Chop chop

In South Asia on 31. July 2017 at 21:57

WITH THE FIVE robed men’s decision, the third time Prime Minister, strongman of Lahore, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, again leaves office despite a majority in Parliament. The matter that fell him was not having declared, unclaimed salary, from a foreign-based company where he was a silent board member. A procedure that is worth its critique, but not at all a disqualification from his seat in the national assembly.

But these details are of no interest for those who cheer these days. As if a long sought revenge has been delivered, not taking into consideration the implications and consequences such a decision makes. Pakistan is a country still recovering from decades of on off, and direct-indirect military rule, it has only recently managed to make the steps to strengthen a parliamentary practice of civilian sovereignty – but certain political (and their non-political backers) cannot accept a system in where they lose, so they choose a system where they win.

A system of being a disruptor of the democratic process, using the democratic process for own gains, and if it fails, bend it to mend your means. Imran Khan, the populist opposition figure has since previous election (one that for the first time ended a complete parliamentary term in order to initiate a new one) been in a hurry to attack the Government on various issues.

He struck gold this time. After several failed attempts, of those including a rally in the capitol that attacked the Parliament itself. Thuggery and hooliganism coated as heroic anti-corruption drive made the Government give more concessions to the Army – one that already controls Foreign, Finance and Defence portfolios. Lesson not learned by the Captain, one which Sharif learned almost two decades ago, himself entering the political scene with the blessings of ‘Establishment’, he soon saw what kind of Prime Minister the boys in Pindi want.

Sharif flexed muscles, and had to taste a Commando send him to jail and take the power. During those days, for those with short-term memory, Imran Khan hoped to be instilled as Prime Minister under General Musharraf’s all-powerful presidency. This though did not happen, and Imran chose to wait. The fight although, for democracy, was led by the bitter rivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Both compromised on past deeds, both pushed forth an agenda so strong it made Musharraf leave office.

Democracy strengthened. Some hurdles though existed, some of them even from the hands of those who toppled the Commando. But these frictions do happen in a young democracy. However, transparency increased, media freedoms was widened and political plurality and accountability through a reliable electoral cycle became a norm (situation is quite in a sorry state the last years).

Election of 2008 was marred with irregularities, but tenfold more free and fair than the one in 2002, notoriously under the watchful eye of General Musharraf. Election of 2013 was even better, with a good turnout, despite Taliban’s attacks on the liberal parties PPP, ANP and MQM, without affecting the campaigns of Imran Khans PTI, Sharifs PMLN, and Taliban apologists in Jamaat and JUI-F. Despite that, despite the uneven playing field, Khan came to the barracks and screamed a stolen election.

PPP led Government of 2008-2013 introduced with opposition electoral reforms, those that came to effect in 2013, and even more will come for the election of 2018. Why then disrupt the system by using dubious and subjective criteria’s of being honest and trustworthy? Surely constitutions articles 62 and 63 would disqualify anyone depending on who sits in the court – there is not principled precedence, only a selective and subjective approach. Four out of the five judges that gave the recent verdict had previous taken oath on Provisional Constitutional Order of 2007 – the notorious second coup of Musharraf before departing power. Would not the same articles disqualify them? MQM tried to use the same argument against Imran Khan who back then called the articles dubious and unfair. MQM was recently quashed by Establishment, all to cheers and joy. As they say, first they came for the Jews… etc.

In end – it all resolves down to the simple wish of Imran Khan and his allies, with a not so civilian backing, of making the Government (and the civilian steering) unpopular. So that the saying, that civilian rule always brings chaos, can strengthen, and that the rules of strongmen be wished for. Populist-illiberal tendencies are on the rice in west, but Pakistan have a good expertise in this. If Imran Khan thinks he can bag a Government with these dirty tricks, he can wish it a thousand folds, but he known, and everyone knows, using these tactics, one will have to suffer from themselves.

And despite a short-term gain, in long term, and overall for the fragile democracy, this is nothing but damaging. In comes next year’s election, and polls will spell what they can tell, Imran might win or not, PPP might surprise by a return, and Nawaz Sharif can still manage to swipe the slate and be in power once again. If the routine will be to, between elections, bringing down majority Governments, through extra-parliamentary means, then forget about the legit criticism, educational crisis, malnutrition and militancy.

Pakistan’s standing on foreign front is of a pariah state, and domestically a divided middle-class that is fed conspiracy theories, lies and hyped up political entertainment – the brave human rights activists and decent politicians receive little or no attention. The good causes are ignored and the pressing issues are at last in the bucket list of hopeful Prime Ministers.

But election is coming, so break a leg, not the civilian institutions in itself.

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