Oddly similar political phenomena in Pakistan and Turkey

JANE LOUISE KANDUR
ISTANBUL
Published 06.06.2015 01:41
Updated 06.06.2015 01:42
Oddly similar political phenomena in Pakistan and Turkey

As the religious leaders of large movements, both Pakistani cleric Tahir ul Qadri's and Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen's movements pit themselves against the nations' democratically elected representatives

Before we continue onto the next chapter of the Tahir ul Qadri story, which is concerned with election fraud, a short diversion into the electoral system in Turkey would be apt.

Elections are to be held this Sunday in Turkey. It is almost impossible to carry out fraud in elections here; every ballot box has a committee that consists of members from every major party. The committee observes how the votes are used, and if anything untoward happens, they have the right to object. Observers are allowed to witness the counting of the ballots and to raise questions. These observers are given a copy of the register after the votes have been counted. If there is any difference in the electronic version and the hard copy, the hard copy, which has been approved by every member of the committee, is referred to. Any question goes to the regional electorate board; if no satisfaction is found here it can be sent to the provincial electorate board, and finally to the national electorate board.

Before voting starts, every ballot and every envelope is counted and stamped before being used. This is done in front of the entire electorate board. Any ballot or envelope that is not stamped is considered invalid. In past elections the CHP claimed that its ballots were found in the rubbish. These were later proven to be fake; the above process is to ensure that masses of ballots cannot be planted and claimed to be "legitimate ballots"

Thus, if one wants to rig the elections in Turkey, it is only possible to do so with the consensus of all major parties, which rather defeats the purpose.

The reason why we diverged into electoral rigging and the difficulty of doing so in Turkey is the second part of our story revolves on this theme. Twice in the recent past Qadri has come storming into Pakistan to try to derail the political process, once just before elections and once just after elections.

Qadri's first direct disruption of the political process was in late 2012; this was toward the end of the presidential term of Asif Ali Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto). Zardari was elected into office in 2008. In December 2012, months before a general election was to be held, Qadri returned to Pakistan where he held a large rally that called for the resignation of Zardari's government, demanding that it be replaced by a caretaker administration. In January Qadri called for a "million man" march to Islamabad; according to The New York Times, this event was to "kick off a 'moral revolution' similar to the one in Tahrir Square in Cairo that overthrew the Egyptian ruling order."

According to the some media outlets Qadri is a little-known person in Pakistan. However, as clear from last week's article Qadri is very well-known both in Pakistan and in Canada. He is no anonymous hero riding in on a white horse at the last minute to save the country.

Foreign observers expressed concerns that Qadri returning to the country could be backed by forces that wanted to disrupt Pakistan's advance towards real democracy.

Questions have been raised about Mr. Qadri's source of money — one opposition senator estimates that he has already spent $4 million on relentless television advertising — and, inevitably in a country where conspiracy theories run rife, media reports have buzzed with allegations of outside support.

In this march, thousands of people promised to stage a sit-in until Qadri's demands were met. Qadri started with 25,000 people. But after only four days, Qadri and the government signed an agreement (and amicably embraced one another) in which electoral reforms and greater transparency were introduced. It is estimated that no more than 50,000 people took part in this "million man" march.

Certain commentators have suggested that Qadri was in cahoots with the Pakistani army in arranging these protests. Indeed, many commentators stated that the goals of the march had not been met. Qadri was accused of "playing with the sentiments of thousands of people." The leader was criticized for forcing people to demonstrate in cold rainy weather in the name of "anti-democratic forces…(in) an attempt to derail democracy…near the (time of the) general elections." (The News International. Jan. 19, 2013).

Indeed, as we saw last week, Qadri has close ties with the military. Moreover, as a dual citizen, with enormous financial resources, the source of which is largely unknown, he is viewed with suspicion not only in Pakistan, but also globally.

It seems odd that such a march was arranged just as Zardari's term as president was coming to an end and new elections were on the horizon. This is even more perplexing if one considers that the upcoming elections promised to be the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically-elected government handed over the reins to another democratically-elected government. To stage a massive protest, referencing Tahrir Square at such a time seems not only strange, but rather sinister. This would be one way to delay the upcoming elections and to weaken the government.

If only the story ended here…but it doesn't.

After Nawaz Sharif's party came to power in 2013, Imran Khan, the famous cricket hero and politician, claimed that there had been election fraud; on Aug. 14, 2014, he declared that he was organizing a large protest march, called the Azadi (freedom) March. As soon as Khan announced his plans Qadri announced that he too was to march; his march was to be the Inqilab (revolutionary) March. These marches were not to be the same march, but were being carried out at the same time and with the same goal and destination. It was thought that the two marches would come together, but Qadri continued to plan for his "parallel" march. Interestingly, but completely coincidently, the Azadi March began at Zaman Park…

The protests were planned to continue until Nawaz Sharif would be forced to resign. In response to these marches, Marie Harf, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said: "Nawaz Sharif was elected and is prime minister (period). There is a government that was elected in place." She reiterated that "there's a path forward... that's peaceful. We know there's a lot of space for political dialogue, but it has to remain peaceful."

This statement did not appease the two leaders and they continued their marches and subsequent sit-in, which lasted from September to December 2014.

The Inqilab March went from Lahore to Islamabad; here the people protested outside the parliament. Unfortunately, during the Inqilab March there were instances in which the police used excessive force on the protestors and people lost their lives. In one such instance, nine people died, and more than 100 were wounded.

These deaths gave Dr. Qadri what one commentator called an "unshakeable pulpit," or the "moral upper hand."

