Sick to the teeth

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contFortunately, not everyone is sick to the teeth of the democratic process; however, far too many are of the electoral process. Pakistanis have been subjected to ceaseless blustering repetitive electoral campaigning for more than two years.

The last national election took place in 2013. Losers complained: Probably a probe would have revealed some irregularities; but far from a general outcry about extensive rigging there was public relief that the verdict was being respected:

People have unhappy memories of caretaker governments and military intervention precipitated by agitational politics. Does the PTI think that deterrent apprehension has faded?

There has been general acclamation of the electoral transition from one democratically elected government to another. The emphasis has been on the completion of the previous government’s mandated term, The PTI did not set itself apart by rejecting the mandate in its entirety. It contented itself with demanding a probe into a handful of seats.

In fact, the 2013 electoral verdict yielded significant changes: The 2008 mandate was redefined. To some extent the PPP’s popularity wane during incumbency strengthened the PML(N) by default. Party strength and the standing of provincial governments and coalitional patterns altered, reflecting voter disillusionment in Sindh and Balochistan.

And at some constituencies where voter dissatisfaction at the time of polling was blatantly evident re-polling took place. The ANP was voted out decisively in KP; but the government in Punjab remained with the PML(N). That last seems impossible to live with for Imran Khan personally, and the party he leads collectively. Are citizens supposed to infer that the PPP – apart from other incompetencies – doesn’t know how to influence an election and handle ECP officials? Alternatively, people may infer that the rejection of PML(N)’s performance post the 2008 mandate was not as intense as desired by its challengers, and did not constitute a tipping-point in terms of political climate change.

Whatever the answer may be, it is not to be found in the bye-election of NA 122. It would be false to confuse its 2015 perspective with that of 2013 and interpret the outcome as a scrutiny or retake of that electoral outcome. A voter may have voted PTI in 2013 and by now have changed his mind. Another may have voted PML(N)in 2013 and by now have changed his mind. Some may not have changed their minds at all; and some may simply sit it out. NA-122 is no more than a single-seat bye-election whatever the passions surrounding it.

If its implementation and result becomes the basis of renewed dharna-ism, slurs on the ECP, judges and parliamentarians, civil and military management; it will leave the vast majority of the electorate puking apprehensively: If PTI politicking becomes meat for a campaign to unseat the emplaced elected government Pakistanis may succumb to food-poisoning – democratically. If Imran wants his party to serve Pakistan’s democratic process he has to change tack.

The electorate can see corruption, incompetence, misplaced priorities and partisan preferment as clearly as he can. But they are uncomfortable about a political opposition acting as a systemic bulldozer that throws democracy and civic infrastructure into a crucible.

In the civilized democratic society Pakistanis yearn for, opposition, even outside parliament, does not deliberately set about stalling government and normal civil routine. The PTI’s antics have consistently kept government and citizens diverted from the pursuit of actual good governance. Thus, we now have less than three years left to conduct a much required census before the next national electoral exercise.

When highlighting the PML(N)’s non-delivery, its rivals possibly overlook or misread the nature and extent of the challenge any government of the day would have to face. The tragic massacre at the APS allowed Imran a safe exit from his dharna impasse. Much of what he voices reflects public sentiment, but his way of moving forward could push civil evolution of the democratic process here too many steps back. Should the PTI win on October 11, Imran ought not read that as a national endorsement of his allegations or a vindication of his method. And if the PML(N) retains the constituency it should not take that as meaning political opposition to it is inconsequential.