In Pakistan, political parties use big public rallies to show their strength, especially in the run-up to elections. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf , Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and other parties are doing just that. However, moderate political parties haven’t been able to canvass for votes in the same way because of relentless Taliban attacks on their leaders and supporters.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) believes this is part of a bigger game plan. “Politico-religious parties and right-wing political groups are conniving with the establishment to damage and weaken left-wing parties,” PPP Senator Raza Rabbani told The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview on Monday.
Senator Rabbani said the establishment has been in league with conservative parties for a long time. “Together they set long- and short-term priorities,” he added. “Left-wing political groups, on the other, hand could never find favour with the establishment.”
Referring to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal as an example of this collusion, Senator Rabbani blamed Musharraf for gelling politico-religious parties into an electoral alliance in 2002 in an attempt to ‘sideline’ moderate and liberal political forces. “Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf purposely increased the strength of the lower house of Parliament to 342 through the Legal Framework Order. His purpose was that no single political party should win a clear majority,” Senator Rabbani said. Musharraf knew that a coalition government would be more vulnerable to interference, he added.
But, in a new twist, Rabbani doesn’t just lay the blame on Pakistan’s establishment.
He believes the ‘international establishment’ is also supporting conservative political parties in Pakistan. “They want a government of right-wing parties or their sympathisers which could serve their interests after the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in 2014,” he said.
Referring to the May 2011 Abbottabad raid, Senator Rabbani said the United States violated Pakistan’s sovereignty and all international laws to kill al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. “But why is it silent over relentless attacks on liberal parties like PPP, ANP and MQM,” he questioned. “How should we interpret the silence of the United Kingdom and European Union on this targeted violence?”
Senator Rabbani said extremist and undemocratic elements wanted postponement of elections by causing a major tragedy. “Before the 2008 elections, the establishment conspired with conservative elements and assassinated [PPP chairperson] Benazir Bhutto in an attempt to get the elections postponed,” he said, adding that the PPP showed restraint and thwarted the conspiracy.
In view of these conspiracies, the PPP has changed its election strategy. “We know that extremist elements want to target PPP’s public rallies – but we’re not giving them any opportunity,” he said. The party has advised all its candidates to run their individual campaigns in their respective constituencies.
Though his party hasn’t been able to campaign freely, Senator Rabbani is still upbeat. “I believe PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz will emerge as the two biggest parties in the elections,” he said, but refused to say if the future government would be a coalition. “It’s too early to speculate about this.”
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has not been able to lead his party’s political campaign, although he’s been addressing party meetings via video link. Senator Rabbani defended Bilawal’s absence from the scene, citing ‘serious threats’ to his life. He also dispelled the rumours of differences between Bilawal Bhutto and other PPP leaders. Listing the achievements of the PPP during its five years in power, he said the PPP had strengthened the federation and given an identity to the Pakhtun people, referring to the renaming of NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Senator Rabbani is known as the architect of the historic 18th constitutional amendment that gave more powers to the federating units. He said that the 18th and 19th constitutional amendments might have flaws – but those could be addressed through the continuity of the democratic process.
And what is of paramount importance is that this process continues, says the PPP stalwart. “If the democratic transition of power does not take place peacefully, the future of the federation would be in jeopardy.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2013.