PTI rule

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

‘Corruption’ has been the make and break PTI slogan and the outstandingly ‘corrupt’ leaders of yore have been electorally dis-enabled and the two mainstream grassroots parties left floundering if not quite sunk. Common citizens are gauging what is on the march in the field: Imran Khan (for the party is the man) and his support base. Bear in mind that the mandate to govern was formally conferred by perhaps too gullible an electorate in the framework of the much-amended and sometimes vacillatingly so, as with the 8th amendment, 1973 constitution. It is a landmark consensual constitution that, though unceremoniously stamped upon by boots in 1977 and 1999, has yet to follow Pakistan’s earlier constitutional tomes into the unemptied dustbin of history.

            Broadly, it is taken as structuring federal linkage of satisfyingly autonomous provinces that perceive it pragmatically advantageous to work together in a national unity, incidentally concretizing inner emotional compulsions to identify within – as ‘Sufism’ is currently so favoured as an acceptable symptom of religiosity — let us say a ‘mystically’ felt commonality. In a subcontinent that had shaken off the British yoke, domination could not but be abhorrent and self-government integral to Pakistan’s animating spirit. And as decolonized Indians were familiar with British ways, the Westminster parliamentary structure offered a handy model. Taking inspiration from an egalitarian philosophy of social welfare, emergent Pakistan sought a system for government of the people by the people for the people. Things change entirely if the mode becomes one of government of the people by the party for its leadership. Corrupt or pristine, such government is oligarchical and dictatorial.

If corruption is the flipside of democracy, imposition is the flipside of dictatorship. The principle of choice is nullified. Popular will is irrelevant. And this is especially true when dissent dreads deterrent punishment; and fear of a faux ‘vox populi’ permeates the polity and gives weight and sanction to governmental decision, which often ignores or anticipates due parliamentary process. Pakistan has had such a richness of political handling we can find ample instance in our own direct historical experience. Unfortunately, a full year of government by the PTI at the federal centre and in two out of four provinces has not shown it strengthening constitutional democratic modes and practice. Intentionally or otherwise it may be weakening them.  

It is as if the PM is scared/impatient/contemptuous of parliamentary assembly and procedure. Policy and executive measures are mostly proclaimed or disclosed by spokespersons on TV. As such statement is habitually tweaked and rephrased its content is seldom definitive. Inconsistency, vacillation and an overall lack of clarity confuse the public; and a cabal-like secrecy excludes less-favoured elected reps. Spectators and objects are not participants; and democracy is all about participation. One cannot say the PM has been unable to change a polarized atmosphere: he has made no attempt to. He remains dismissive of political consultation and insulting to politicians outside his fold.

It is usual to say that this government has the advantage of being on the same page as the military and there is no cause for the kind of tussle or divergence that was apparent in the post-Zia and post-Musharraf democratic governments. Such a state is no unmixed blessing: there is a large section of the voting public that prefers to see the military abstain from influencing civil political direction. Then there is a section that is relieved to have military underpinning where the selected PM is appearing somewhat of a loose cannon! Either way, democratic forms and practitioners are diminished rather than validated.

The party attitude to provincial governments that do not have the PTI label is disquieting. Sindh’s PPP-administered government has to live down endorsement of and loyalty to its disgraced party head, who has also been Pakistan’s president. The PTI treats the provincial governor and opposition MNAs as a separate caucus and hub for interference in the functioning of provincial administration. It would have been impossible for the PML-N to intrude this way: do we stop to wonder why? There are certain questions the media does not prompt. Karachi itself is a dramatically enhanced civic mess. Could judicial orders to demolish forthwith and the resultant rubble, with people also being turned out into the streets to find shelter, not also be contributory to the aggravation and collapse of the already deficient infrastructure? Sceptics see efforts at regaining urban space as also freeing it for a fresh crop of local and expat purchasers and developers. The PTI too has cronies.

Now that there is no PML-N central government whose shortcomings are to be focused on, KP’s loyalists are more introspective: has the PTI really done that much or can it? Compliantly administered by their CMs, the PTI-governed provinces seem to have surrendered much of their autonomy. Overstepping boundaries enlarges the impact of centralizing authority. Unitary government has in the past created not resolved Pakistan’s problems.

But let’s not forget the PM did write a lauded article on Kashmir in the NY Times – and what a crowd-puller he is. Unbeaten. And oh yes, his more formal speeches do say the right kind of thing off and on.                                                               (end of text: 853 words)