Raza Habib Raja
I remember watching a standup comedy by Bill Maher who I think is one of the wittiest political satirists. One of his normal practice is to mock Americans, particularly, the Republicans for their dumbness. At one point he said, “ Oh America, I can never leave you, you amuse me.”
Well If Mr. Maher was to visit Pakistan, I am sure he would immediately understand that for entertainment purpose, nothing even comes close to Pakistan.
Imagine this: A Mullah with dubious credentials materializes out of nowhere and asks his followers to march to Islamabad to force dissolution of all the governments and formation of a caretaker government who would first cleanse the system.
He apparently has the financial as well as logistical backing. And he further complicates the situation by presenting demands that no government can meet.
Pakistani media starts covering the grand circus and so media gullible this urban middleclass is that even the most educated start feeling teary eyed as the procession swells.
We want change!
The fact that elections are just a few months away does not mean anything. This urban middleclass is afraid that “illiterate” masses will again vote the same corrupt people back into power. They hate Zardari and also nihari eating Nawaz Sharif. Many of them love Supreme Court, armed forces and Imran Khan. Some of them say they don’t support Tahir ul Qadri but love the fact that he has managed to bring people on the street.
Many of them actually wanted Imran Khan to join the sit in protest and were irked by his refusal. I read some of the youngsters saying that Imran was wasting a historical opportunity by not joining in. They love Imran but rather than voting for him against parties in a general election they want him to join a freak show and force the government out.
So by bringing people on the street you can simply topple the government and create a “care taker” government which would clean the system. None of them were even realizing that you can not just dissolve a sitting parliament. Such dissolution can only come through a political consensus involving the sitting parliament members as well as the Prime Minister. They already have plans of caretaker government in place and after a long time a sitting parliament is about to go through a transition.
People want change!
A friend of mine (belonging to the white collar middleclass) media articulated this on social media
..Democracy is supposed to be ‘Government of the people for the people…’ and if its not then to hell with it…Its simply a rhetoric in an autocratic society to perpetuate the dynastic rule of the haves and sooth the egos of self enlightened pseudo intellectuals who don’t even know that daily earning of the majority of the people in this country is less than the cost of one cup of their mocha latte.”
And yet these apparently beautiful words are so contradictory..
What my friend is simply overlooking is that it is the common man who actually votes for PPP and PML N. While being critical of “self enlightened pseudo intellectuals” ( I am PROUDLY one of those pseudo intellectuals) and alleging that they don’t know the reality, he does not even acknowledge that these parties are voted into power by the same less than latte earning masses.
And yet, he calls those as pseudo intellectuals who are trying to defend the common man’s right to vote and assumes that they don’t know and he knows!!!
And what exactly does he know?
So pseudo intellectuals (like me) by trying to defend a common man’s right to vote and be an effective stakeholder do not understand the miseries of the common man!
This status sums the general mentality of our urban middleclass……
Here is the biggest issue. System cannot be cleaned through institutions which are not elected and don’t have the confidence of a broader base. Their changes in the absence of some direct input form the electorate won’t even last as those who come into power will have every reason to roll back all the steps taken.
Change of a lasting nature does not occur through these methods but through elections. If you want better people then vote them into power. Once in power they can actually make a difference. And that difference is long lasting as well.
What they forget is that Pakistan’s history is replete with such endeavours which have always ended up doing opposite to what was intended. These set ups always end up making the unelected more powerful. And while so called corrupt” politicians are still directly or indirectly accountable, these caretakers are virtually insulated from pressures.
But most importantly these setups end up longer than originally declared which is hardly surprising. Since they fear backlash once out, so the only way of survival is through clinging on to power.
And for that they have to continue taking unconstitutional measures. So in the end democracy itself is compromised.
But then does this class want democracy in the first place? Some of they will say yes though without any sort of conviction whereas others will simply point out that democracy is sham, dynastic and not it in its try form which is of no help to the common man.
Generally their case against democracy is that due to illiteracy Pakistan is not ready for democracy. They claim that illiterate people cannot make a rational and informed choice. Moreover, politicians are ‘corrupt’ and use the public mandate as a justification for their excesses. According to the skeptics politicians are obliging and consequently good governance is compromised.
