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Are free elections possible in Pakistan?
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf promised to hold general elections in January, said The Washington Times, but they'll be a "sham" unless he first lifts emergency rule. If history is any indication, said Mark Steyn in the National Review Onl
W
hat happened
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf promised to hold general elections by Jan. 9, but opposition leaders questioned whether the vote could be free and fair since Musharraf didn’t say he would lift the state of emergency he declared earlier this month.

What the commentators said
Unless Musharraf restores constitutuional rule, said The Washington Times in an editorial, the elections will almost surely be a “sham.” And fair elections are the only way to “ratchet Pakistan’s political tensions down the several notches which Gen. Musharraf has raised them.” Unfortunately, Musharraf’s “ultimate concern” seems only to be keeping “his own grip on power.”

Musharraf faces a “stark choice,” said Benjamin Wittes in The New Republic. Up to now, he has “actually ruled with a light touch for a dictator.” How else would the lawyers now protesting in the streets have become such a confident and influential “elite”? Now he can “either accommodate the expectations and liberalize, or he can repress.”

It’s easy to write off Musharraf if you’re sitting half a world away, said Mark Steyn in National Review Online. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Musharraf promised to help fight a war on terror on his own terrirory, even though “99.9999 percent of his people are against” it. “In the teeth of that glum reality, he’s rode a difficult tightrope with some skill.” If history is any indication, any election would only usher in a corrupt democratic government, whose excesses would be stamped out by the next military dictator. So “the real question is how bad things will be after Musharraf.”

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