The stakeholder dilemma

If ‘ordinary’ civilian knows which way lies power, why do political parties pretend to pander to whatever spin they wish to give their quest for power?

By Editorial Board
June 07, 2024
A vendor holds a Pakistani flag as he waits for customers beside his stall alongside a street in Islamabad. — AFP/File

Who really are Pakistan’s political ‘stakeholders’? The more optimistic would say political parties. Those with eternal hope may even venture ‘the people’! But pretty much everyone in the country knows who the absolute real stakeholders are. Which is why coquettishness no longer suits Pakistan’s political parties when it comes to this question. If the ‘ordinary’ civilian knows which way lies power, why do political parties pretend to pander to whatever spin they wish to give their quest for power? It is in this context that former president Dr Arif Alvi’s recent statement – that the PTI will only engage in dialogue with the ‘real’ stakeholders – should be seen. Apart from absolute candidness – which is always refreshing – the fact that our political parties too know where their salvation lies underscores a longstanding problem: their unhealthy obsession to be the charmed one, the ‘blue-eyed boy’, the favoured flavour of the moment – and any number of such euphemisms – rather than earning legitimacy through the democratic process. Every political party’s narrative of collusion and coercion paints a grim picture of the political landscape, where real power dynamics are starkly different from the constitutional framework, a reality that political parties often exploit for short-term gains.

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Our politicians have historically sought institutional patronage to gain or maintain power, resulting in a vicious cycle where elected leaders have done precious little to strengthen democratic institutions but have gone beyond the necessary to seek favour from powerful but unelected structures. This dependency undermines the very essence of democracy, where the people, through their elected representatives, should be the ultimate decision-makers. And what are we to do with Dr Alvi’s statement? How does it resonate with the PTI’s rather overzealous supporters who have recently discovered Pakistan’s many political power loopholes and pitfalls? How can they reconcile the rather pragmatic politics of some of the PTI’s more political leaders with the revolutionary messaging being virtue-signaled by the PTI’s social media teams and ardent supporters abroad? When political parties prioritize securing institutional favour over building robust and accountable institutions, the dream of democracy, as well as genuine accountability, remains elusive.

For true accountability and democratic governance, political parties must extricate themselves from the shadows of Pakistan’s power plays. This requires a collective effort to uphold the supremacy of civilian rule and the constitution. Political leaders must work towards creating a political culture where power is derived from the mandate of the people – and nowhere else. The solution lies in a concerted effort by all political stakeholders to adhere to democratic norms and practices, resist the temptation to seek interventions in political affairs, focus on building and empowering democratic institutions, engage in sincere and inclusive political dialogue, and hold themselves accountable to the public and the law. The PTI, along with other political parties, must recognize that their short-sighted – and self-serving – strategies ultimately weaken democratic governance. The real stakeholders in any democracy are the people, and it is to them that political leaders must be accountable. One would think that our political parties will have learnt that by now. One would be wrong.

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