The impending choice

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A choice between electing the lesser of the evils

In a week’s time, on May 11th, 2013, the ‘tired, poor, and huddled masses’ of our nation, yearning to breathe free, will once again be afforded their democratic right to caste their vote, and elect fresh representatives for governance. And this exercise, of casting the ballot, is arguably the most sacred privilege in a democratic dispensation. It is the singular virtue that sets apart a democracy from other forms of government. It represents the single most important right, through the exercise of which we choose to be governed according to our own aspirations, and can claim to be masters of our own national destiny.

As a result, in essence, the casting of the ballot is not simply a privilege, but more importantly, the most solemn responsibility of each one of us.

In theory, it is fascinating that every five years we get to (legally and constitutionally) overthrow the government. In Pakistan’s case, however, the theory is as far as the fascination extends. Because at the shores of the theory, start the bare sands of reality. And the reality is this: the impending election, divorced from individual passions that any of us might have for certain political parties, is a choice between electing the lesser of the evils.

Lets start with getting the obvious out of the way: the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and its allies (namely: PML-Q, the ANP, and the MQM) are not, at least realistically, in a bid to form the government in the center. There is an outside chance that some combination of these parties return to some form of power (in case the electoral process returns such a split that none of the other parties can form a government in themselves, or with a possible coalition, and the small fragments magnet together to scratch out a weak government). In realization of their abysmal performance over the past five years, and no plausible excuse to hide behind, these political parties (especially the PPP) do not even seem to be making a serious bid for political power. There have been no major political rallies or jalsas by the incumbent coalition partners, no sloganeering on television talk-shows, and no real presence in significant parts of even those constituencies where they had previously won in the 2008 elections.

The contest, effectively, is then just a two-party race: that between the entrenched political machinery of PML-N and the newly minted and untested (but ever so exuberant) razakaars of PTI. And this race, for all intents and purposes, will be decided in the plains of Punjab, which is the ‘home-ground’ of the PML-N for several decades now.

The PML-N is contesting on the slogan of their performance in Punjab, compared to the rest of Pakistan, over the past five years. Their claim is that, while the rest of the Pakistan faced corruption charges, and despondent performance by the federal government and respective provincial governments, Punjab, under PML-N has made (marginal) advances (in terms of infrastructure projects). And using this as a tool – mixed with half-baked dreams about how they ‘created’ the atomic bomb, and were ‘considering’ selling electricity to India in their previous government – they are trying to pose as the only party with (some) track record of good governance. But in their rhetoric of past performance and good governance, they forget to mention the episode of ransacking the Supreme Court, being in bed with the khakis (in fact, being the creation of Army), and the Asghar Khan claims (now sanctified, in part, by the Supreme Court). Nonetheless, when compared to the PPP regime, this appeal of the PML-N, even if it is simply a case of picking the lesser evil, does not seem as bad.

The appeal of PTI is more primitive, idealistic, and untested in nature. Having emerged as a national political force to reckon with only about two years back, believing in them is an act of faith. Not having been in power, ever, they do not carry the baggage that other major political parties carry. The plight of the people of Pakistan cannot be pinned on them as a party (though it can be pinned on several individual members of PTI). And having admirably worked out and published policy papers on different sectoral reforms, their appeal to the nation, at the hear of it, is one of “trust me! I can fix this”. And what they lack in experience of governance, is made up by the exceptional fan-following (even cult) of their leader. While supporters of other political parties, when asked, say that they are voting for ‘PPP’ or ‘Noon-League’, the PTI supporter, in all constituencies across Pakistan, would proudly declare that they will be voting for “Imran Khan”. And his appeal, as an individual, of being a straight-shooter and honest man, seems sufficient to drown out the fact that his party is flanked by faces that have never been straight-shooters or honest individuals. Khan Sb.’s rhetoric of the other parties being a ‘drama’ with the same characters taking turns on center stage, seems enough to veil the Achilles’ heel that his party too is far too populated the same tested and discarded characters, this time in different costumes.

Less than a week of campaigning is left, which will be followed by voting and swearing-in of the new government. As we all gear up to caste our votes, and then wait for the results with abated breath, it is hard to wish for or pray for the success of any individual party. The only prayer that I find myself articulating, is that for Pakistan.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected]

1 COMMENT

  1. The author conveniently hides the fact that the Taliban effectively banned PPP, MQM, ANP and PML(Q) from campaigning in a big way in this election restricting their visibility in this General Election. But people are not that fool to ignore the fact. Let us wait for the results.

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