by Crescent International (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 4, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1419)
Elections have become the latest fad around the world. It seems everyone has discovered that elections can be a useful tool to fool almost all the people almost all the time. At the end of February, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, held elections to end military rule but brought to power a former military dictator, general Olusegun Obasanjo.
As we went to press, the people of Algeria were going through the ritual of a presidential election on April 15. Of the 40 or so candidates, four are believed to be the junta’s favourites. But regardless of who emerges as the winner (pundits are betting on Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a former foreign minister), it will be the military junta, and more particularly the Military Security (MS), that will continue to dominate Algeria’s affairs. Since 1992, when the military annulled the December 26, 1991 election results in which the Islamic Salvation Front was the clear winner, Algeria has had four presidents: Chadli Benjedid, Mohamed Boudiaf, Ali Kafi and Liamine Zeroual. During the same period, general Mohamed Lamari and general Mediene have retained their posts as army chief and head of military intelligence (MS) respectively.
If the Algerian junta has tightened its grip on the country through a brutal campaign of slaughter and genocide, the Turkish generals have perfected it into an art. The junta’s civilian front men have been rounding up members of the Fazilat Party and throwing them into jails by the truck-load in the run-up to the April 18 elections. The junta fears that Fazilat will emerge victorious in the Turkish parliament, as its predecessor, the Refah Party (now banned), did in the last elections.
The Turkish military has appointed itself guardians of the Kemalist legacy and are forcing it down people’s throats whether they like it or not. The military also decides all matters of policy, whether domestic or foreign. It is in the forefront of a brutal campaign against its own Kurdish population, punishing them even for speaking their own languages and calling themselves Kurds.
Within a month of the Turkish electoral farce, the zionists will hold their elections. Israel is presented in the western media as the ôonly democracyö in the Middle East. Yet even some Jewish commentators are irked by its brutal policies. In the ôonly democracyö in the Middle East, the military reigns supreme. This applies most specifically to torture of Palestinian detainees and to censorship.
Even the Israeli supreme court has acquiesced in the torture of Palestinian suspects to extract confessions. The zionists call it ômoderate physical pressureö, to help assuage the conscience of their supporters in the west. Regarding censorship, an Israeli writer, Yitzhak Gal-Nur, has pointed out that ôIn Israel, the underlying principle is that all public information is secret except if it has been authorised for publicationö (Ma’ariv, November 25, 1992). He went on to reveal that regardless of which political party is in power ù Likud or Labour ù civilians toe the line laid down by the military. Those who believe that the May 17 elections may result in a change in Israeli policies should know better.
If the Algerian, Turkish and Israeli generals have had it all taken care of quite nicely, the Indonesians are not far behind. Although the Indonesian military has had to retreat in the face of determined street demonstrations, it would be premature to dismiss the generals’ influence on public policy. When Indonesians go to the polls on June 7, with several parties allowed to contest for the first time in 33 years, it is unlikely to bring about any radical change in the country.
In the past, general Suharto countenanced no challenge to his authority. In fact, those who dared even contemplate opposing the long-time dictator were immediately accused of treason. Since his removal from power in May 1998, this has changed. Last August, the army chief, general Wiranto, even tendered a public apology for military atrocities in Aceh-Sumatra over a 30-year period. Yet this has not stopped his men from perpetrating more crimes against the civilian population since.
Only in South Africa, which goes to the polls on June 2, has the incumbent, president Nelson Mandela, decided to step down voluntarily and allow his long-time deputy, Thabo Mbeki, to take over. There may be some surprises in the South African elections because many people feel let down by the African National Congress and its inability to deliver real improvements in most people’s lives since the end of apartheid. Crime is one of their major concerns. Regardless of who comes to power, it will continue to bedevil ordinary people. Overall, South African society will continue to operate within the white-dominated economic framework which was left intact at the end of apartheid.
But it is the electoral games in the Muslim world which hold most lessons for those seeking to change their societies. Elections are held to uphold and reinforce the status quo, not change it. This is a point which Islamic movements must learn û usually the hard way.
Muslimedia: April 16-30, 1999