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Wednesday December 08, 2021

Democracy of riddles

November 18, 2021

Pakistan’s democracy is a curious one – in which the people play very little part, and most often they do not even know what is happening behind the scenes or who is pulling the reins. This gives an excellent opportunity to the many bloggers and vloggers who dominate social media to come up with theories of various kinds based on their own information – or perhaps their own imagination.

Currently, we are in a phase where ‘secrets’ are assuming immense significance in the country. There are indications that the PDM-led political opposition is considering a no-confidence move against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in its first round. Sanjrani, like the mythical Cheshire Cat, has smiled his way through all kinds of problems in the past, winning the upper house when this, according to the numbers game, should not have happened, and again shockingly defeating a vote of no-confidence as earlier the numbers suggested that they went against him. There is conjecture that he has support from quarters behind the scenes.

In our country, what is happening behind the scenes is more significant than anything that appears on the forefront. We as the nation should be questioning whether we have a genuine democracy or one that resembles a children’s puppet show, in a box, with no real existence as far as its characters go. Many believe that this has been particularly true of the PTI government since the time it came to power. But there are signals now that suggest that the winds may be turning. The political opposition appears to have sensed this, with Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari meeting Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the chief of the PDM, for the first time after the PPP left the alliance and with street protests, some featuring donkey carts and cycles, appearing in different parts of Punjab.

More significant developments are also taking place, even if we cannot see them, unless we don a pair of magic eyeglasses. Few people in the country possess these glasses. Last week, the PTI had to call off a joint session of parliament at the last minute. It was said that dozens of its members, somewhere between 30 and 40, were not willing to attend the session. They cited various reasons for this absence, but the general assessment by media reporters and others is that politicians in Punjab are now already looking towards the next general elections and are deciding on how they could best manage to retain, or win, a seat in this contest.

At the same time, the government’s key allies openly showed displeasure with the government with the PML-Q speaking of broken promises and deals left unfinished. The MQM, too, has been vocal about its disappointment. We know that as a government that has a thin majority in parliament the PTI cannot manage without these allies.

Imran Khan in a speech to his cabinet members has again urged them not to panic. But this time, it is understood that the PM’s mantra has held less weight and failed to give assurances to ministers. The factors for this change of mind are the rising rate of inflation and the fact that MNAs and MPAs face the toughest questioning and angry responses when, and if, they visit their constituencies.

But beyond this culture of secrecy in a country where even minutes of cabinet meetings are not revealed to the public – and the contrast this holds with a democracy such as that in the US where Donald Trump’s dossiers of papers on a variety of issues are, by the court order, likely to be made public, there is the question of what lies ahead. Indeed this is a question all of us need to focus on.

Pakistan is ‘good at’ getting rid of governments. It has overthrown one elected government after the other, notably in the 1990s when the PPP and PML-N governments were both removed from office twice and later when the Musharraf government was sent packing. Manipulations and interaction with players behind the scenes hold the key to these actions and to the inevitable fall of governments.

Many believe that the Sanjrani case could be a test, and if a vote of no-confidence against him succeeds this time, the opposition could choose to move into more sensitive territories. But what do they plan to do after this? There appears to be little political discussion in all the debates, dialogues, monologues and other talks that we hear on television or read on blogs.

No one appears to suggest that they have solutions or know what to do to handle a country where the economy is in the hands of the IMF, where inflation is out of control, where public anger is running high, where there is energy shortage, and where there are plenty of other problems. Unfortunately, the people don’t have any guidance from political leaders on how to solve.

If we are truly in the run-up to the general elections, whether at the scheduled time or earlier – political parties should be telling us how they plan to rescue the country from the crises it faces at present. So far, no one has brought anything to the table. There is no economic plan and no suggestion of how things will be made any different from what they are under Imran Khan and his PTI. There is no magic formula, but there can be planning and some degree of assurance to people about their plans. We know that the PTI government handled many things with incompetence, and governance was not at its ideal.

However, it did try, and in some areas, such as the working of the NCOC, the government did well. This too should be on record. The question for any new government is how it can get past the goalposts that have been set and deal with the problems currently confronting the country. There are many of them – ranging from foreign policy, ties with our neighbours on both sides of the border, international isolation, and relationship with the US to the economic mess that we see at home.

It will not be easy to resolve these issues, but a way has to be found and some plan put out before the people. A real democracy can exist only when the people know of political parties’ future plans and are involved in devising them. Without a full-scale plan that can offer some relief to the people beleaguered by the high rate of food items and other problems, a change would be meaningless. We wonder if those who play from their secret positions will back any such alteration in the political setup within the country.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com