Democrats for dictatorship

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The election season in Pakistan has brought a feeling of disenchantment with parliamentary politics for a large section of the country.

The major opposition parties are attempting to strike power sharing deals with the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf. The social democratic parties have a record of forming alliances for democratic rule with the large parties, but now they have nowhere to go.

But the euphoria and energy generated by the successful mass movement for the restoration of the chief justice persists. On 20 July after a 131-day campaign involving millions of ordinary people under the leadership of the lawyers, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was restored to his post by the Supreme Court. He had been suspended by President Musharraf after he refused to guarantee the dictator another term in office.

This has led sections of the working class to renew resistance. Workers at Export Processing Zone Karachi as well as teachers at Balochistan University have begun significant protests and industrial action over government activities.

To combat this discontent Musharraf is courting leaders of the mainstream opposition for power sharing under the watchful eyes of the US, while ruling politicians are advocating the suspension of constitutional rights and a delay in national elections.

Big business, which has benefited hugely under the Musharraf regime, is strongly in favour of the general.

On 8 August a desperate Musharraf toyed with the idea of imposing emergency rule, stopping at the last moment for fear of public outrage.

Despite the fact that the dictator is in a weak position the traditional political parties are not mobilising street demonstrations and are instead calling for free and fair elections.

This position can lead people to choose between the radical religious organisations and a revolutionary alternative.

Because of their weakness, the left have also failed to establish fruitful links with the massive movements of peasants on army land, of local people of the Balochistan province campaigning against exploitation of their natural resources, of fishermen of the Sindh province protesting about the destruction of their habitat and the discontent among the rural Pukhtun in the north west against US and Pakistani military attacks on their dwellings.

Mainstream parties have failed to oppose General Musharraf and supported the "war on terror" and the Red Mosque military operation, which killed over 200. When you add the confusion on the left over mobilising support for the movements of rural poor, it means that a huge anti-imperialist vacuum is being filled by reactionary forces including democratic and Talibani Islamicists.

Socialists need to gain a leading role in the working class by actively participating in its struggle.

We will also have to strengthen our intervention in political debate to try and focus it on anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism.