No one gains from delaying tactics
It is a paradox that the opening up of the media in Pakistan has created more space for conspiracy theories and speculations about politics and societal development. The speculations about the delay of the elections and the setting up of a government of technocrats for an extended period of time were rife on the media for the last couple of months. When the Senate elections approached in February 2012, similar speculations of no Senate elections were all around us. The deadlines for the removal of the federal government were given with a lot of confidence after every couple of months during the last five years. All these rumours proved to be wrong. The rumours about the postponement of the forthcoming general elections have now been demolished by the Supreme Court and the military.
Another problem pertains to a strong tendency in the media to offer highly partisan and single-variable explanations of politics and foreign and security policies. There is little dispassionate analysis that withstands the test of logic.
Partisanship and emotionalism in one’s arguments can be moderated if one examines how the problems of transition from an authoritarian/military rule to democratic political order are addressed elsewhere. The issues that Pakistanis must review include how other countries have dealt with the questions that seem to baffle the Election Commission, the Supreme Court and the political leaders of Pakistan. These include how other states have dealt with the issues of representation, minimum votes to win the elections and the notion of re-polling, the holding of elections, the qualification of candidates for the elections and the right to vote for the citizens of a country living abroad. Pakistan does not have to replicate the experience of others but it can certainly draw lessons from their experience.
Many of the arguments that are very popular with the political and societal leaders in Pakistan about Pakistan’s domestic politics, foreign policy and security affairs, especially the efforts of Pakistan’s state institutions to cope with religious extremism and terrorism, do not get any acceptance at the international level. We spend more time on discussing issues with those who already share our views and do not want to move away from straight-jacketed self-serving worldview that is often based on one’s understanding of religious conservatism rather than analysis of dynamics of international and regional politics. There are people who think about political and social issues in either-or terms: either it should be a perfect and ideal political or social order, especially democracy, or there is no democracy or stable political order.
Most people subscribe to the idealised and textbook and abstract notion of democracy, honesty and fair play. Anything short of the ideal situation is zero. There is no concept of the process and the movement of the political and social system along a spectrum from deficit of democracy to working democracy. There is nothing in-between because they do not see the development of democracy and social order as a process that can gradually move for the better or slide back to decay.
The experience of other societies shows that the societies with considerable achievements in social and political domains are governed by the leaders who are normal human beings rather than angels. They reach the position of power and authority with the support of the same society.
They sustain and stabilise the democracy process through political continuity of the electoral process, change of government through elections and improvement of quality of democracy and delivery of services to the people over time.
If the people of Pakistan want democracy to stabilise they will have to recognise that democracy cannot function to the exclusion of political and societal leaders. The military and the bureaucracy cannot manage democracy and participatory political order. Therefore, a constant campaign against the political leaders and their projection as corrupt and power hungry people engaged in nepotism and mismanagement undermines the prospects of civilian and democratic political order. One wonders if they are the only corrupt and power hungry people in Pakistan.
The irony of the situation is that the political leaders often accuse each other of all the ills of human character. In their effort to outbid each other, they exaggerate the corruption and misdeeds of the political adversary without realising that this is a self-destructive approach. At times, some politicians attempt to woo the military to pull down their adversary’s government. In the long run this approach weakens the political forces, including those seeking out the bureaucracy or the military.
As we approach the general elections, the Supreme Court and others who have no direct stake in the elections are attempting to stretch Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution in a manner to disqualify as many political leaders as possible. The proposed election commission application form for nomination of the candidates contains several new columns that are meant to frustrate the political leaders. Some of the columns appear to have been inserted on the suggestion of Federal Board of Revenue. The operationalisation of some of the demands made in the proposed nomination papers is going to be problematic in case the candidate has no house in his name and the utility bills are not in his or her name. Even the notion of loan default will cause problem in some cases.
The Supreme Court has been insisting on giving voting right to overseas Pakistanis. Its implementation is difficult because overseas Pakistanis are spread over so many countries that polling arrangements will be extremely impractical. Postal ballot lends itself to manipulation. The Supreme Court should learn from the experience of other democratic countries. Overseas Pakistanis should be advised to be active in the politics of their adopted country. By participating in the politics of their country of residence they can influence the policy of that country to Pakistan’s advantage.
The Supreme Court’s suggestions for changes in the electoral system like the new demarcation of electoral constituencies in Karachi, proportional representation and that the winning candidate must get more than fifty percent votes cast can be deliberated by the political circles in the post-election period and may be adopted for the future elections.
At this stage the sole criterion should be the holding of the election on time because any delay in the election in search of a textbook perfection will be counterproductive to strengthening democracy. The people are the final and best judges for the selection of their elected representatives.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.