Pakistani strongman President Pervez Musharraf appears set to win
today's national referendum, paving his way to return the country to
democracy - under military tutelage - after the promised elections
In a weekend verdict, the country's Supreme Court tossed aside
all remaining challenges to the legality of today's referendum.
Today's referendum, which, if victorious for Mr. Musharraf, would
give him another five years in power, is more than just a popularity
contest for the man who decisively led Pakistan away from its 20-
year flirtation with Islamic extremism after the terrorist attacks
of Sept. 11.
The outcome of this referendum could have immense consequences
for Pakistani democracy, say experts, politicians, and ordinary
Pakistanis. So while many Pakistanis support Musharraf the man, they
fret about the pattern that Musharraf is perpetuating, a pattern of
military intervention in civilian politics.
The problem with Musharraf, says Ejaz Haider, a prominent
Pakistani journalist, is not so much who he is but how military
intervention has weakened Pakistan's democratic institutions. "In
the last decade, all of our governments were voted in, but none of
them were voted out," says Mr. Haider, news editor of The Friday
Times in Lahore. "The voter thinks he doesn't have any say in the
Indeed, most political analysts expect that Musharraf will win
with a huge majority, perhaps up to 95 percent.
"Musharraf will win - by hook or crook, by fair or unfair means.
There is no doubt about it," says Khalid Mahmood, political analyst
at the Islamabad-based Institute of Regional Studies.
But winning is not the same thing as winning a mandate, say
political analysts. If a large number of the voters feel the results
are already decided, and either boycott the polls or simply stay
home, then Musharraf will have difficulty claiming that a majority
of Pakistanis support his future plans of reworking the Constitution
and reshaping which parties and which leaders can participate in the
Around 70 million people aged 18 or older are eligible to vote in
the referendum, the third in the country's 54-year turbulent
Mainstream political and Islamic parties, kept on a tight leash
by the military government, have struggled recently to mobilize
people to boycott the polling.
From the beginning, there has been evidence that the government
machinery has been in action supporting the referendum, adorning
cities with Musharraf's pictures and banners. According to reports,
local administrations and police impounded private buses to ferry
people to Musharraf's rallies. …