Pakistan Elections

“Not a bad start” for Labour Party Pakistan

A couple of weeks ago we carried a brief report about the electoral successes of our friends in the Labour Party Pakistan. Now LPP General Secretary Farooq Tariq has sent us a fuller account of the elections, including explaining the labyrinthine system for local election introduced, under pressure from foreign donors concerned for their image, by the military regime.          

The fourth phase of the elections to the “local bodies”, in which elections were held for Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Rawalpindi and 26 other districts, is now completed, with earlier rounds having been held during the last six months. The last and final phase elections will be held on 1st of August 2001.

The military regime introduced the local government system last year with a number of new arrangements never seen before. A union council system has been introduced with 21 councillors to be elected for each one. Ranging from 15,000 to 25000 for each council, voters will elect eight Muslim (general seats), four women’s (general seats), four labour and peasant male and two female, and one from a minority,  one Nazim (mayor) and one naib Nazim (vice mayor). All in all a total of 21000 councillors all over Pakistan will be elected. For the first time, at least 33 % of the seats were reserved for women.

The system will give the military some kind of grass roots base against the main political parties the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muslim League. It has been the tradition of the military regimes in Pakistan to allow local elections with the aim of producing a new, loyal layer of leadership at the local level from people with no record of activity in the political field.

The reserved seats for women, labour and peasants were introduced mainly to please the international institutions, a progressive gesture to win the sympathies of the so-called progressive forces inside and outside. Many NGOs and left activists termed these developments as historic moves in favour of the neglected strata of society. In fact, their real aim was to give cover to the most brutal pro-IMF and World Bank economic policies of the military regime which have hit these same neglected strata the hardest. In the shadow of so-called progressive political concessions came the brutal economic agenda of world imperialism.

The restructuring plan of the state institutions has meant that over 131000 will lose their jobs, with 40,000 already gone. The trade unions at state institutions are the biggest victims of these policies. On 5th July 2001, Pakistan International Airlines workers lost their union rights through a military ordinance. Wholesale attacks against the working class have been the practice of the  military since it came to power in October 1999. The rich have seen tax concessions whilst working people have had to pay more taxes. A 15% general sales tax has been introduced on almost all consumer goods. Against this background, the so-called political representation of women and labour given by the military regime becomes meaningless.

Candidates in the local elections were not identified by political party. However, in reality almost all political parties participated on the basis of named lists, such as Pakistan People’s Party’s “Peoples’ Friendly Group” and our own “Struggle Group”. Our decision to take part in the elections was taken last year. Despite reservations we saw this as an opportunity to get across our party’s message at grass roots level and present our case against the military regime.

The LPP’s first “local bodies” members were elected in the first phase from Larkana (Sind) and Liyya (Punjab). Twelve councillors were elected from Larkana, the home town of the Bhuttos. Another won a labour seat from Layya. During the second round and third rounds we came close, but lost by small margins, including in Hyderabad.

The fourth round brought good news for LPP at Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi, where  a total of 21 LPP candidates was elected, 14 of them women. A further thirty candidates supported by us were also elected got elected with the open support of the party. In total, 29000 votes were cast for the LPP throughout Pakistan.

The campaign during these elections focussed mainly on local issues, although our party made clear its intention of combating  the military regime’s policies at all levels.

Some candidates made history by winning with a minimum of expenditure. Nazli Javed, the party’s national joint secretary, for instance, spent only 500 Rupees ($9) on the whole election campaign. She topped the poll with over 700 votes from a working class constituency near Lahore, a district in which she was well-known for her work as a health visitor within the community.

During the election campaign, I had to leave Pakistan twice. When I was deported from Indonesia on 11th June, an event which regular Spectre readers will know all about, our political opponents went around telling people that I had been deported from Pakistan and would not be allowed back!

As a party we have made modest gains in these elections. Our newly elected councillors face an immediate test, as they will be our main leaders in the campaign for a restoration of democracy. 29,000 votes for a socialist party in a society totally dominated by religious fundamentalists is not a bad start.