After these attacks the prime minister expressed his sorrow at the deaths of the activists and promised justice. The police chief of Lahore, the provincial law minister and the principal secretary were all dismissed. Orders were given to arrest the police officers involved in shooting the protestors. However, at the same time the police made complaints against 3,000 members of Qadri's group, charging them with terrorism, murder and rioting.

The sit-in outside parliament continued; it has been claimed that Qadri paid the protestors daily wages to encourage them to participate rather than go back to work. This again brings into question who was funding him; thousands of people joined this march, and thousands of people were fed and watered every day, as well as being paid a daily wage.

Although originally it was stated that the protests would continue until Sharif resigned, after a school in Peshawar was attacked by the Taliban, an attack in which 141 people, including 132 children lost their lives, the protests were called off.

Imran Khan responded to this tragedy by declaring that it was time the country concentrated on combating the evil of the Taliban. "Due to the situation in the country right now, we have decided to end our protests," Imran Khan told PTI party supporters in Islamabad, stating that the country need national unity.

Although brought to an end for humane and noble reasons, did this four-month protest, a protest in which two leaders led parallel marches, achieve anything? Were the demands of the leaders justified, and were they met?

Let's first look at the demands. Imran Khan stated that his group were demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; however, as time passed, he changed his demands to the formation of a judicial commission to probe electoral fraud. Imran Khan agreed to accept the findings of the commission; he would only demand fresh elections if cheating were proven.

Qadri, however, was not so modest in his demands; in his seven-point charter, Qadri called for the dissolution of national and provincial assemblies, the formation of a national government that would bring about democratic reforms, and a 10-point social program of free education, health, employment, housing et cetera.

This all sounds great. But what developing country with a large and economically-challenged population can hope to disband both local and national governments, introduce wide-ranging reforms while introducing free education, housing, health and wide ranging employment opportunities? It seems that while Khan was making fairly reasonable demands, Qadri was demanding a unicorn in a gingerbread house with pink shutters.

In fact, the government, both local and national, seriously examined the demands of both Khan and Qadri; they were at a loss with how to deal with Dr. Qadri. The federal minister Khwaja Saad Rafique stated that not even one of Dr. Qadri's many demands could be "seriously considered."

Indeed, many Pakistani observers and members of the public have looked on Dr. Qadri with grave suspicion, while stating that Imran Khan had better motives. The arrival of Dr Qadri so early in the prime minister's tenure was thought to be a means of distracting the country from the anti-Taliban campaign; indeed, many saw Qadri as a provocateur for the military, someone who had been sent to upset the first democratic transition from one elected government to another in Pakistani history.

Imran Khan's demands attained results. Sharif appointed three judges from the Supreme Court to look into the charges of election fraud. The person who brought the accusations was one Afzal Khan, the secretary of the election committee. (although the same name, this person should not be confused with the British MEP). Afzal Khan presented evidence, but the Supreme Court ruled that no action could be taken as the evidence presented was not legall

y admissible. The allegations made by Afzal Khan to this end were all proven to be unfounded. Later Justice Kayani stated that Afzal Khan had made false allegations due to a personal grudge; the fact that these allegations were made 14 months after the elections also aroused suspicion. If Afzal Khan had suspected that there was fraud involved in the elections, why did he wait so long before making a complaint?

The results of these protests were not the removal of the sitting government nor new elections. No charges were brought and no corruption was proven.

So, were the protests just empty gestures? Were they futile, making no impact on the country?

Both Khan and Qadri's protests made an impact. An adviser to the prime minister stated that as soon as Sept. 26, 2014 losses were as much as $6 billion (http//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azadi.March).

According to one commentator in Pakistan, Qadri received a large sum of money (claimed by one expert to be $8 million U.S.) from a foreign state to call off the protests. This raises a large number of new questions.

Let us not forget that Minhaj ul Quran is active in 90 countries; it has a university and over 600 schools and colleges. Qadri is not short of a penny or two. Moreover, he had funds to pay thousands of people to stay during four months of protests. And allegedly he received large sums of money to stop the protests.

Such characters are not unique to Pakistan. As mentioned last week, this is a parallel movement.

Two years ago, Gezi Park protests rocked Istanbul. In the following months, corruption allegations were made by newspapers associated with the Gülen Movement. There have been two elections in Turkey in the ensuing period, with the third to be held this Sunday. If the AK Party wins this election and attains a majority in Parliament, which is likely, it will have the mandate from the people to change the Constitution, introducing a presidential system that will eliminate coalitions and stalemates, leading the country to greater democracy. However, recently newspapers that are diametrically opposed to the AK Party have started to discuss a "lack of faith in fair elections" among the people, thus planting seeds of doubt, a doubt that is entirely unjustified. A sore loser will always claim the other side cheated. There will be a winner on Sunday and it will be the party that the majority of the people trust to lead Turkey into the future.

However, will matters stop here? The real question is will interested parties try to introduce a Tahrir Square or an Inqilab March to disrupt the democratic process in Turkey? Will there be claims of election fraud in an attempt to hinder Turkey's advance; will movements parallel to those above hurl stumbling blocks in the path of real democracy? Only time will tell.

OVERVIEW OF PART ONE

In last week's article, the close similarity between Tahir ul Qadri's movement in Pakistan and that of Fethullah Gülen in Turkey was examined. Both men appear as religious leaders of a large movement; they both have established schools all over the world (Qadri has schools in 90 countries, while the Gülen Movement claims to be in more than 180 countries). These schools have a "secular" nature, despite belonging to an ostensibly religious movement. Moreover, the schools provide a base for new recruits and new funding. Both leaders live in self-imposed exile in North America, from where they make television broadcasts and publish a ridiculously large number of works. Both of these religious leaders have enormous resources, human and financial. And finally, both leaders have pitted themselves against the democratically elected representatives of the nations to which they owe their allegiance.

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