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March 9, 2018

Reluctant to reform


March 9, 2018

The celebration that ensued after senators like Krishna Kumari, Anwar Lal Dean and Behramand Tungi, who belong to modest family backgrounds, were elected has been overshadowed by the allegations of horse trading.

The PPP has, on the one hand, issued tickets to political activists belonging to the middle and lower classes and, on the other, used every possible means to win Senate seats. The Senate elections have shown us both the good and bad side of our politics and democratic process.

Let’s consider the positive aspects first. This system has elected a Dalit woman to the Upper House. This system has elected Anwar Lal Dean on a minority seat. Despite all the rumours, gloomy predictions, uncertainty and difficulties, the Senate elections did take place. Although there are countless contradictions, weaknesses, deficiencies and problems within our political system, it continues to move forward – albeit at a snail’s pace.

But at the same time, this system has also elected a large number of billionaires as senators. The overwhelming majority of senators belong to the elite. Capitalists, feudal lords, tribal chiefs and billionaire investors have all made it to the Upper House. The results of the Senate elections simply reflect the fact that parliamentary politics and the political system are controlled by the elite and privileged classes while political activists who belong to the middle and working classes have consciously been kept out of this system.

Electoral politics, whether it is at the union council level or within National Assembly constituencies, is plagued by money, influence and power. All major political parties indulge in the same practice to lure electables from other parties to strengthen their own position at the expense of others. Can political parties justify the presence of many parliamentarians within their ranks who have contested every election on the ticket of a different party? There are many parliamentarians who have never contested two elections from the platform of a single party. And yet, every party wants to embrace them. It is surprising to see a strong reaction from the same leaders who support and encourage defections in other parties, but cry foul when others do the same.

The other problem with the existing political system is that it represents the interests of just 10 percent population and excludes 90 percent of the population. The political system is not even in a position to satisfy the aspirations and demands of the middle class. The working classes and the poor have been alienated from this political system. No party wants to campaign about the real issues of the people. No effort has been made on the part of the ruling leadership to make the political system accessible and acceptable for a wider segment of society.

The political leadership is not ready to introduce radical reforms to improve its ailing political, economic and social systems. Democracy needs specific conditions to flourish and the existence of feudalism and tribalism hamper the growth of democracy. It is necessary to abolish feudalism and tribalism to strengthen the democratic movement. The existence of strong and independent trade unions, student unions and peasants movements is also necessary to strengthen our democracy. Trade unions, students unions, peasant organisations and social movements serve as nurseries that nurture democratic traditions and values.

Without such organisations, the working classes cannot organise themselves. But the political leadership is not interested in strengthening the basic forums that speak on behalf of the people. How can democracy flourish when students unions have been banned for the last 30 years? The trade union movement is under constant attacks from the ruling elite.

It is true that dictatorships and interventions have weakened democratic institutions, including political parties, and hindered the growth of democratic movement. It is also true that powerful forces dominate politics and state institutions. But when politicians have gained the opportunity to strengthen democratic institutions and structures, they have failed to do so.

The political leadership is not prepared to reform the political system so as to strengthen the democratic process and structures. In a similar vein, the political elite are not willing to organise the major political parties at the grassroots level. If we complain about the shrinking space for democratic forces in the country, then we should also criticise the leadership for not providing a democratic space within major political parties. No political activist or intellectual can rise to a leadership position through an open, transparent and democratic process.

Political parties are not keen on organising themselves from the union council level to the national level on the basis of a democratic structure. Office-bearers at these levels should be elected through a credible election process. Without strengthening the party at the lower level and educating party activists and office-bearers, the democratic movements and structures will remain weak and vulnerable. The party organisation at the local and district levels should be empowered to elect the candidates for the union council, the provincial assembly and the National Assembly. The provincial and national leadership can intervene in this process if gross mistakes or violations have been committed.

The leadership of most major political parties is not interested in engaging the working class and the poor in the political process. Even the relatively better-off middle class individuals find it difficult to engage in politics.

Almost all political parties and independent candidates are accusing each other of horse trading and using money to influence the outcome of the Senate election. Similarly, almost all parties have witnessed defections. What else can we expect from a political system that is based on money, power and patronage? When politics is not based on ideologies, principles and a democratic culture, it can only produce a culture of political corruption, rigging and horse trading. The cleansing of a political system is the responsibility of the political leadership. But the leadership is not playing its role in this regard.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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