A Vote against Voting in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD -- As Pakistan gears up for its parliamentary election on February 18, many observers hope that the vote will usher in a period of stability and calm by lending popular legitimacy to the government. But sometimes democracy is best served by refusing to participate. The upcoming election, to be held under the illegal Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) implemented following President Pervez Musharraf’s state of emergency on November 3, is such a case, which is why my party and its coalition partners are boycotting the vote.

To be sure, contesting the election would provide my party with a great opportunity to take issues to the people. In fact, my party’s support has been growing, with opinion polls now indicating that it is the second most popular in the frontier province – and gaining ground in every other province.

But elections by themselves don’t bring democracy. Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, loves elections. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been holding elections for 27 years. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov has been in power for 30 years, and has just been “elected” to a fresh seven-year presidential term. Elections are meaningful only if they are perceived to be free and fair, which requires independent referees.

When my party started eleven years ago, we called ourselves the Movement For Justice. We demanded an independent judiciary, because we believed that democracy and prosperity are impossible without the rule of law, and that the rule of law requires a judiciary that can act as a constraint on the government. Having gone to university in western countries, we were inspired by the American system of check and balances.