‘The King’s Speech’

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Its not quite accurate to call this article The Kings Speech because Mr Asif Ali Zardari is not quite our king. It would have been more accurate to call it The Regents Speech but that is a family and party predilection and has nothing to do with the state. Factually accurate is The Presidents Speech because Zardari has been elected by the largest majority ever to the post of President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan by an electoral college comprising our Senate and all five of our assemblies Gilgit-Baltistan had not yet been invented. He is as kosher as kosher can be call him halal if you must nitpick. The fault, dear Brutus, is yours, because the electoral college comprises your lovingly elected representatives sworn to work for your good and for the good of the country yours and mine. Forty percent of the electoral rolls being bogus forsooth the voting pattern would still have been the same. So lump it.

Zardari made history last month when he delivered his fourth presidential address to parliament on the trot. That, by itself, is something. The much-expected, much-feared pandemonium didnt happen. Instead, some parties chose to walk out in protest, though one doesnt quite understand what they were protesting about. The presidents speech to parliament is a formality, and Zardari treated it as a formality. Mercifully, the speech was short: intelligent thing to do because when you have nothing to say, a long speech is more likely to lead to a rumpus. He didnt give the opposition time to think. A president reads out speeches written for him by the executive thus all criticism should be directed at the executive. Our president is consequential only because he is also the ruling partys head.

Mr Zardari became president simply because of our countrys dynastic politics, a throwback to pre-colonial times when monarchy was our natural system. However, in our natural system, there were no anointed crown princes. So when the monarch died and sometimes even before that all who thought had a right to the throne fought one another and the last man standing became monarch.

Something like that happened here as well. Many felt that the children of the People Partys founder Zulfikar Ali Bhuttos like his son Murtaza had a greater right to the throne because they descend from the male line. Murtaza was killed by the Sindh police; a province then ruled by his sister. Asif Zardari was charged with killing him but he was cleared by a court. With him went any viable Bhutto claimant to the throne for a long time.

My point is: the same old system of last-man-standing persists, thinly veiled as democracy but quite transparent to those who have eyes to see. It works because it is natural to our people even when you replace battle with elections, elections often become veritable battles. Despite the veneer of democracy, killings still take place in pursuit of the throne. Sometimes it gets so bad that the democracy veneer starts peeling and the army chief being the most powerful in the land takes over and sometimes even without the veneer faltering, on grounds of corruption, poor governance and non-delivery to the people, which invariably are there in a monarchy. Invariably too the subjects hail their new king, happy at their deliverance from the old one till the old king falters and a new one emerges. That is what happened in the old days: princes rebelling against their father, the king; sometimes rebelling against one another and sometimes the king putting rebellious sons and brothers to the sword. Might is right rules, and still does.

We may periodically and spasmodically go through the motions of elections but the people of South Asia have a natural, subconscious tendency to vote for dynasties and personalities, not programmes or track records. In fact, those with the worst track records surprisingly get elected repeatedly because of their dynastic claim to the throne or because their party is personality-centric. As far as the people are concerned, it is natural for monarchs to trash their opponents. As owners of the fief, monarchs can take whatever they want, which we mistakenly call corruption. Constitution? What constitution? Law? What law? No law applies to the king. He is a law unto himself. As long as the king is benign and gives the people enough to stay alive, they wont revolt. Surprising is that so many people dont understand this.

Zardari got to this position only and only because he is the husband of Benazir Bhutto and father of their son who has been anointed heir to the Bhutto dynasty. The father is more the regent, keeping the position warm for the son till he is ready to take over, away from the grasping hands of assorted sisters, cousins and uncles and away from the grasping hands of others in the party who would assume the mantle and end dynasticism little do they realise that minus a Bhutto or the nearest thing to one, the Peoples Party ceases to exist. Cults never survive their icons. Same for all other parties of consequence or new personality-centric ones, except the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Asif Zardari is the wiliest political operator we have in our midst. He has outwitted his wifes supporters, Nawaz Sharif, General Musharraf, the army, the MQM, Maulana Fazlur Rahman… Thats not to say he is indestructible. Those who out-manoeuvre everyone eventually out-manoeuvre themselves when there is no one left to out-manoeuvre. Zardaris father-in-law did exactly that and got hanged. His wife did exactly that and got killed. He should look out and not make enemies where there are none, a specialty of his father-in-law.

The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]