10202017Headline:

Failure of politicians? by Abdul Q Kundi

Modern politics is by its very nature chaotic. It attracts multitude of players including political parties, trade unions, special interest groups, opinion makers, and consumer protection activists. The introduction of social media has added to the chaos. From this perspective the stability of a democratic republic depend largely on agreement between stakeholders to adhere to certain principles and redlines that should never be crossed. In USA, for instance, a group of Republican Party activists consider Presidency of Barak Obama illegitimate because he was not born in USA which is mandatory constitutional requirement. They are called birthers and they question the authenticity of President’s Hawaii birth certificate. Fox News has given countless hours of media coverage to these birthers but the movement never gained mainstream acceptance. The main reason for that is because instability of a political system could have severe repercussions for everyone involved. In another example, the election of Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo was questioned in the constitutional court by his main opponent, retired General Prabowo, on account of election irregularities but that petition was thrown out within days. In our own neighborhood the run-off election between Presidential hopefuls Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani produced a stalemate when provisional results showed Ghani had substantial lead while his opponent refused to accept it. The stalemate was finally broken when a power sharing agreement was reached between the contenders. In almost all developing countries where democratic tradition is in its early stage, elections could become source of instability and could even lead to civil wars if the politicians are headstrong and adamant about accepting defeat and arrive at a compromise.

 

For past few months politics in Pakistan are in a state of frenzy. There are many op-ed writers questioning the viability of 1973 constitution which is the very foundation of democracy in the country. There are others who are expressing their dissatisfaction with the political class and labelling them useless, selfish and incapable of steering the country to a better future. They demand dismantling of the current parliament and installation of a technocratic government that could clean up the system. There are others who question the viability of current parliament on the grounds of irregularities in last elections and inability of the government to deliver to the people. These protestors are demanding mid-term elections and emergence of a new parliament through free and fair elections.

 

I am against mid-term elections for many reasons. First and foremost is that for a developing democracy it is important that many governments complete their constitutional terms and peacefully hand over power to the incoming government. If a government is making bad policies then it is not just failure of the government but also opposition as well. Second reason is that if elections are held under the current system then the same people will return to the assemblies although they may change their allegiance from one party to the other. So we will not achieve any substantial change just by pursuing by-elections. Our first focus should be electoral reforms through the current parliament and then seek elections. Third reason is that in a society where breach and disrespect for laws is widespread we can’t expect elections to be held free of irregularities. As a nation we are not disciplined to respect laws whether it is filling forms, driving on the road, standing in line for our turn, dealing with government departments without paying bribes etc. etc. All of us are engaged in one or the other form of irregularity in our daily lives and elections are not much different. We need a change of mindset before we can expect our elections to be completely free of irregularities and fraud. This is a longer term struggle and a nation that is impatient finds it difficult to pursue.

 

The strongest argument in favor of mid-term elections is the inability of the government to perform and deliver to the people. Load shedding, rising inflation, joblessness and poverty are some of the arguments presented in support of this view. Politicians have to be accountable for some this failure but the whole blame cannot be placed on their heads. There are around 1000 elected MPAs and MNAs but over 500,000 bureaucrats that are constitutionally responsible to provide services to the masses. Politicians are expected to set the policy direction while bureaucrats are responsible for actually executing the plans. Failure of service delivery to a large extent has to be blamed on the inefficiency and inability of the bureaucrats rather than just politicians. If there is political meddling in bureaucracy then it is about time these bureaucrats stand up and protest against it rather than remain silent. We also know that in the past bureaucracy has had a nexus with Generals in orchestrating the failure of an elected government. Even in Egypt there are now reports that artificial shortages of fuel and food were created during the tenure of elected President Mohammad Morsi. It is interesting to note that in the current political crisis ex-bureaucrats and ex-serviceman are the most vocal proponents of dissolving assemblies and installation of a technocrat government. Evidence, without proof, presented by former ECP officials to raise questions about 2013 elections are not in support of PTI position but to create an enabling environment for a technocrat government.

 

What is the path the nation should pursue? I believe continuation of democracy is important for nation building in Pakistan. But reforms must be introduced not just in electoral system but also in the system of governance and services delivery to the people. Opposition can play a very significant role in this respect rather than engage in muk muka politics. The failure of politics is not because of politicians but because of political parties that are either family enterprises or fan clubs. As a nation we have to get pass reliance on one individual or family to be our savior. We have to pressurize political parties to become institutions that allow people with capability and merit to rise up. The image of politics is so bad in Pakistan that top talent is not interested in engaging in it. Even in PTI, that activated middle class of Pakistan to participate in politics, status quo politicians are now occupying top decision making positions and slowly penetrating lower levels of the organization. It is not just fault of Imran Khan but also educated PTI activists who have gladly assumed the second fiddle role to these status quo politicians. Our failure to convert political parties into institutions will ultimately result in the failure of this nation.

 

Nation building requires patient and persistent effort over long term. As a nation we lack these qualities and are impatient to achieve progress even at the cost of principles, constitution and tradition. I am aware that my voice is becoming a minority in the country but I have to say what I believe is the right path to pursue. As a democrat I will accept the verdict of the majority but retain my right to disagree with it.

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