The second transition

  • Not an auspicious beginning!

The second democratic transition was seen by many as a beacon of hope for our beleaguered and divided nation. Traditionally the initial days of any newly installed government, termed as the honeymoon period, are inspirational, full of excitement and activity in anticipation of better times ahead. One hundred days has become a random number during which the roadmap for the future is presented to the people. Unfortunately, the chaotic performance of the incumbents has squandered bulk of that goodwill within the first ninety days.

It became quite apparent soon after taking over, that the new set-up is unfamiliar both with the parliamentary and state affairs. No legislation except the finance bill could be placed before the parliament as the house committees have still not been constituted.

Credit could be due for two major achievements though. First, its success in persuading the Saudis to sanction a financial rescue package of six billion dollars with UAE expected to follow by chipping a bit more sometime. Second, an agreement worked out with the Tehreek Labaik Pakistan (TLP) that ended three days of carnage, blockade, treasonous threats, abuse and incitement to violence. There is a second viewpoint on both.

The finance minister declared we are out of the woods and the scare of bankruptcy and default is set aside for the time being. The later events and the figures indicate otherwise. The economic downslide has not been reversed, the rupee is in a free fall and the confidence of the business community has not been restored. No mention is ever made of the few thousand crores that will consequently be added to our already ballooning national debt. Enhancing debt liability without certain recourse to building the capacity of repayment is the continuation of the same policy that has prevented the country from achieving self-sufficiency. Where are the promised ‘out of box’ solutions and the invisible stack of money from overseas pouring into the economy?

The benevolence of the Chinese is reported to be not so forthcoming. Their legendry friendship caters primarily to their own larger global interests, in which our strategic location fits in. The friendly super power has always offered a good ear and a helping hand but never a free lunch or a handout. The memory of the cancellation of his visit to Islamabad due to Dharna that delayed CPEC by one year must still be fresh in the Chinese president’s mind. Perhaps the visit of the prime minister has mended some fences.

The finance minister declared we are out of the woods and the scare of bankruptcy and default is set aside for the time being

Likewise, a minority mob that challenged the writ of the Supreme Court, armed forces and the prime minister all at the same time was allowed to dictate its own terms of surrender. The perpetrators were roaming free to strike at will at any time of their choosing. Were we not led to believe that hard and bold decisions will be taken in the national interest and the policy of treading the path of least resistance will be dispensed with forever in the new order? The party must come upfront with its policy to deal with extremism, without which no meaningful progress is possible in any sector.

Even the execution of the populous moves such as selling minor assets and opening a few state buildings for public viewing were devastating examples of poor planning, bad timing and undue haste. A scheme that could have paid rich dividends in public relations was turned into a subject of ridicule. The contradictory statements at the highest levels keep adding to confusion, exposing the lack of preparation and comprehension of the complex challenges the nation faces. A lot of enthusiasm is on display without much substance.

The political environment is also getting murkier by the day. Some believe it is being engineered as a diversion from real issues. The Senate and the Punjab and National Assemblies have turned into a pandemonium ever since Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by NAB on corruption charges and a web being woven around Asif Zardari. According to PTI there are two categories of parliamentarians. Those in PTI are all saints and pure. The devils, thieves and robbers all sit in the opposition. Such hostilities and personal uncivil attacks have consumed all the time of the house that should be devoted to discussing ways to build the nation.

Two factors are ominous. First, several key political appointments made by the prime minister have not met with public acclaim. Second, many of the recent actions of the prime minister have negated what he has been advocating as his convictions and his ideology. The whimsical police transfers are a case in point that has punctured the balloon of the flagship police reforms. Not an auspicious beginning!

It is also the general perception that Prime Minister Imran Khan does not have the instant solutions to complex problems that he claimed to have while in opposition. Welcome to the real world. It is easier said than done. His team is still struggling to assume the role of government where their words, spoken with responsibility, should translate into policy. Instead, they are high at rhetoric and low on detail and action.

The government is following the policy of confrontation and hard line against its opponents (PML-N being the main target) that the party had effectively followed while in opposition. It succeeded in getting the then Prime Minister disqualified and sent to prison on corruption charges. Now the PTI is in government. It must move forward and not keep looking back. Corruption is just one of the dilemmas the nation faces. It is time the government comes out of this obsession and begins to deal simultaneously with countless other important issues that directly impact the daily lives of the ordinary citizen.

Opposition is the second wheel of the cart of parliamentary democracy. Weak opposition (or a single party government) gives in to dictatorship. A strong opposition is a check over authoritarian rule and a preparation for an alternative (shadow) government. The democratic system does not grant absolute powers to any single individual or institution. Power is distributed evenly, across the board with its own checks and balances. All institutions must function in harmony and allowed to grow together without stepping on each other’s toes.

Our coalition government lacks the two third majority in the parliament and Senate, required to pass any new legislation. The support of the opposition votes will thus be imperative to introduce reforms. The policy of driving the opposition against the wall is likely to lead to chaos and less legislation. There will not be any winners. Imran Khan gave us hope. He must not disappoint.