Ebbing or incoming?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

THE PTI tsunami epithet is becoming woefully apt. Not in terms of the overwhelming sweeping force of Imran Khan’s political victory – that may be understood as less of a natural occurrence than a technical one – but in terms of the aftermath of the victory: Tsunamis sweep things away and the new government has debuted in tandem with a demolition process: What we have around us is debris. Literally, figuratively and politically. Nature hates a vacuum but we don’t see the space vacated by outcast governments being filled with the kind of tabdeeli we thought was voted in. Administratively we have a case of posttraumatic stress disorder – bewilderingly manifest in paralysis and shrill hyperactivity and declarations that go around in well-meaning circles of clarifying retractions and reiterations so that even U-turns cannot be relied on as lasting second thoughts.

Are good intentions enough? Voters are ready to wait for long term results but what about the nitty-gritty of daily routine civic functioning? A government cannot tread water indefinitely: how long before the country reaches exhaustion point? Can we or will ‘they’ just keep watching things sink? The directionless confusion is no longer amusing. Doubts grow.

At present the PTI seems less of a party than a personality. Its organizational structure and direct constituency linkages have shown little functional impact despite the twenty-odd years Imran had warming up to realize his dream of using his celebrity oomph to serve his country politically. The party’s hands-on total boss, he is a political rock-star without being a parliamentary one: due democratic process is at best an afterthought. Street surges, calls for civil disobedience; democratically non-kosher parliament-targeted manoeuvring, and inflammatory invective highlighting malfeasance in every other political party leader have been the PTI captain’s political dynamo. They successfully energized his ascent to his present office; but discharging a PM’s duties in utilizing parliamentary avenues and managing public affairs requires a pragmatic political capacity and understanding as well as some degree of respect for differing political sentiment – an acceptance of democratic plurality. These are still missing; and there is a growing feeling that with the best will in the world, Imran Khan may not be able to deliver for a democratically committed electorate.

Can a presumptive parliamentary control board coach its favoured captain so that he manages a cabinet of forty-plus victoriously the way he led a cricketing eleven? Or is the management’s endgame a quite different game altogether? Perhaps unwittingly, Imran Khan set the speculative ball afloat early on by making it known he was ready to ask for a dissolution of parliament and call for elections if stymied by this parliament. He – and his electoral backbone even more so — may be banking on the factor that people are averse to new elections. The electorate has seen its civil politicians stuck in campaign mode rather than governmental mode for the last few years; and busied with nothing other than dislodging the incumbent government while the incumbents strained to stay emplaced. If this government of tabdeeli is politely ceded failure – another ‘Go PM Go’ procedure has all too evident inbuilt democratic risks – the case for a national government or a caretaking junta with a view to ‘bettering’ or – still better – replacing the existing system is liable to gain traction. Prescriptive variation on the provision of national TLC has precedents and may seem increasingly acceptable to people yearning for good governance. True, General Zia could not manage his intended puppet PM and had to dismiss him; and General Musharraf in dismissing his CJP ended up with a state of emergency that became his own very personal one; but much muddied water has since flowed under the civil democratic bridge too.

The awareness of voter fatigue or democratic disillusion was strong enough initially for the politically seasoned PML-N and PPP intelligently to desist from wilfully harassing the new incumbents. But under increasing personal pressures and the exigencies of party survival, political leadership is beginning to shed restraint. It would be suicidal for the PPP or PML-N spokespersons and activists to ape PTI tactics and stratagems of intrigue; accusatory and disgusting verbal warfare; and civic obstruction.

Perhaps our power elites reject democracy or cheat on it because it is mercilessly revealing of weaknesses. We, the governed, cherish the democratic process because it lives and survives through the self-correction necessitated by critical electoral endorsement or rejection. Political gerrymandering and interventionism howsoever camouflaged are experienced and realized as such by the negated citizen. ‘Bad’ (corrupt, exploitative, unjust, lying) governments lose their vote banks, howsoever gradually. New parties appear. Even if they are IJI-type sponsored or negatively conceived to emasculate another as the MQM once was. They only prove durable if they can take truer democratic root. And once they have done that, whatever their sponsored origin and support, forward blocs, engineered factionalizing, banning, extirpating do not work. Our own political history illustrates this amply.

The Imran Khan people love needs to grasp wiping out or circumventing opposition is not enough for a party to retain power: Unless it chooses to forsake the democratic process and live and rule by fear.