Monday July 22, 2024

Beyond elections

Looking beyond the coming elections, Pakistan’s future looks bleak. There is little question that el

By Ahmed Quraishi
January 09, 2013
Looking beyond the coming elections, Pakistan’s future looks bleak. There is little question that elections 2013 will prove more divisive and chaotic than anything we have seen before. Mere transfer of power through elections is no longer an achievement in the Pakistani context. With the near-collapse of governance and no prospect of fresh blood or thinking at the top even after an election, there is virtually little reason to be excited about parliament completing its five-year term.
The 2008 general election was probably the biggest rigged election in Pakistani history. Two foreign governments and Pakistan’s president colluded to bring handpicked faces from self-exile and help them come to power in Islamabad. A special law was passed to wash their sins. Many of those new faces lied under oath and concealed their foreign passports and allegiances. Parliament produced by that arrangement boasted some of the most discredited characters that any society can produce, not to mention the new emerging facts on voter fraud committed by political parties.
So what is the way out?
Recently, two examples have surfaced that show how two floundering nations were rescued from total chaos and collapse without resorting to extreme measures such as military intervention. In both cases, the judiciary, the military and civil society played an active role and the face of politics was changed for good.
The first example is Russia.
Like him or hate him, Putin saved Russia from further disintegration, curtailed crippling corruption, and prevented organised heist: the garage sale of lucrative state assets. More importantly, Putin stopped foreign meddling in the Russian political system.
The best part is that all of this was done using Russian law and constitution. The Russian military and judiciary played an active role in this transformation. If opportunists can use the law to cheat and plunder, then state institutions have the right to use the same law to set things right.
In the second example of a ‘civilian-coated’ coup, the Kuwaiti emir managed to disqualify most of his opponents, retire formidable political figures, and bring new faces to the 50-year fledgling Gulf Arab democracy.
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed did this through a few bold moves. He dissolved parliament and threatened to impose martial law if political parties refused to end street chaos, violence and sectarian politics. After dismissing parliament, he introduced a law redrawing electoral constituencies to break tribal and sectarian politics. He formed a commission to vet candidates running for parliament seats. In last month’s fresh elections, many veteran politicians were disqualified. The emir’s interim government encouraged inexperienced but capable women and men to contest elections to break the monopoly of tested and tried politicians. The result? One of the wealthiest Gulf states now has a parliament pledging to introduce constructive politics geared toward closing the development gap with the thriving economies of Dubai and Qatar.
In Pakistan, we are in a worse place than Russia and possibly Kuwait. We have a political elite that divides Pakistanis using language, province, and sect but remains united through alliances and marriages to enrich itself. Our political system has not changed faces since the mid eighties, and our political parties are choking with their own stale blood that resists change.
The worst part is that our politics and politicians are now so violent they threaten the country of breakup at the slightest hint of forced change.
The Pakistani civil society, military leadership and the Supreme Court should consider creating an out-of-the-box Pakistani plan for change. Our reform process has to start from the top, with major changes to laws and the system. We either do this or wait for Arab spring-style chaos that would cripple the state and invite foreign meddling.