Is This The End Of Parliamentary Democracy?
Parliamentary democracy is breathing its last in Pakistan—the culture of political tolerance is on its lowest ebb and demonizing the opponent has become a norm in the society. The government’s attitude towards the opposition is similar to the attitude of the dominant tribe towards a tribe with lesser resources and power – i.e. One that needs to be eliminated. For its part, the opposition’s behavior is no more conducive for parliamentary democracy: they are willing to go to any extent to bring down the government and don’t mince words in dubbing the incumbent parliament as fake. Parliament itself is an in-operative part of the system. Meek voices, announcing the possibility of making a shift towards a more authoritarian system, either Presidential or a one-party form of government, are becoming louder by the day. Imperceptible changes are occurring in the system that herald the eradication of the political culture, which provides the foundation to parliamentary democracy in the country.
Rhetoric used by both government and opposition indicates a confrontational psychological condition that leaves no room for any type of compromise or give-and-take arrangement between different groups in parliament—something that is considered an essence of parliamentary democracy in any society.
The rhetoric of the ruling party rests on two basic points, a) all the opposition parties, groups and leaders are corrupt and must be put behind bar as soon as possible, b) top leaders of opposition parties and groups are peddling an “Indian narrative” in Pakistan and therefore all of them are “Indian agents”.
Meanwhile, the opposition is as inflexible as the government—they seem to be pursuing the allegation that the PTI government was a product of rigging in the elections and palace intrigues by military and intelligence agencies to install Imran Khan as Prime Minister in Islamabad.
Both the opposition and government are inflexible in their attitude: which makes the possibility of a compromise solution to the impending confrontation negligibly low. Institutions like parliament, which could provide a forum for talks and negotiation, have been made inoperative by the Powers That Be and by groups and parties with representation in the parliament. There is no elderly figure in the political arena that could convince the two sides to come to the negotiating table. The Powers That Be don’t seem to be much concerned about the impending confrontation. Instead, they seem excessively confident about their manipulative skills, which in their understanding would allow them to enjoy the last laugh.
None among the existing political forces seems to show any concern about the future of the political system. They seem to ignore that which essentially defines their political status or position in the system. Opposition groups and parties consider this system or those presiding over it to be a product of manipulation and rigging and therefore needs to be dismantled. The PTI government considers this system to be lenient towards those who have indulged in corruption in the past and therefore are interested in replacing it with a system that is akin to what they consider to be a “Chinese model.”
The Powers That Be are the happiest: they think that the system is still tilted in favour of those whose position is defined by their popularity among the masses and that this needs to be fixed to make it more inclined towards those who enjoy a bureaucratic position—whether in the civil or military bureaucracy. Doubtless, they are also happy that at this moment, none among the popular political forces seems willing to take up ownership of the system. At the moment nobody is making loud claims about defending parliamentary democracy with their blood or life.
There is a possibility that the present political scenario is an outcome of a well-written script—one prepared well in advance. So the soft intervention which was carried out in August 2014 was aimed at producing a political environment where even popular political forces would be more interested in bringing down the incumbent government than preserving the highly destabilized political system. This possibility would also mean that the prosecution of the opposition parties, groups and leaders during the past six years was aimed at producing complete disenchantment with the system.
If, indeed, such a script has been implemented, then it would be safe to say that the Powers That Be have just hit the bullseye. Both the government and opposition are at present completely indifferent towards the fate of the political system.
There is, however, another possibility: that the present highly destabilized political situation that we find ourselves in is merely an outcome of ad hoc measures implemented by the Powers That Be, in a bid to control the anti-status quo forces within the system that were getting “out of hand.” This would mean that nothing was planned and that the Powers That Be only succeeded in alienating the centrist political forces with their high handedness.
Whatever the reality, the truth is that we are standing on the brink from where the system is about to take a plunge into a dark abyss.
The irony is that the Powers That Be have not expressed any thought as to what objectives they want to achieve by derailing or dismantling the system. They seem to be doing this aimlessly. Prosecution of the opposition groups, statements to introduce a “Chinese model” in Pakistan or curbing the media are measures that might be considered ad hoc – designed only to meet the day-to-day requirements of those at the helm of affairs. But these measures by no mean are representative of any strategic political thinking.
It seems we have started a headlong rush into chaos.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.