Wanted: truer democracy

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contLOCALLY  we are hearing rather a lot about what PMs in truer democracies than ours did after getting not-so-honourable mentions in PanamaLeaks. In Greenland (or was it Iceland? Do a Google) the impugned prime minister resigned.  In that hallowed parliamentary prototype Great Britain, the PM’s public and parliamentary response after a Panama reference to family embarrassed him has been exemplary, as Nawaz Sharif’s challengers love to remind. Maybe our PM has other role models. Our Youth Bulge electoral segment may not know that even before the internet, in Great Britain’s truly salubrious democratic clime, the Iron Lady’s Dennis was not allowed to menace once the veil was lifted on his delinquencies. He went right off the island if not offshore (Mummy stayed in office).

But enough flippancy: What broke upon us as PanamaLeaks is now soberly referred to as the Panama Papers. So what can our very own man of steel, PM Sharif, do about his family’s paper trail? Will damage control in Pakistan be as successful with a bunch of papers as with a memo? For political opposition to PML(N)’s electoral mandate is determined to use the Panama disclosures to sink Nawaz Sharif’s ship where he would salvage it.

In Memogate, America (or so it appeared to us) was more on the side of the Memogated than the memo.  An international journalistic pro bono sort syndicate is managing investigation and revelation of the existing and still unfolding PanamaLeaks. Probably the best — or the worst, depending on political preference — is yet to come.

In 2008 Mr Asif Zardari had made himself officially unassailable by taking formal presidential office. Raja Rental and Syed Yusuf Reza Gillani took the rap for corruption, cronyism etcetera without Pakistan’s democracy and the PPP’s incumbency being dealt a knockout blow. Could the PML-N’s federal and provincial mandate bear the blow of the PM stepping down and the House choosing a new leader? Or would we witness an unseemly hullabaloo and administrative paralysis until the fresh elections, which the PTI especially has been clamouring for ever since it lost out in 2008, become inevitable?

Mr Sharif lacks Mr Zardari’s prescience and sense of timing. He did not go straight to parliament for a vote of confidence, or step down voluntarily, nominating a successor for ready endorsement. To cite one of our own parliamentary precedents, Benazir Bhutto had to face the challenge of a hostile vote of confidence in her first tenure; and despite having 2 out of 3 in the troika against her and parliamentarians wide open to bargaining, she came through: So strong was the public mood against oligarchs and victimization. In another instance, that same power of public opinion made mincemeat of the NRO. Today, rather than public opinion exerting pressure on parliamentarians, some party leaders and parliamentarians are working round the clock to summon up a compelling demonstration of aroused public opinion demanding the revocation of the electoral mandate or asserting the non-viability of Nawaz Sharif as leader of the house.

Is the overseas certificate of corruption for one or two outstanding politicians going to fuel a national protest such as the PNA’s in 1977? Wanted there is a figurehead – if not the substance – of an inspiring alternative. Also missing is the outrage of a crime against the people that can be taken uniquely as Mr Sharif’s. Not for a moment can we believe that corruption will be routed by routing the prime minister.

The PTI did not reject the elections in toto and so the public can and does appraise its demonstrated style of leadership and opposition. Some find it rash. Undoubtedly its leadership has not looted the national exchequer. But crass political obtuseness can be as hazardous to the public weal as white collar crime and tax evasion. Nor have people reached the point of desperation where they would welcome Bonapartists and unfettered military control over the civil domain. It would be tragic to even seem to be reaching that point, let alone try to push in that direction.

Despite the ongoing love-in for the military fighting murder and terrorism in urban streets and mountain fastnesses, the COAS has kept his baton in the right place. He may be decisive, but it is still a civil-military duet politically. Bringing civic life and administration to frequent standstills in the process of demanding better civil government makes that balancing act precariously tricky. Of course corruption and misuse of political power need to be curbed. Ironically, they are best tackled from within this same democratic system that may not have bred but seems to nurture them. Only gradual civic purification effected by people using the power of the ballot as they did in 2008 and 2013 can bring meaningful change. Ultimately, it is not good governance we get when a military march is the approved route to law and order but popular repression and political finagling of the worst sort.