Pakistani Democracy Needs A Different Crop Of Politicians To Survive And Thrive

Pakistani Democracy Needs A Different Crop Of Politicians To Survive And Thrive
Petty party politics, vested interests, political extremism and a colonial legacy all have resulted in the transformation of our ruling elites into leeches plundering public money. In fact, this has come to characterize our national politics. The assemblies in Pakistan are fast becoming a battleground thanks to political intolerance that has thrived under the watchful eyes of powerful politicians.This behaviour is detrimental to democracy. It beggars belief that our elected representatives can stoop to the level of abusing one an other ,and throwing budget books and sanitisers as well as physically fighting, ultimately turning the floor of the National Assembly into a fish market.

The serious debating session over the budget document 2021-22 – of which the common perception is that it involved fudging with figures as well as burdening the ordinary citizens – was hijacked by hawks in the treasury benches and the opposition alike. It is important to note that the responsibility of ensuring peaceful proceedings on the floor of the house rests more on the shoulders of the treasury benches rather than the opposition.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this was a deliberate attempt on the part of the political party in power, aimed at taking public focus away from budget – simply because it offered incentives to big businesses and the privileged class, while nothing was dropped in the lap of the vast majority trapped in grinding poverty.

Since birds of the same feathers flock together, we notice that the same ill winds (recall recent scenes in the Sindh and Balochistan Assemblies) are blowing in the provincial assemblies too.Upon closer inspection, it emerged that some of those involved in the scuffles and abusive episodes justified their below-the-belt behaviour as a normal practice in society. It is no more a secret that members of the Parliament take dictation from political bosses as to who should they listen to and who should not be allowed to speak on the floor. They have tarnished the image of the lawmaking institution of the country – and in doing so, they have done Pakistan no favours. Instances such as these do suggest that the current crop called parliamentarians is contaminated to the core.

Truth be told: the time has come for our own scrutiny or soul-searching as to what kind of individuals we have been electing over the years to be our representatives in the National and Provincial Assemblies. When we elect people irrespective of their moral and political integrity, such an outcome is natural. One is dismayed that such an intolerant culture typically displayed by political workers and cabinet ministers in TV talk shows has now crept into the National and Provincial Assemblies. After all, how can these houses be insulated from such shameful and insulting episodes that we have witnessed recently when different political leaders openly give a pat on the back of those using derogatory remarks against political opponents and sometimes subjecting the dissenting voice to slapping on live TV.

Let us recall the unfortunate incident involving Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan of PTI and PPP MNA Qadir Mandokhel. The Prime Minister Imran Khan is said to have accorded accolades to Firdous Ashiq Awan for such brazen behaviour. Also, remember Fawad Chaudhry slapping a senior journalist and yet continuing to be held in good office by his party. When the PM, cabinet ministers and political bosses of the opposition parties are lashing out at each other with adjectives like liar, thief and hypocrite etc then the support base will naturally be morphed into a mob mentality.

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that PTI-led government has injected political extremism into the veins of its party members, including the cabinet ministers. In fact, I am convinced that the PTI-led government tenure will be known in history as political force damaging democratic norms, undermining political process and clipping the wings of constructive critics and intimidating independent judges, analysts, TV anchors and opinion-makers.Yet those at the helm of the country’s affairs consider themselves to be paragons of good governance, honesty, transparency and trustworthiness – prompting them to indulge in indecent words for opponents who they condemn. What they have failed to understand so far is that the PTI, after having picked parliamentarians from the left and the right with blessings of the Powers That Be, barely cobbled together a coalition government.

