Change: at all costs?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

guest-contributorIT is time we stopped taking the easier choice of setting out to scrap a faulty political setup and system and focused on laboring to better it: That means allowing it to function and, in that very process, rectifying its deficiencies. For what is the innovative alternative?

We have tried both parliamentary and presidential democratic modes. We have undergone four varieties of military dictatorship. We have framed and discarded more than one constitution. We have journeyed from centralising West Pakistan’s provinces into one unit, into the mysterious provincial autonomy of the Eighteenth Amendment to the 1973 constitution.

We have tried universal adult franchise as well as electoral colleges. The reason proportional representation has been left out is that every would-be reformer with a view to party power wants to fix their own proportions.

All agree a population census is a prerequisite to informed administration and electoral conduct, but political parties stymie each other over procedure and trust no one – No – not even the army: Though they are not averse to seeking or endorsing supportive statement and intervention in blighting each other.

When General Musharraf was beleaguered and outwitted, his morally infamous politically expedient NRO was the preliminary to national elections in 2008. His NRO helped back Benazir Bhutto, but in doing that could not exclude the PML(N) from its reconciliatory embrace. It is salutary to recall that in the calamitous context of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, it was only the consensual civil and military policy not to fan flames and continue with the electoral process that averted both natural and orchestrated mayhem. Elections were conducted without undue delay.

Questionable as constituency delimitations were; flawed though the rolls were; insincere as the emergent incumbents proved to the common weal; and criminally though democratic politics were practiced, it is almost impossible to make the case that General Musharraf and his political surrogates would have served the common weal better.

The democratically elected government mandated in 2008 completed its tenure. And 2013 saw the previous incumbents’ strength electorally chastened and reduced. The PTI which gained popular strength in that preceding rather venal democratic term, got to hold the reins of provincial government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; but was left salivating and frothing at not having gained fuller command and control of parliament.

Actually, considering its parliamentary standing in 2008, the 2013 presence it established was an enormous leap forward. But its thwarted chairman continues trying to topple the PML(N) incumbency at the federal centre and in Punjab; and to fill the whole space of the political vacuum in Karachi, Pakistan’s microcosmic port city.

“Electoral fraud” has been the not entirely unconvincing war-cry, but the exasperating majority does not want to write off the whole democratic and electoral process. Indeed, even the PTI accepted returns when victorious.

Having failed to discredit completely the national election, the party presently recognizes parliament and its space. However, it is more at ease with the extra-parliamentary mode of rabble-rousing, civil disobedience, and public nuisance: At least, it appears to be seizing the lifeline extended by “PanamaLeaks”, to revert to its comfort zone of street-politicking and media warfare.

What does “PanamaLeaks” generally signify to the public? Precious little, it would seem. Citizens have long known that the political parties (and others) use clout illegally and legally to make money and stash it away for party and personal use. Pakistanis have watched prosecution and defence repeatedly cross the floor as it were, in charges and countercharges; allegation and indictment.

They mistrust and are disgusted by cries for accountability that originate as personalised witch-hunts. They have seen accountability serve as leverage to diminish political personae and parties that persist in surviving electorally.

And that despite the stratagems and relentless vilification and challenges from what was termed (though it is, these days, a less bandied buzzword) the deep state. So the public is largely content to bide its time till it can speak through the ballot in the next elections.

But there is an aspect of “PanamaLeaks” that troubles the public, though accusatory sanctimonious politicians seem undisturbed by it: Do foreign revelatory records matter more than local ones? Is a “PanamaLeak” enough to validate thitherto unprovable white collar crime and treat it as proven?

Are we on the way to turning to, not just foreign fiscal aid, but foreign justice and judgement? Political mismanagement (civil and military) and ambition mortgaged Pakistan’s economy: Just what might some be offering as collateral for gaining or retaining local political operability? We need consensual wisdom and transparency as never before.