Elections 2018 have now been held. Candidates across the country campaigned in their respective constituencies, running from pillar to post to meet and convince as many voters as possible.
Numerous corner meetings and mini-jalsas were held each day. The attendance of candidates at local weddings, sporting events and funerals had suddenly spiked. If a funeral was missed for any reason, homes of the deceased were visited to condole with their families. Even the most technologically challenged candidates tried to have their presence registered on social media. Pictures and videos were taken and shared in droves. Candidates realised the importance of their presence and messaging on local Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups, to complement one-on-one meetings with voters on the ground.
For just a couple of months (ending with the elections), the tables had turned. It was candidates chasing voters, and not the other way round. Countless groups of voters in villages, wards and union councils, including groups based on caste and religious lines, held meetings to decide which candidates to back. These groups are cognisant of the bargaining power they possess during the election season. In certain cases, they demand commitments of varying natures from the candidates in exchange for votes. Candidates made promises to their voters – with some even saying anything that could help them cross the line on the election day.
Candidates contesting elections on party tickets sought votes on two counts: 1) their party’s brand; and 2) their individual reputation, promises and ability to ‘deliver’ – the importance of each varying, depending on the voter and the constituency. But what was the nature of these promises and ‘delivery’? Sadly, in most cases, the promises had very little to do with the primary role of an MNA, which is that of a lawmaker. Demands from and promises by candidates mostly revolved around the governance of the constituency rather than representation in the national or provincial assemblies. Consequently, at times, it seemed that the general elections were more about electing super nazims instead of lawmakers.
The candidates themselves are responsible, partially at least, for this problem. Many candidates willingly play along the mistaken notion of the role of an MNA for one or both of the following reasons: 1) they are afraid of losing voters by refusing their demands, even if it isn’t their job; and 2) they want to become MNAs precisely to become de facto super nazims – chiefs of their respective constituencies basically, calling the shots on all important governance and administrative matters of the constituency, and carrying influence over both elected and local government officials and civil servants serving there.
For such candidates, the ambition of becoming an MNA has less to do with making any contributions in the National Assembly, and more to do with seizing ‘control’ of their constituency.
MNAs elected on this basis have shown little interest in or competence for their actual job – attending National Assembly sessions, considering and proposing legislative measures, raising important national issues on the assembly floor and performing their due role in the assembly’s various committees, which can play a vital role in overseeing the affairs of the government and state. This lack of interest and competence has had a direct impact in weakening parliament.
Having said that, there are many politicians in all parties who have played their due roles in the National Assembly as MNAs, but unfortunately, they are a minority.
This minority is also perhaps the only reason we ever get to hear good news from the National Assembly. The super nazim MNAs have also had an effect in weakening the local government because of their over-enthusiastic interest in a job that isn’t theirs.
Their overbearing influence in governance matters of their respective constituencies has inhibited the ability of elected local governments to perform their already limited functions, and develop and strengthen a constituency.
In order to truly develop into a mature democracy, that is able to identify and address the needs of the country and its citizens, it is important that we acknowledge, appreciate and respect everyone’s respective role within that democracy.
We can only expect to fix our problems and improve our country’s situation if we enable all institutions and the people working within those institutions, to perform their due roles, and not encroach upon the domains of others. One way of doing this is by electing MNAs on the basis of their ability to honestly and effectively represent us in the National Assembly, and not on the basis of a job that isn’t theirs.
The writer is a freelance contributor.