Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 – A Fragmented Vote or A Polarised Polity?


The people have spoken.

The bloodiest elections of Pakistani history climaxed with an election-day violence, voter intimidation, harassment, rigging and fraud, especially in Karachi and Lahore, which should put the heads of the Election Commission and the caretaker government in shame. Was it the collective failure of the civil-military bureaucracy in Karachi or has the ‘underworld’ of Karachi become a monster bigger than the state? Will the government have the courage to call for re-polling on all constituencies of Karachi instead of few dozens of polling stations or a single constituency?

At the time of writing, the final tallies are still being counted and the results still arriving; however, few trends are clear. The likely return of PML-N to Islamabad, the inability of PTI to engineer a tsunami or even win a simple majority in the centre, the bleak situation in Karachi and a dismal voter turnout in Balochistan have exposed some inconvenient and bitter realities and fragility of the Pakistani body-politic, such as:

The brand Bhutto and hitherto incumbent PPPP have been reduced to a small rural, provincial party in Sindh, though the PPPP also seems to have been punished by its traditional voters for poor governance and mismanagement of its government. Simply put, the rural Sindhi voter has refused to throw off the yoke of feudalism and the shackles of serfdom.

PML-N’s politics of patronage and kinship has prevailed in Punjab, though performance of Junior Sharif was also a cofactor. Punjab has again proved how deeply pervasive the effects of colonialism remain in its people’s mindsets and psyches. Simply put, the Punjabi voter has refused to throw off the yoke of familial and biradari politics and continues to expect a beneficiary-benefactor relationship with the ruling elite. However, Punjab also sees an emerging rural-urban divide, with the educated, urban voters protesting against political inertia and apathy and demanding a “new social contract” with the state.

As a corollary, PML-N, with its inadequate performance in the smaller provinces, now also appears more as a provincial Punjab-based party. With a divided mandate and a fragmented polity after the 2013 Vote, the smaller provinces may now see governments different from the centre. In Pakistan’s nascent democratic system, it would be challenging for the leadership as no single party is likely to win a clear mandate in the centre, nor a respectable representation from all federating units. It is premature to say what implications this could have on the acceptability and stability of a Punjab-dominated federal government or on inter-provincial harmony or on the selection for the next prime minister. With already two successive Punjabi prime ministers under the previous PPPP government, will PML-N now consider proposing a person from a smaller province in the larger interest of national reconciliation and unity, should it be invited to form the central government?

The kind of political, economic and security challenges that Pakistan faces today are more intrinsic than extrinsic and PML-N would be well-advised to take a leaf from the past and choose right priorities for its next government. Although PML-N has often strived to enjoy unfettered power in the past, it would now help itself and Pakistan by seeking to genuinely solve problems of the common man and empower the masses instead of empowering itself or a continuing patronage of political affiliates, or picking up turf battles with other state institutions over past and closed transactions, or throwing the country into anarchy and chaos.

PTI’s ideology has prevailed in KP, with fewer exceptions here and there, and KP has again showed the free spirit and resilience of the Pushtun society. In tribute to the KP people, choosing representatives free of the pressures of terrorism, sardars and familial politics speaks of the egalitarianism around which the KP/Pushtun society is broadly structured and their emerging political maturity.

Nonetheless, failing to engineer a tsunami should not demoralize PTI and its supporters or dissuade them from their ideology. Imran Khan and PTI have dragged the country out of negativity and given people hope of a better future that – yes, they can build. By any standards, theirs is a formidable accomplishment for a new political party with a short history to win a significant proportion of votes and in effect reshape political discourse, landscape and dynamics of the body-politic. Recall that despite a three-decade standing, only two nominees of Jinnah’s Muslim League had succeeded in the 1937 elections before it swept the Muslim electorate in 1946. So, PTI may like to take this all in a stride and rather work in the interim on reinforcing its grassroots networks across all provinces to build a nationally representative political force that could connect with the rural masses directly as it has done with the urban voters to overthrow the yoke of serfdom and feudalism or at least minimize the role of feudalist, mercantilist politics in the political system.  Above all, there is now a real opportunity for PTI to operationalize its manifesto on a smaller scale in a province and present a role-model for the rest of the country to emulate, should PTI be invited to form the KP government.

In a way, the elections have confirmed that feudalism and illiteracy/low literacy rate continue to be the biggest “structural” impediments in the political system. The resultant fragmented mandate and polarised polity beg a question whether the Westminster model of democracy suits the ground realities and dynamics of the Pakistani society, political parties, voter mindset and political system? Should there be a serious thinking about a presidential system with proportionate representation that could insure political stability, good governance and an issue-based national political discourse? Should there be a new “social contract” between the people and the state to realign the federation/federating units - or - should ascent to power for the sake of power, self-interest and cronyism remain prime considerations?

One must realize that the people do not elect politicians as “rulers” through a vote but as their “representatives.” In a way, We the People are the “employers” and the representatives are meant to be the elected “public servants,” paid to work for the people and insure basic rights and services for the people to live with security, dignity and quality of life. Unless the masses are well-informed to understand the nature and responsibilities of this employer-employee relationship, professional politicians would continue to trick the people – but the people and the state might not be able to endure the wait for the political promises to “trickle down” to them!

One must also remember that the first and foremost responsibility of any government is to provide security and good governance to its people. And one of the challenges of the next government would be to curb extremism and sectarianism, improve centre-provinces relationships and national unity, and insure services for an exploding population instead of continued abdication of basic services to non-state or international actors.

The people of Pakistan are entitled to demand good governance from the government that they put into office and deserve a better and fairer deal from the state!

The road may be long and difficult but the future must stay positive for Pakistan!

Falak Ke Dasht Main Taron Ki Aakhri Manzil
Chale Chalo Ki Wo Manzil Abhi Nahin Aai

In Peace!

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