Confidence: how much?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

 A CONFIDENCE deficit is afloat. Will it reach the floor of the House?

With an increasing frequency the media’s elect and select fret out loud over the content and style of current governance, and what to do given variously perceived hazards to national security those in charge seem unware of.  Actually the parliamentary system and our constitution – despite curtain calls or Muqarrirs of Zia’s Eighth Amendment – is quite clear as to the protocols of a vote of no confidence. But, since President Alvi can’t do a President Leghari on the PM; and the opposition is constrained and severely handicapped and has egg on its face over the no confidence motion moved against the Senate chairman, there is cause for debate as to whether the rescue service for democratic letdowns lies in a major systemic shakeup rather than parliamentary vacillations:

What sage and smooth analysts argue: is the point of recycling leaders and parties that have been tried and been found wanting twice, even thrice, over? Even the brand new party whose leader had been jostling to win the PM cup for twenty-two years and finally reached the finishing line remains, despite the passage of twenty-two months, at a loss in victory.

The democratic gradient does indeed have a very poor atmospheric quality. Too much CO2 and not enough oxygen. But grassroots democratic lovers assert that defeatism and despair are precisely the state of mind junta lovers and would-be oligarchs are rooting for and consciously pumping into the political atmosphere. The people’s democratic march must not be allowed to morph into yet another military parade. The twice and thrice tried showed improvement in each succeeding trial, and even a disappointing maiden-debut party can learn. Democracy is a learning process not a dominating one.

 More than ever democratic continuance depends on the sagacity of the democratic political opposition. So far, it has been latent both inside and outside the House. Is this because it lacks energy or because it is conserving it?

There was much initial wisdom in the policy of avoiding obstructionism and shunning accusatory insults. Those methods characterise the PTI and do that party more damage than those it targets. Unfortunately, in the post-Covid 19 competitive contest of handling the crisis, derogatory comparisons and disputes over provincial and federal turf and fund-control; some of the commentary emanating from oppositional leaders is becoming just as petty and cheaply ‘amusing’ as the PTI’s. Adopting that mode brings the wrong kind of tone and focus to the raison d’etre for change. The issues are of the utmost gravity.

People want a reset because they feel, no matter how they love Imran Khan, the incumbents are way out of their depth in crucial areas of policy planning and implementation, as well as mere daily routine administration. Some of the executive’s errors in judgment have been so grievously damaging to national wellness that one does not even wish to list them. The government’s deliberate reopening and ill-timed exacerbation of debate on provincial autonomy and the Eighteenth Amendment could tear the federal fabric apart. At the mass level it seems oblivious to the implications of its cultural misuse and misapplication of ‘Islamic’ appeal in a PTV promoted Turkish tribal soap opera: Precisely what is being glorified?

It seems wishful to think that the PTI will or even can reform itself. The opposition can no longer afford to hibernate without itself becoming democratically irrelevant.  APCs are useful at a level of inter-party dialogue, but they are not a tool for change or reform. Resorting to street power for leverage – long marches; sit-ins; boycotts; strikes would be worse than ill-advised given regional tensions. The opposition needs to bring the popular case for change into Parliament: as well as the alternatives it has in mind. People have had enough of talking in and to the air.

Parliamentarians could be chary of taking the no confidence option lest it turn out to be exactly the kind of last democratic option that the PTI itself has been cast as representing: What if the card is played and trumped? The volte-face in a vote of no confidence in the Senate chairman, where the opposition had a numerical lead is inhibiting. There was some recent toying with raising a motion of no confidence against the NA speaker as a feeler, hoping for better luck than in the Senate as a vote in the lower house would not be secret. That is to overlook the fact that people and their reps might feel a change of Speaker signifies as little as change from ‘Sanjru to Mandvu’ did in the Senate: A no confidence motion against the NA Speaker is liable also to becoming a case of ‘So What’ in terms of public perception. The problem is with the PM.

Empirically one may hazard a guess that the real problem about proposing a vote of no confidence is in whom will parliament repose confidence thereafter?

Prolonged parliamentary impasse can open an all too familiar door on fresh elections and caretakers and systemic revision. Acknowledged top oppositional leadership is – rightly or wrongly – nabbed or NAB-able. The public has a right to ask of the PPP whether the Bhutto Zardari myth would allow the practical emergence of say a Hina Rabbani Khar or federalization of the provincial Murad Ali Shah? Similarly, it can ask of the PML(N) why it does not throw its full weight into promoting a Khaqan Abbassi figure or any other one of its seasoned members. Understandably there are tussles for leadership and envy is operative within and between the two mainstream parties, and each would rather the other did not win the federal race. But if they cannot rise above this kind of political mindset they are failing democracy. The opposition has the numerical strength to vote out as well as vote in. Cynically as well as practically speaking it could be democratically politic to proffer the PMs mantle to some dexterous PML(Q) luminary. After all the king’s party is also a kingmaker. Even the establishment relies on it!

But that is yet another grudge democracy’s champions need to leave behind them, forgive and forget, even if only in personal moments of truth and reconciliation! We have been on the same page long enough: Time to turn over a new leaf so that we can face the future with more confidence.