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Monday June 24, 2024

Railroading democracy

By Editorial Board
March 27, 2023

Such is the political acrimony in the power corridors of the country that our stakeholders have resorted to writing letters and statements of disappointments to each other. The latest missive comes from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif who has responded to President Arif Alvi’s letter to the PM regarding the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections. PM Shehbaz says President’s Alvi’s communique reads like a PTI press release, is “blatantly partisan in nature”, and supports Imran Khan’s “one-sided and anti-government” views. The president on Friday had written a letter to PM Shehbaz, urging him to implement the Supreme Court’s orders regarding elections in Punjab and KP. However, Shehbaz says that Alvi’s letter “was not reflective of the president’s constitutional role”, and that the president has been doing the PTI’s bidding ever since he took office during the previous government’s tenure. While this may sound harsh, independent observers too have pointed out over the past few months that the president has neglected to abide by the duties of the constitutional head of a state – who should be non-partisan. That said, there is little to justify the political crisis Pakistan is facing. And regardless of the president’s role in matters political in the past nearly year or so, his urging the government to hold elections is him sticking by his constitutional duties.

The decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to delay polls in Punjab till October 8 and the ruling PDM’s support of the move not only speaks volumes about the political polarization in the country but also is an alarming indication of just how bad our political stage has become. With seemingly no room left for dialogue, it is unfortunate that a democratically elected civilian government thinks it is okay not to hold elections in the constitutionally stipulated time frame. While some have pointed to the coalition government’s fear of elections, many observers have also said that the devil-may-care attitude could also stem from a perception within the coalition parties that Imran Khan has been able to get away with everything under the sun and has only gained popularity instead of facing any consequences – so why should they play nice? Analysts had earlier too noted that the PML-N had regretted allowing Imran’s 2014 dharna to disrupt Pakistan’s politics knowing well how powerful his backing was. While this may to some extent explain the thinking behind the current almost-obsessive spate of arrests and detentions, there is no excuse – legal, political, or ethical – to indulge in such politics.

Politics of revenge is possibly the most tempting resort for any government in our country but in the longer run it has only served to weaken politicians. Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto realized this and signed the Charter of Democracy. Imran Khan is still not ready to; some would say that, since his politics thrives of chaos, he may never look at negotiation favourably. The onus then – whether unfair or not – falls on the government. Yes, in any democratic country, nothing of this sort would have been entertained – neither how Imran came to power nor how the opposition was treated in his time and nor what is happening at the moment. If we start relying on ‘if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander’ politics, we may end up in a place much worse than how we started out in 2008. All political parties need to sit together and chart a way forward – for their own survival.