News that the people of Multan had once again elected a scion of the Gilani family of Multan left many flabbergasted, albeit for entirely different reasons.
PPP supporters felt they would win handily, considering the constituency was a traditional Gilani stronghold and because Yousuf Raza Gilani had allotted dollops of funds for local development when he was in office. In addition, the PPP had cleverly made a song and dance of supporting the locally popular move of granting the status of a province to the Saraiki belt. Believe it or not, some PPP stalwarts even thought their “brave” defiance, and then “gracious” acceptance, of the court verdict removing Yousuf Raza Gilani from office would earn them electoral dividends. Hence, for them the narrow margin of the PPP victory was a nasty shock.
Ironically, the anti-PPP lot was no less disappointed at the outcome. After more than four years of the most corrupt and incompetent regime the country has ever experienced and in which the errant Gilani paterfamilias had a decisive role, they found it hard to believe that the Multan voter would not reject his son’s candidature out of hand. The “rottenness” the present top leadership had to offer, one PTI veteran said bitterly, “should have made it a foregone conclusion.” Besides, there was a strong opposition candidate who had the tacit support of all the other parties.
The one consolation for the anti-PPP lot was the narrowness of the PPP’s victory because it suggests that in the forthcoming general elections the PPP will find the going difficult in constituencies where their candidates are less powerful than the one in Multan; and in those constituencies where funding for local projects has not been as generous.
However, the narrow margin of the PPP victory was small consolation for the democracy purists and supporters of the “forces of order” who are still struggling to come to terms with democracy. They fear if the scenario is repeated in the forthcoming general election, the PPP may be returned to power; in which case there would be no need to wait for the Last Judgment regarding our fate because that would have already been decided by a feckless and ignorant electorate. For them, therefore, the Multan result was yet another example of how democracy has failed to bring honest leadership to the fore.
For the rest of us, regardless of our political leanings, the Multan election was a stark reminder of the difficulty of trying to work democracy in Pakistan, given the familiar proclivity of the electorate to elect (and re-elect) past, present and prospective felons as their representatives.
Iskander Mirza in his proclamation dissolving parliament on October 20, 1958, said that “Democracy without education is hypocrisy without limitation...illiterate peasants know nothing about running a country...there has to be someone to prevent the people from destroying themselves.”
Alas, self-appointed saviours like him did a far better job of destroying the country than the “ignorant” and “illiterate electorate” ever could, Nevertheless, if truth be told, our future will indeed be bleak if the likes of the Gilanis are returned to power.
Come to think of it, after four years of Zardari democracy, for anyone to argue that democracy can deliver for Pakistan seems absurd. Defending the bad just because the alternative may be worse is a difficult and dispiriting exercise as it often boils down to defending vice just because it is called democracy.
Consider, freedom is a fundamental element of democracy, but our society is riddled with clan, tribe, class, caste and special interests. Furthermore, it is plagued by rival religious sects, each deemed heretical by the other. Worse, these groups, more often than not, vote as a herd because defiance can prove deadly. In the circumstances, how can our society claim to possess the required fundamental freedom that is essential for democracy to subsist?
Consider also that democracy is meant to restore to man the consciousness of his value and, by the removal of oppression, to stand up for the truth. That’s not happening here. Mafias abound, with some political parties operating in the classic mode of mafias. Killing, kidnapping, threats and blackmail are everyday affairs, especially for those who step out of line.
Democracy should have enabled us to face the truth and live with the truth about ourselves, but that has not happened. Nor has democracy spurred us to confront the ugly truth by taking remedial steps. We remain in denial. If anything, democracy has made it easier to sentimentalise and falsify the actual state of affairs.
Pascal said that in a democracy “justice and power must be brought together so that whatever is just may be powerful and whatever is powerful may be just.” Instead, here we have justice without power: Pakistani regimes are notorious for challenging and ignoring court decisions. Nor is power wielded justly. There are countless examples where those in authority act without the slightest concern whether their actions are legal, let alone just.
Actually, the whole attitude of our society towards the law is abhorrent. Wrongdoing is invariably excused by alluding to the fact that our leaders are no better and, in fact, are up to much worse. Because the judiciary is viewed by one party as heavily politicised a conviction is viewed not as a moral indictment, but rather like an electoral defeat. The guilty are treated as if they haven’t committed a crime, just had a decision go against them, as if it’s a temporary setback that will soon be forgotten.
Similarly, tax-dodging and bribery are considered the norm. And no one really feels obliged to do anything. As someone said, red lights, speed limits and no-smoking signs are looked upon merely as suggestions or options at best.
Currently a member of a provincial cabinet has the dinner of 25 prisoners delivered to his house from a prison every day to feed his private guests/servants. The logistic requirements for this scandalous arrangement have been entrusted to a provincial police officer who is dutifully carrying out his orders. Eventually, the officer’s conscience finally got the better of him and he “ratted” on the minister to a former senior civil servant. Infuriated, the latter called up a TV channel and told them exactly where to go, and at what time, to film this daily heist and expose the thievery. The TV channel did nothing believing that discretion is the better part of valour.
Considering that such examples of fraud are now legion, it is not surprising that the (disillusioned) voter turnout in the Multan election was only 33 percent, but what is baffling is why the PPP candidate political party should nevertheless have accumulated as many as 65,000 votes. It’s probably because the voters know that the other parties are no better, so what the heck. And that’s the point. The present political system manifestly is not a panacea for the ills that afflict us. Actually, if democracy of the variety practised here is thought to be the only remedy, soon there won’t be a patient left to cure.
Anyway, Pakistan’s focus should be on dynamic economic growth. As someone said, contemporary history suggests that political systems don’t impact growth for better or for worse, but political leaders do. China has done much better than Vietnam, although both have authoritarian communist systems. The difference lies in the quality of their leaders.
So what we really need is a political system that has the best prospect of throwing up good leadership, regardless of what name it goes by.
To conclude, if the likes of Abdul Qadir Gilani can get elected, then obviously the Westminster type of parliamentary democracy isn’t working for us. And why not? After all, it’s a British artefact and best suited to their genius, not ours.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org