Upholding democracy

January 20,2019

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Suddenly, some of the sages appearing on electronic media and writing in newspapers have realised that they have been short-changed. Many of those who were crying hoarse for the past many years against the democratically-elected governments of the PPP and PML-N are now telling us that the PTI is no better.

In fact, according to the sages, the PTI has proved itself much worse than the previous governments. They now feel that the ruling party is a bunch of uncouth and uncivilised braggadocios who had been pretending to be down-to-earth.

This change of heart is not a good omen. It’s not that the PTI is not what the sages say – it is and it can be much worse – but the point is that after ten years of bad-mouthing democracy and talking against politicians and against politics per say, this tirade against the PTI is not only against the party. It is essentially telling the people: ‘see, you want democracy? Is this the democracy you want? Are these the people you democratically elect to lead you?’

Through this lamentation, not only is the PTI being tarnished, it is also the entire system of democratic elections and politics by the people for the people that is being painted black. What do we see? The real leaders of the people are maligned, a sham political party full of turncoats is concocted and then that concoction is projected as an elixir. It is hammered into people’s minds that whatever civilian leadership they have been trusting was a group of cheaters and worthless assembly members. The whole gamut of political leadership coming from parties such the ANP, MQM, PML-N, PPP, and whoever commanded the respect of the people was a farce.

This is not new; we have all seen these tactics time and again. Keep telling people that Khawja Nazimuddin was bad and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was worse; Maulvi Tameezuddin was an enemy of the state and Fazlul Haq was a traitor; Fatima Jinnah was an Indian agent and all those respecting and supporting her were conspiring against the country; Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nauroz Khan deserved to be behind bars; Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo and Attaullah Mengal were Afghan spies; Sheikh Mujib could command the majority in parliament but didn’t deserve to be prime minister; Z A Bhutto was venerated by the people but was fit to be hanged on dubious charges.

So what’s new now? Nothing – almost nothing. The way the PTI came to power was a mockery of democracy, in the same manner as Junejo or Jamali became prime ministers. But when they became prime ministers, they should have been allowed to complete their terms. Abortions of democracy – no matter how crippled that democracy is – do more harm to the system. Blaming Junejo for corruption and then Jamali for incompetence served power hunger and not the country. Imran Khan’s lack of wit, and his colleagues’ lack of wisdom are the latest in line.

As incompetent a civilian as possible becomes the ‘people’s leader’; a feeble façade of democracy is created and then it is kept perpetually crumbling. People find themselves frightened of the falling system, frightened into saying, ‘bring it down, bring it down, we can’t bear the sight of a collapsing building for long, let it collapse, so that we can heave a sigh of relief.’ This begins as a tragicomedy for the spectators to be amused with for a while, before the tension of a tragic finale. The fallen hero is shown to be the victim of his own weaknesses that neither he nor his admirers had realised before.

The current government in power is not delivering, nor can it be expected to deliver in the coming months; but all governments need to complete their constitutional term. Unconstitutional abortions of political governments are not in favour of the country, neither are such measures for the better of the people. The harm is much more in an opposite scenario – the instances of such harm include the situation we faced in the mid-1960s and in 1971, the breaking up of the country and the consequences of the foreign policies of Zia and Musharraf. History books in Pakistani schools and the textbooks of Pakistan Studies seldom discuss these problems objectively and truthfully.

So, you ask, ‘can we continue like this? What about the harm the PTI will do? What about the insults their ministers are hurling at media briefings and TV talk shows?’ Well, it is the people who are observing all this, and it is they who have the right to remove this government in the next free and fair elections, without smarting under unelected and unrepresentative interference and self-arrogated guardianship.

What if the country falls? It won’t. What if the provinces revolt? They won’t. Even now, it is not too late. If, and only if, all stakeholders decide that the democratically-elected institutions deserve respect, the country and its democracy will survive.

If some of the new politicians in the block are uncivilised and don’t know how to behave in public, they may learn. Even if they don’t, the people will kick them out in the next election – only if the people are allowed to do so. It will only take at least 25 years of uninterrupted democracy – that means at least five free and fair elections, held after a complete five-year tenure of a civilian government – to have democracy take hold. Harassed civilian governments on the tenterhooks won’t deliver and neither will democracy under them. This current brouhaha should not cross the red line; that means you criticise the government and hold them accountable, but don’t ask for their removal.

The PTI itself needs to realise that victimising the opposition will cause harm to the system. They should concentrate on their work rather than showing off their cosmetic changes such as opening of Governor Houses to the public. Also, the opposition should unite but not to undermine democracy. They should once again read the Charter of Democracy, that marvellous document signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Both fell victim first to their own arrogance and then to the arrogance of others.

Finally, one would humbly request a few things from the new chief justice. The judicial system needs to be revamped so that people can get justice. Judicial activism should ideally be focused on the work of the judiciary. Since the new jargon in Pakistan revolves around ‘institutions’, we need to make sure that all institutions are treated fairly and justly. The recent impression of partial treatment that has been created is not entirely out of place. Selectivity selects its own detractors – a situation we must hope to see a change in.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: mnazir1964yahoo.co.uk


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