The King is Gone, Long Live the King!
So after all the trials and tribulations, the blaming and the gaming, the naming and the shaming, we can finally hail the dawn of a new political reality in Pakistan.
For many this will be a surprise, for many an inevitability. But more important than what is happening, is the course that is to follow. And it is there, that we need to be careful that the new political reality does not mirror the days of old.
It is important to do that because governance needs to be less about the cycle of political vengeance and more about the people who need governing.
Here are some potholes to avoid:
The New Opposition
As expected, major political parties are already crying foul over instances of Presiding Officers not being allowed to observe, and non-transparent procedures in the vote counting. Not to worry folks, this is completely normal.
What is to be concerned about is how parties deal with this:
Action Point 1: They can either show their resentment with a pout, a speech, or a press conference or two. But accept the overall results, and live to fight another day. The occasional swipe or two on TV shows, or social media or parliament is always a good place to start. That’s what good oppositions do: keeping the government’s feet to the fire.
Action Point 2: They can file petitions to legally challenge the results, plus the pout/speech/press conference. Which is good, because we all need to believe in procedures to deal with this, even if we suspect bias. A kangaroo court is still better than no court at all.
Action Point 3: They can go directly to the ‘public court’: Call the entire system rigged and corrupt, carry out massive public mobilization to delegitimize the process altogether, and demand action through resignations, street violence and good old fashioned blame-gaming.
It is the last option which is the worst by far. And unfortunately our parties, particularly the major ones, have a really bad record on this. It doesn’t help when the new party in charge has been the one that has carried out such atrocious de-legitimization campaigns against the previous regime. This grudge based ‘mean girls’ approach does a great job of exposing our political immaturity. I guess some things tend to linger in one’s memory longer. Like putting the country to a standstill for months, or whipping a feeding frenzy for accountability for others, while refusing to accept any for yourself.
It’s really easy and tempting to do the same, especially when you’ve lost a lot of credibility and power due to such tactics from others. After all, the tables have turned, so let’s give them a taste of their own medicine!
Except that, the medicine isn’t really making anyone better. In fact, it’s making the environment sicker. But this is not a time for pyrrhic victories. Hubris and lust for vengeance cannot be the core driving force of a political movement.
Which of course brings me to…..
The New Government
We have to accept some big steps we’ve taken on the democratic path. This is the first time we have seen a 5 year transition to another 5 year transition.
But can we teach an old dog new tricks? Here are some of the old tricks the new government would be better off without:
Action Point 1: Reverse all the policies of the previous government, citing flaws like corruption, poor planning, mismanagement of funds, etc etc. When policies aren’t consistent, they’re redundant. Who wants to spend time working on anything, when you know that in a few years we will all go back to the drawing board? Making wholesale changes hurts more than it helps, because then a hell of a lot of time is taken is making something new, than improving something that is already there.
Also, by doing this, you are guaranteeing that it will happen to you when the next party comes in charge (also known as Pakistan in the 90’s). Let’s set a good precedent by acknowledging the good stuff, and rectifying the bad. It will save everyone a lot of time and energy.
Action Point 2: Blaming the past for the flaws of the present. Sure there are situations where previous governments and their problems spill over into the present. And it is here that one can use the past government as a human shield, to absorb and deflect anything and everything. I can already imagine the allegations on currency depreciation. Also the ‘wasteful’ management of public infrastructure funds (Orange Line anyone?). Also the power crisis (unless Karz Utaro Mulk Sawaro Part 2 really works for Diamer Basha).
But here’s the thing. They’re no longer in charge. So they can only be blamed for so long. Eventually, the newbies have to take responsibility for what’s going on in the country.
Action Point 3: Claim anyone working against you as the enemy.
These elections have been particularly noteworthy for their politics of exclusion: we are the good guys, the other guys are working for the enemies of Islam/Pakistan/insert-something-public-cares-about-here. It is because of these politics that entire communities have boycotted the elections because they were being dragged through the mud.
Polarization may help you get votes, but it doesn’t help when you’re in command. You are no longer the leader of a province, or a religious group. You are the leader of the country, and hence every citizen, including the ones you railed against, and the ones who rail against you, is your responsibility. Carrying out political attacks in the name of ‘accountability’ may help you in the short run, but it comes back to bite you in time (also known as Pakistan in the 90’s).
Good politics is about uniting, not dividing. Especially when you’re in charge.
Also, the newcomers need an cast-iron chin when it comes to criticism. This is a democracy, and criticism is a fundamental right, until of course violence gets involved. Taking the hits and moving on is an essential part of the political process, and seeing a binary view of the country is extremely hurtful in the long run.
A final point for both the ones in charge, and the ones in not:
You are not in charge of a party, or a constituency, or a denomination. You are in charge of the democratic process. Your job isn’t to build your own credibility. It is to build the credibility of our democratic roots. Grow up. Realize your responsibility. Work together. And don’t let others divide you. Especially the ones who stand to benefit from all the above.
The King is Gone. Long live the King.