Steal the election? He’s already working on it

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images At a congressional hearing Tuesday on Pakistan’s upcoming legislative elections, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher had this to say: We don’t necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but if history is any guide and reports are any guide, we should expect some.” Not to pick on Boucher—as a diplomat representing ...

596770_musharraf_08.jpg
596770_musharraf_08.jpg

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

At a congressional hearing Tuesday on Pakistan's upcoming legislative elections, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher had this to say:

We don't necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but if history is any guide and reports are any guide, we should expect some."

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

At a congressional hearing Tuesday on Pakistan’s upcoming legislative elections, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher had this to say:

We don’t necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but if history is any guide and reports are any guide, we should expect some.”

Not to pick on Boucher—as a diplomat representing a country that backs Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he can’t very well go out and speak the truth—but it’s likely that Musharraf has already stolen the elections. Only amateurs steal an election on election day, as election experts say.

As Carnegie Endowment expert Ashley Tellis carefully explained to Congress earlier this month, Musharraf has to ensure that the new parliament will ratify his extra-constitutional power grab. But he can’t be sure that his party will win enough seats in a fair contest (and based on Musharraf’s cratering personal popularity, it surely wouldn’t). So he either has to trust that his main political rivals—former PM Nawaz Sharif, whom he deposed in a military coup, and Asif Zardari, who believes Musharraf is responsible for his wife’s murder—would honor a power-sharing arrangement, or he has to cheat.

And indeed, some of the techniques from this week’s List, “How to Steal an Election Without Breaking a Sweat,” are already being deployed: sacking judges, manipulating the voter rolls, criminalizing media criticism of the incumbent, and so on. “Some” level of fraud? More likely, there’s going to be just enough of it for Musharraf’s party to win (which is the U.S.’s preferred outcome at this point, anyway). The real question, though, is how will the opposition parties react? Will there be riots in the streets? Will the Pakistani military, now under the leadership of the reportedly apolitical Ashfaq Kiyani, be willing to shoot demonstrators? We’ll find out on Feb. 18.

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