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Opinion

July 1, 2018

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Stories around ‘electables’

It is likely that you have seen a video of a young woman going ecstatic about the news she had just heard. Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She stunned the Democratic Party establishment by beating one of the senior leaders in House of Representatives in Tuesday’s primary in New York.

If she wins against her Republican opponent in November, which she most likely will because it is a Democratic territory, she, at 28, would be the youngest woman elected to the US Congress. This is why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s triumph is seen as some kind of a political revolution.

I have my reasons to be distracted by something that is so removed from our own political anxieties. Essentially, here is an example of how an electoral exercise can throw up such heart-warming surprises and validate the process of democracy. But more significant in this case is the system of primaries in which the members and supporters of a political party have the right to choose their official candidates.

Otherwise, how could a social activist who had been a waitress defeat a prominent leader – Joseph Crawley – who was seen as the potential speaker of the House? It is true that the American political structure is very different and we, in a parliamentary system, have our own version of democracy. In fact, we have continued to struggle with the idea of democracy and the current proceedings have left us wondering about the meaning and the purpose of a national election.

So far as the American political practice is concerned, a primary is a preliminary election undertaken to determine a party’s nominee for a specific office. After all, individuals who seek to represent the will of the people in a legislature must have certain credentials. In addition, there must be some way to judge the mood and preferences of the supporters of a party before selecting a candidate who would represent them.

Now, look at how our major parties have chosen their candidates. There certainly is a pattern and the parties do go through the motions of inviting applications and forming selection boards before awarding the tickets. But some rules of the game appear to have changed this time. Every election has its tally of turncoats. This is what politics means in societies where democratic practices and values are not deeply ingrained.

But there has been some kind a traffic jam when the so-called ‘electables’ began to march from one party to another just days before the nomination papers were to be filed and party candidates were formally announced. Since it is part of the bargain that the ‘electables’ will be fielded as candidates, the original members of long-standing and proven loyalty have to be bypassed.

We have been witness to how this exigency has led to protests and bickering. In some cases, decisions had to be reversed. Yet, the entire spectacle is quite instructive. The irony of this is that while the electoral contest, ostensibly between the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif and the PTI of Imran Khan, is so vicious, politicians seem to suffer no qualms about changing sides, as if they are loitering in the same area without any ideological baggage of any kind.

As I have indicated, the environment in which the present electoral exercise is being conducted is unique in many ways. A number of political leaders, mainly of the PML-N, are under pressure because of court cases and investigations on the part of NAB. There are specific cases I may refer to, but I am speaking in general terms.

Ideally, elections in any fledgling democracy should inspire excitement and hope. It is an exercise that allows an eruption of political debate on issues of national significance. Elections, as the basis of a democratic system, celebrate dissent and a multiplicity of opinions. They are all about freedom of expression. A conflict of ideas enhances the creative potential of a society.

Unfortunately, a rational democratic debate doesn’t seem possible in the present circumstances. The media is not able to project it in an objective manner. Owing to confusion about what is possible and what is not, a high level of self-censorship has shrouded the media landscape. Visibility has further been curtailed by a blatant rejection of professional and ethical standards by some sections of the media.

But irrespective of what one thinks about and how one interprets the moves that are being made on the political stage, the show is there to watch. There is so much that can be the subject of a political thriller – and we do have several Hollywood movies on the media’s encounters with the powers that be. I should refuse to be distracted by this subject because I am personally very interested in such movies and have a list that I suggested as the curriculum for a course in postgraduate media studies.

Ah, I am still too tempted to not mention just one movie. This is ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, which is based on the malicious campaign launched by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the US in the early 1950s against suspected Communists. He had created an air of paranoia and fear in the country. It was broadcast journalist Edward Murrow who exposed McCarthy in his weekly television programme. I do find it relevant.

The material that we have at our disposal may not provide a similar story of courage and defiance and the reason is not only because our media is so submissive and fearful. Our society also lacks a collective commitment to rule of law and the ability to promote unpopular causes.

Still, the ‘electables’ and how they were told to follow a certain script can truly figure in a political tragicomedy. There are moments when you laugh at the absurdity of the events that take place. At other times, your heart sinks in despair to see what is happening to subvert the very principles of democracy.

There were many families deserving of a story of intrigue and betrayal. The latest example is that of Manzoor Wattoo and his affairs with various parties. It was a measure of Zardari’s political style that he had chosen Manzoor Wattoo to lead his party in Punjab, to the chagrin of party loyalists. Look at what has happened to the party in Punjab.

Manzoor Wattoo, though, has made the prescribed effort to salvage himself and his family almost at the very last moment. It was reported on Thursday evening that the PTI had issued tickets to Manzoor Wattoo’s son and daughter. And there are others who have their tickets. But, oh, where are they going?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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