This government keeps claiming to have cleansed the corrupt political system allegedly institutionalized by previous regimes with its array of turncoats. But corruption scandals like the Sugar scandal, Flour scandal, Medicine scandal, the Ring Road episode and the BRT fiasco etc, and the snail's pace in prosecuting cases involving PTI leaders and cabinet ministers contrasted with the super-speed in cases involving the opposition politicians – all do remind us that the corrupt culture of covering up corruption, nepotism and favouritism still persists. The majority is still deprived of a decent life and basic facilties like an educational and healthcare system. The deeply unequal healthcare system, lack of urgent judicial relief, dearth of educational institutions, lack of international opportunities, class-stratified residential areas, and the generally underdeveloped and unjust world that ordinary Pakistanis live their life in – all these are reminiscent of the glaring injustices of the colonial project. In a country where more than 60 percent of the population can’t afford two square meals, 70 percent of women suffer from anemia, and according to the Global Nutrition Report 2018 there are 10.7 million stunted children in the country, the stark gulf between rich and poor cannot but be noticed. The burning question arises as to why so many families cannot afford a nutritious diet with the recommended intake of proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins; while the government is busy giving incentives in the budget for car purchasers and big businesses, and raising taxes on items routinely used by the vast majority e.g. dairy items, powdered milk for children. taxing outgoing mobile calls of more than five minutes, or ever-increasing energy prices and the resulting back-breaking utility bills.

The picture that emerges is one of patronage to the powerful and the privileged class, and cruelty to the common citizens. The wealth of the ruling minority is ballooning with every passing day, whereas the vast majority is drowning in the Tsunami of inflation – all of which is still being presented by some of the the ruthless rulers as a passport to the economic progress of the country! Manipulative monetary policies dictated by the blue-eyed boys of the international lending agencies like the IMF, accompanied by financial imprudence of the ruling elites both past and present, have trapped the country into circular debt; and its trickle-down effect in terms of taxes levied has snatched morsels from the mouth of the vast majority. Note that earlier, when Shaukat Tareen was not running the finance ministry, he had skewered the PTI government’s economic policies. Needless to say, with his entry into the ministry, Tareen now sings a very different tune. As a government that has become the biggest borrower in Pakistan's recent history prepares to pawn off the motorways and airports of the country, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed has termed this as being dangerous to democracy.

Quite simply, politicians on both sides of the aisle in Parliament have brought disgrace to politics in Pakistan.

Recently, Balochistan Education Minister Sardar Rind is alleged to have plagiarized parts of his resignation letter from a civil judge, and a certain provincial assembly member was declared disqualified due to a fake degree. Character and competence are not our parameters when we stamp on the ballot paper while voting politicians to power. Instead, dynastic or ethnic affiliations, religious preferences and regional considerations are the yardsticks to pick someone from a pool of candidates. We thus culivate a corp destined to be rotten and corrupt to the core.

Step-motherly treatment towards the small provinces especially Sindh continues to be the cornerstone policy of the PTI government. The CM Sindh has been consistently raising his voice over the controversial role of the IRSA chairman, water woes faced by farmers, gas shortages, power outages and neglecting his province in the Federal Development Fund Allocation etc. Now, the helplessness of the Sindh CM in resolving these issues which are in the domain of federal government is understandable. But, we are forced to ask: what will the CM say say about the deplorable law and order situation, incompetence in utilizing the provincial development funds, politically motivated postings and transfers, corrupt local bodies system and poor infrastructure in the province – all of which fall within his domain? Arguably, the CM needs to put his own house in order, too.

At the end of the day, our elected representatives are puppets in the hands of their political high-ups. They do not apply their mind independently. Can we expect a dozen MPAs, MNAs or Senators voting on any bill against the party line? Certainly not – unless some underhanded political bargain is underway. When the supremos of mainstream political parties and heavyweight politicians are faced with corruption allegations, or accusations of misuse of authority, we see that political workers and parliamentarians throw their weight behind political chiefs instead of asking them to come clean. Remember the Panama Papers, the fake accounts case, and foreign funding scandals etc and recall the resultant esprit de corps within political parties implicated in each of these!

Voltaire in his short novel Candide lampooned many of the worst aspects of European society in his time: sparing neither government, military nor religious leaders. The novel concludes that “one must cultivate one’s garden” - in other words, one must use one’s intellectual and philosophical skills to solve real problems in a practical way.

The garden of our dear country, insofar as it consists of elected representatives, has failed the masses. Despite a functioning parliament, ordinances are frequenly issued by the presidency, which is a living testimony to how bankrupt our political system has objectively become.

Now the only way for us to cultivate our garden is to vote wisely in order to install a genuinely accountable and pro-people parliament.

Dare we hope for a different crop in 2023?