Dinosaurs of Politics by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

In pre-historic times people lived in tribes. Each tribe had a chief and was considered as a person who carried the wisdom of the deceased ancestors. Despite this high position a good chief was one who consulted with others in the tribe and sacrificed his personal interest for the sake of larger tribe. When communities expanded into larger groupings with the advent of urban centers a new form of political order emerged, it was monarchy. A monarch was expected to be a good soldier, a statesman and an administrator. A monarch derived his legitimacy to reign supreme over people by suggestion that he had divine mandate to rule. This was manifested by employing the priest to carry out the coronation ceremony. A good monarch would rule by employing talented and capable people to manage the affairs of the state. At the death of a monarch a crisis of succession would emerge among the sons. In this fight for succession the prince that got success in battle would be considered to be blessed by the God and has divine mandate on his side. This would settle the question of legitimacy until the next succession crisis. People had no choice or voice in selecting their rulers in this political system of monarchy. They were at the mercy of those close to the king.

The earliest recording of democracy was during Republic of Rome. But that democracy did not give full citizenship rights to everyone. Both electorate and elected were from the handful of aristocrats that controlled the reigns of the government. They took turns in ruling by forming coalition among each other. Military always played a significant political role and the rise of dictator Julius Caesar was accredited to his popularity among the soldiers. Modern democracy emerged after French Revolution although there were various other movements in England and Germany that provided much needed ideological foundation for it. But even there at the beginning the aristocrats and landholding class controlled politics to protect their vested interests. Full right of universal suffrage was not introduced until 20th century. The modern democracy consider people to be the sovereign and those elected are granted temporary agency to legislate on their behalf. The agency can be retrieved in next election cycle or through impeachment during the term. It is assumed that elected parliamentarians will contain their self-interest to promote the cause of the larger community.

Over the years in established democracies, with centuries old traditions, there has been rise of lobbyists and other special interests that now influence the parliamentarians to further their own agendas. This has resulted in a growing mistrust between the parliamentarians and people at large which has resulted in declining participation in politics, both in terms of coming forward to contest or to vote. Many countries have experienced riots and unrests against their politicians. Brazil, Greece, England, Turkey, USA, Thailand, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Myanmar, China, Pakistan and India have all experienced public protests against politicians. The fuel for these agitations has been provided by uncontrolled social media activists.

Pakistan in its political evolution can be compared to 18th or 19th century Europe. Landed and industrial classes of the country are controlling most of the political parties. Candidates are all related to each other even sometimes competing against each other. Whoever wins is immaterial because the final beneficiary is the family or baradari which is what matters to them. People have no voice in selection of the candidates that should get tickets to contest from the party platform. There is no adherence to merit or ideological orientation of the representatives. Loyalty to each other and patrimonial preferences rules the political corridors of Pakistan. Divisions among masses suit these political elite to retain control of them. There is hardly any party that can be called an institution. It would be interesting to know how many candidates were related to MPAs and MNAs in recently concluded KP local government elections. It is also significant that none of the civic organizations FAFEN and PILDAT commented on the process of award of party tickets in these elections. Media does not consider internal party matters as something that should be reported thereby contributing towards lack of evolution in parties.

Pakistan is a deeply divided country in many layers including sectarian, ethnic, social and economic. For such a country it is important that some higher ideals are developed so that these divisions can be contained and people find it more beneficial to be united. Ideals like merit, rule of law and ideology provide the glue that can keep the country together. A good example to emulate could be Singapore which has both ethnic and religious divide. Its founding father Lee Kwan Yew realized that the only way to keep the country united and progress is to introduce merit, fair play and equal application of rule of law. Despite its small size Singapore emerged as a major economy in South East Asia. Other countries that have many divisions are Indonesia, Malaysia and India. All these countries realized that stable democracy is important for nation building and it cannot be achieved without institutionalization of political parties. In Indonesia a furniture salesman became President and in India a tea peddler assumed office of the Prime Minister. In today’s Pakistan can we realistically say that this is possible?

Institutionalization of political parties is a necessary condition to ensure talented individuals are given opportunity to run the affairs of the state. Only then our divisions will be minimized and a stronger nation will emerge. An institutional political party will have rotation of leadership at the top; merit in award of tickets through a due process; ideological orientation of its candidates; and respect for party constitution. In recent KP LG elections PTI activists demanded that tickets are allocated on merit but when the party leadership failed to deliver on it then they contested elections as independents and won. This has sent a message to party leaders that violation of merit will no longer be accepted. Taking cue from PTI, activists of other parties are also raising their voices for reforms. But so far media is not promoting this cause except few op-ed writers. It is important that the media should highlight these organizational failures of political parties and provide space for dissident voices to be heard.

Pakistan is changing and it seems our politicians are finding it hard to keep pace with it. These politicians are acting like dinosaurs that will go extinct very soon to give way to a younger generation of leaders that will take the nation forward.

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