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Democracy hasn’t worked either

A lot of young people high on revolution as they march towards Islamabad on Imran Khan’s bandwagon don’t seem to realise that as far as their lot is concerned it no longer matters which party is in power, who is appointed foreign or finance minister and, for that matter, even which form of system governs the country’s politics. Even as the “imported government” gropes in the dark and its controversial Darnomics hits a brick wall, these revolutionaries would have noticed that their messiah hasn’t offered any concrete, or even vague, policy direction either.

All his speeches are the same, from accusations without any proof to spitting venom on whosoever even begins to question him, the only value-add being the people or institutions he drags into his spiteful outbursts each time he makes a stop on the long road to the capital. In effect he’s saying exactly what his opponents are saying about themselves, that the only way to save the country – from economic collapse all the way to effects of climate change – is to put themselves in power.

But it doesn’t really work quite like that. And the reason nobody is shedding any policy-specific wisdom is that there isn’t any to offer. For, whichever party comes to power, or stays in power, will be forced to do the exact same things; at least for the foreseeable future. It will bend to the IMF’s (International Monetary Fund’s) strict demands, remove all subsidies that politicians use to soothe public sentiment, jack up taxes that infuriate businesses, take the begging bowl to friendly countries, and then pay for it at the next poll.

Even if the long march somehow succeeds and Imran Khan comes back to power – and many people believe that he should – he would bring nothing new to the table at least as far as people’s interests are concerned. Everybody, from PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) to PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) tried to get the IMF to dilute its strict “prior conditions”, Shaukat Tarin went to the extent of presenting an expansionary budget right in the thick of the bailout programme, but to no avail. More recently, Ishaq Dar rode a resurgent rupee and rebounding market to Washington, confident that the aftermath of the floods, and the fact that it cut GDP by more than two percentage points would do the trick, but he also got ‘nice try but no cigar’ in reply.

In fact, if Imran’s diehards should remember, which they wouldn’t because they don’t want to, their favourite party was also on the ropes in its last days precisely because it could do nothing about the sagging economy and had to cave into the Fund’s demands, which is why it lost by-elections up and down the country at that time. And when the momentum of the no-confidence motion frustrated him to the extent that he departed from the script, duly signed with the IMF, and froze petrol and electricity prices, he also threw the EFF out the window and sent the markets into a tailspin, which he later blamed on the PDM government and which must give Miftah Ismail nightmares to this day.

If you look at it closely, Pakistan’s crisis has reached the point where the institution of parliamentary democracy with its five-year cycle is also more a part of the problem than the solution. When governments have such a short time before they must return to the polls, there’s no way any of them, even those bringing revolution and haqeeqi azaadi to the people, can enact structural adjustment that first traumatizes the economy and only then bears fruit. It’s much better, and easier, to go for high visibility projects that immediately click with the electorate, regardless of what they do to the economy. Besides, doing the right thing in such times, that initially looks very bad, also invites the wrath of the opposition; further alienating the government from the people.

There’s no doubt that no matter what kind of pressure this long march puts on the governments, even if it causes bloodshed and provokes a harsh military intervention as Imran’s been hinting, it will not make Pakistan’s problems, which are mostly financial in nature, go away. Because he, too, will have to do exactly what the present government is doing if he returns to power. There’s also no doubt that sooner or later all the country’s top stakeholders will have to sit down and try to sanitise the national political discourse.

But perhaps it’s time that they move beyond the usual arguments about which party should form government to finally considering what kind of political system suits Pakistan’s political and economic needs of the present and future. So far democracy has only delivered us weak governments, non-functioning parliament, and power-hungry politicians that lord over their parties and are obsessed with doing the same with the people.

Since democracy hasn’t worked, quite clearly, maybe we should look to emulate systems in some of our friendly, non-western countries, whose strong top-down models and dedicated one-party models have delivered some surprising and serious results.

Shahab Jafry, "Democracy hasn’t worked either," Business recorder. 2022-11-03.
Keywords: Economics , Monetary fund , Political system , Electricity prices , Economy , Imran Khan , Shaukat Tarin , Miftah Ismail , IMF , PDM , PTI , EFF

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