was eager and very willing, in the true spirit of reconciliation and collaboration, to work with the recently retired general Pervez Musharraf as her president. Both desper-ately needed each other for their political longevity. The enlightened moderate retired military man and the pro-United States leader of a once left-of-centre party would have given Pakistan a semi-democratic facade, with the military, the electorate and the Americans all contented. The Pakistani military and the US would have carried on their war on terrorism and would have devised foreign policy in the region, while the populist leader would have run social policy and continued with the free-market economic policies of the Musharraf regime. Benazir Bhutto’s last year in politics was much tainted by her agreeing to accept Musharraf, in uniform, as a serving general in his ninth year of power, as president to her as prime minister. Musharraf met Bhutto at least once about a year ago in one of the Gulf Emirates and agreed to this arrange-ment. Many senior members in her party protested against this deal and threatened to resign. Yet, her writ over the party held firm when in October 2007 a uniformed Musharraf sought re-election as Pakistan’s president. The PPP ensured that Musharraf would be re-elected by abstaining rather than voting against his candidacy. While this deal-making between what was once the most popular democratic party in Pakistan with a uniformed military general was a sad reflection of the fact that even the PPP needed to make such arrangements with the military to come to power, the fact that this sell-out was being undertaken at a time when one of Pakistan’s most resilient and remarkable popular struggles against Musharraf was in full sway, only under-scored Bhutto’s desperation. The lawyers’ movement for the reinstate-ment of the deposed chief justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, despite its huge impact on the political map in Pakistan, was always incomplete without the full and active participation of political parties. Benazir Bhutto in her opportunism to col-laborate with the general, constantly dis-tanced herself from this movement. Pakistan was gearing up for continuity of military rule under the garb of a populist and popu-lar elected coalition led by Benazir Bhutto, the best form of praetorian democracy so far devised in Pakistan. With her assassina-tion, the script changed.An Honest VerdictThe clouded deal-making arrangements guaranteeing a Bhutto-Musharraf align-ment in the elections was replaced by free and fair elections in Pakistan, itself a rare event, which resulted in thePPP now being run by Asif Zardari, emerging the largest party, even if without a majority in the National Assembly. With Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League, the PPP formed a coalition government with the prime minister elected with agreement from its ranks. Musharraf’s political party was routed in the elections, and the result was seen to be a rejection of all that Musharraf stood for and as a vote in favour of the deposed judges. It was assumed that the new government would agree to restore the judges and oust Musharraf at the first opportunity. Many agreements were signed between both leaders, but with Zardari showing a conciliatory attitude to-wards Musharraf, a willingness to work with him and in no hurry to restore the judges, the coalition and the agreement quickly came undone. However, Musharraf was

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