By Rifaat Hamid Ghani
NO matter how they are conducted, the one constant about national elections is that the voter himself or herself knows how he or she voted. And soon enough the local grapevine reliably apprises them how things went by and large at polling stations in the neighbourhood. If gaming with the votes cast is significant enough to negate the predominant mood and intent; if it indicates more than a sporadic favouring of one candidate over the other; voters know and react collectively in common cause.
This is not because they favour candidate X over candidate Y, or want their chosen team to thrash to thrash the other side. They reject a suspect result because they will not consent to being belied or underwriting a swindle. A national election – even a bye election – is not like a Pakistan Super League cricket fest where the game is but fun and there is no personal stake in the outcome. Of course sponsors have a financial stake, and the man of the match gets a nice bonus; fans may feel a pang, but they won’t run wild – unless it’s an Indo-Pak encounter which can play out like proxy war. But even Indo-Pak matches occasion cricket diplomacy. And as the PM understands politics as he understands cricket he should be reminded of this in dealings with the other side.
Elections are a national touchstone. Take the free and fair and orderly one of 1970. It told us East and West Pakistan could not accommodate each other. Take 1977. Enough people felt their vote had been negated by the declared results for General Zia’s intervention to find general acceptance despite the diversity of the components of PNA. Yet, when he would not conduct the pledged fresh elections, a seemingly feeble if not doomed movement for the restoration of democracy survived a decade of persecution and prevailed despite Preident Ishaq’s troika mindset post General Zia’s death.
This inner compulsion of would-be free and sovereign people to be governed as they wish in fidelity to party manifests (or declaredly independent stands) affects and modifies the functioning of governments as elected parties learn — through cumulative electoral profit and loss, through alternating victory and defeat – that they needs must serve their constituencies better. The amelioration inherent in the democratic process gives the deeply flawed PPP and PML-N a grassroot vitality within their vote banks that perplexes, irritates, and eventually frustrates, umpires who presume to know better than common citizens how they should be governed. This same popular will gave Imran Khan’s PTI entrée into the national democratic mainstream.
Having entered these waters, outstanding credentials in world class international cricket and public philanthropy do not suffice. The leadership and savvy being asked of him is in the realm of Pakistan’s existing constitutional parliamentary democracy.
To be remembered as a democratic reformer rather than for replacing that process with a know-all captaincy — or for facilitating initially non-elected cosmopolitan friends and big brotherly juntas — he needs to revisit our history and grasp that politics reliant on money and clout, that shut the doors on representative opposition and popular dissent and legitimate demand; have done Pakistan harm not good. As victims, Pakistanis know and remember this well.
PM Imran must accept the occasional loss of face to avoid the loss of the democratically committed votebank. It would be a pity if the party in which much popular democratic hope was invested initially continues to falter and fails. Imran Khan needs to regain the founding ethos he has lost or rejected along with some of his party’s most highly regarded founders. Otherwise, the undeniable winner of the World Cup and founder of Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital will be remembered simply as that; and no more than a viral moment in Pakistan’s political landscape that found no substantial reality outside virtual politicking and succumbed.