To begin with it is true that politicians are obliging but this phenomenon is culturally rooted. Pakistan is after all still an agricultural society with a social structure which thrives on contact building and obliging those contacts. This culture is apparently more prominent during democratic rule as people who have voted expect to be obliged in return. These expectations which are chiefly cultural adversely affect the governance quality and have given rise to merit violations in job allocations and awarding of contracts etc.
Politicians who are actually under pressure to oblige their voters, the army and even the opposition appear to be well insulated from such pressures. This apparent ‘non political” disciplined look creates the impression of honesty and impartiality.
However, a deeper look would blatantly expose this fallacy. Yes, the political class may have been obliging but so have the military governments. They may have shown some impartiality in the beginning but soon they were indulging in even blatant nepotism which has still not even come to light due to media censorship.
What people often overlook is that political government always has some stake in maintaining a politically appealing image and in the medium to long term this stake ensures that it is responsive to allegations of corruption -provided we give it a chance to last more than two years.
Eventually a political government feels the heat and tries to rectify the issues. Right now I am aware that a lot of fuss is being made by some anchors about political government not ‘honouring’ the Supreme Court’s decisions. Yes, the government is showing reluctance but gradually is ceding and trying to at least partially oblige. Let me remind them that Musharraf regime by contrast simply dismissed the courts and put the judges under house arrest! And during Zia’s time, courts under pressure convicted Bhutto on flimsy evidence. Political governments no matter how ‘corrupt’ they are cannot just overrule courts the way military governments do.
A standard objection to democracy is that the voters in Pakistan are not informed and mature to keep a check on the government. Widespread low literacy is a fact in Pakistan and this fact is often used as a justification for claims that masses cannot be trusted with something as “sacred” and important as vote. More importantly it is argued by some that ‘sophisticated’ issues like foreign policy, fiscal policy etc need high degree of education on the part of the voter.
Here I have several objections, in addition to the fact that this opinion smacks of a condescending attitude towards the marginalized.
Firstly, in no system in the world do voters alone keep a check on the government. Voters mainly appraise a government’s overall performance. The check is kept by the media, civil society and other institutions. Fortunately, these institutions have developed considerably in recent times in Pakistan. Media and Judiciary are fiercly critical of the government and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to just close a blind eye to their concern.
The poor and illiterate have to be given the right to vote to make them a stakeholder in the political system. Without their stake and participation, they will be further marginalized. It is their enormous stake which only democracy through universal suffrage ensures and which forces the government to be responsive to them. Yes, you can argue that they are not in a position to vote on complicated policy issues, but votes are seldom cast by anyone on policies. Votes are eventually cast on the actual performance of the government measured in terms of improving overall standards of living. The poor and illiterate are as qualified as anyone else to judge that.
Punishing them by taking away their right to vote will simply discourage the government in giving due attention to their livelihoods. It is democracy which through participation ensures that their problems are brought into notice. No technocratic government can be a responsive government without democratic process.
I will supplement this with a historic example. Ayub’s regime emphasized high growth rates but completely ignored the poor.
The decade of development ended up being the decade of marginalization as well. Development and industrial growth took place but without substantial improvements in the livelihoods of the poor. Since Ayub’s regime was not democratic it was never concerned with whether the fruits of that high growth were equitably distributed.
Ultimately, Ayub’s regime left a Pakistan polarized and the poor responded by participating in a popular movement against him. Democracy has this distribution effect which ensures that development is widespread. However it needs time which unfortunately we are not ready to give. I am surprised that often two years of democracy are compared to 10 years of Ayub or Musharraf’s tenures and then statistics which in any case are not comparable are thrown in.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the defense of democracy and the continuation of a normal democratic process is needed to preserve the ethnic fabric of our country. A modern ethnically diverse state needs democracy. Democracy is not merely a system of governance, it is a proper forum where dialogue can take place between various ethnicities and terms can be negotiated and renegotiated. No dictatorship or for that matter unelected technocratic government can tap those voices for discourse at the national level.
Ethnic diversity needs uninterrupted democracy. Sabotaging the process merely increases the ethnic rift when the President of the country hails from a small province. Let’s not forget that Ayub Khan’s tenure instilled hatred in the Bengalis while Muharraf’s tenure angered the Baloch.
I will make the following appeal.
Dear Educated class..
Learn to engage….there are people who are less privileged than you are! Don’t insult them..
OK if you love Imran Khan….Vote for him rather than asking him to join a freak show!!!
And Imran….Thank God you did not join..
You have a future…
Long Live Pakistan!