A little grace

April 16, 2023

There is a lot of talk about the PDM’s fears regarding the PTI’s perceived popularity

A little grace


e are going through political anarchy of a dangerous nature. People in power are making excuses to defy the constitutional writ and rules. How one wishes that Pakistan’s biggest political alliance today would pause to consider its name and stick to the idea it seeks to convey.

The coalition established in September 2020, of around a dozen political parties, chose the name Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to reflect its agenda and intentions. So where is the ‘democratic’ decision making? Why can’t we have elections in two provinces ahead of the general elections? India, next door, holds elections in several phases.

A lot is being said of the PDM’s fears regarding the opposition’s (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf) popularity. It should be put to test. A leader with a heavy mandate might find it more difficult to survive in office than the one with a slim majority. Remember the case of Nawaz Sharif despite his ‘heavy mandate.’

It has been said that early elections in the Punjab will establish its hegemony over the country. Well, will it be something new? Punjab has dominated politics in one form or the other for decades. The battle for the biggest province (population wise) has hardly affected other provinces. We have had governments led by parties that won only in the Punjab. Balochistan is the only province which follows, or is made to follow, the party leading the government in the Centre. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh have their own dynamics and centres of support. KP has regularly sprung up surprises and Sindh has sided with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) irrespective of its performance.

In politics, defeat is a reality. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will have to show some grace, even if they lose badly. The 2023 elections will not be the last in the Punjab; there will be many more; may be even earlier than expected. The party’s current narrative is very weak and damaging the party more than some of its leaders comprehend. They can let the PTI win, if it is popular, and let it start working on its deconstruction. With international and domestic financial crises expected to linger on, it will be hard for the PTI to stick to retain its “attractiveness.”

The PML-N may need some guarantees on how to keep, whoever is in power in Lahore, neutral during the eventual elections to the National Assembly. While this does not sound very attractive, may be the Supreme Court may have to step in here.

Like many in our troubled political history, the PDM is finding it difficult to tread a democratic path. From day one, it was eyeing for the establishment’s support to dispose of the PTI’s four-year-old government. When the tide finally turned, it went for the kill with only a few more votes in the parliament.

On the face, it seemed autonomous and democratic. However, the details emerging later through ‘candid’ interviews and leaks have indicated that a shift in the establishment’s stance had a decisive role in ousting Imran Khan from the prime minister’s office. This means that whatever acceptance they were looking for through their political narrative was meaningless.

Now, the PDM government is setting bad precedents for generations to come. A delay in holding elections now will become the basis for similar actions in the future.

The two primary excuses being given – lack of funds and a poor law and order situation – do not hold water. The Supreme Court has gone through the responses of the Defence and Finance Ministries and thrown both out of the window. A much stronger reason is needed to justify the insistence on elections across the country at the same time.

As for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, it claims moral high ground, but its conduct leaves much to be desired. Brains that matter in the PTI should closely examine their actions. What they have been doing over the past year has not resulted in early elections. What they have in their hands at the moment is a date for the Punjab provincial elections. Many in the PTI ranks are not happy with the dissolution of the two provincial legislatures. Earlier, the party had deserted the National Assembly in haste. The constitution allows dissolution of assemblies and resignations. But were those wise decisions?

The PTI pretends to be democratic but sheds any semblance of decent politics as soon as there is the slightest inconvenience. The chief justice of Pakistan, for instance, draws flak for taking up a petition against former deputy speaker Qasim Suri. However, when he orders the incumbent government to stick to a 90-day election deadline, he is the best judge ever.

The neutrality of state institutions is direly needed. The only welcome intervention on their part one can think of is to convince both sides to sit together and resolve their issues on the negotiating table. It has been argued that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the defection clause triggered the current crisis and there is a growing demand that the court stay away from political cases. But can the politicians be persuaded to resolve all matters in the parliament?

There is nothing to be gained from making judges and generals controversial. Politicians need to stop maligning the state institutions and dragging them into political tussles.

There is general agreement that decency and morality are lacking in political conduct. People in power ought to exercise their authority with civility. There should be less focus on partisan gains and more attention to the people’s welfare.

In Pakistan, we hardly debate whether politics should be held to a higher moral standard, or whether pragmatic considerations should have the final word. For Aristotle, the proper aim of politics was moral virtue. Machiavelli’s Prince, however, exalted pragmatism over morality. It’s time perhaps we start moving towards morality. A big first step can be for the PDM and the PTI to hold unconditional talks and agree on a date for general elections.

The writer, a journalist for 33 years, has been an editor at the BBC in Pakistan for over two decades. Currently, he is the managing editor at Independent Urdu

A little grace