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What lies ahead

An imperfect electoral exercise copied from western models, our democracy has very little relevance to the local environment or the ‘genius of the people’. The ‘first-past-the-post-system’ does not ascertain the real majority, the ‘run-off’ measure does. Negating ‘proportional representation’ bedevils good governance.

The PML-N obtained 14.9 million votes in 2013, 32 percent of the 46 million who voted as opposed to the PTI’s 7.7 million (17 percent) and the PPP’s 6.8 million (15 percent). The PML-N should have ended up with 84 seats in the National Assembly, the PTI with 42 and the PPP with 37. Instead, the PML-N disproportionally got 53 seats more while the PTI and the PPP lost 13 and six seats respectively. Having a million votes more, the PTI got four seats less than the PPP.

It would not have made much difference in government formation by the PML-N but election rigging did take place, despite the ECP’s best efforts, in 25-30 NA seats in Punjab and about 30-35 in Sindh. The low rate of literacy provides opportunity for a high rate of malfeasance.

The public did not protest when Mian Nawaz Sharif was toppled by a military coup despite his ‘heavy’ mandate. Securing a virtual whitewash in Punjab with pockets of support in other provinces, he has made a remarkable comeback 14 years later. The PPP’s one-point agenda concentrated on corruption; by their misgovernance Zardari and party complicated a whole multitude of issues afflicting the nation – the energy crisis, security and terrorism, unemployment, education, health and poverty, etc.

After voting with a vengeance against the PPP-led coalition, the people will now expect a marked improvement in their lives. The margin of victory allows the PML-N to initiate bold policy decisions with some ease, giving due priority to reforming the economy.

Accountability, which lies at the heart of the democratic process, is lost once the winners step into governance mode. Violating ethical principles and compromising on election promises in the scramble for power, governments rely on corruption for survival. It has become socially acceptable now in Pakistan for rulers to flaunt their illegally acquired wealth knowing that the gullible public will continue to buy their denials about corruption.

Moreover our rulers brazenly cheat on taxes, and when they do, they pay very little. Our guardian angels of truth and morality remain shy of implementing the NRO verdict. What stops them from asking the topmost public official in the country to declare his assets?

With Zardari back being his ‘brother’, Mian Sahib’s benevolence will cost Pakistan US$60 million in the Swiss case alone. Faced with retribution if they do not conform, senior government functionaries fall over themselves to ingratiate themselves with the political rulers by teaching them how to skirt around the laws of the land. A democracy without accountability is akin to dictatorship. A dictatorship that does not compromise on nepotism and corruption would logically be better than such a democracy.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) needs to revive its potential. Having been appointed by Asif Ali Zardari unfortunately compromised Adm (r) Fasih Bokhari’s credibility (the Malik Riaz connection did not help either). The controversy around him was counter-productive to NAB’s effectiveness and his position was bound to become legally untenable. A respected friend, he should have resigned in good grace before being forced to quit by SC diktat. Bokhari’s replacement must be someone of the integrity and stature of Tariq Khosa, a man of impeccable character and reputation.

Successive military regimes may have messed up, but they did provide good governance for the most part. Citizens felt secure and safe, having much more freedom than in any democratic regimes. Compromises made by democratic governments invariably put good governance on the backburner. Instead of wanting to be liked and loved, the ruler who intends to provide good governance must be tough and fair, being prepared to be hated by the elite because he has to step on their toes to give succour to the masses.

With the elite commanding the media in all the countries of the world, the ruler must also be prepared to be temporarily disliked by the public in choosing good governance over populist measures. Some reforms may be unpopular (eg taxation, slashing energy subsidies, etc), therefore all stakeholders – provincial governments, trade unions, business organisations, etc – need to be taken on board.

The energy crisis symbolises Pakistan’s worsening economic situation. Over 20 hours of daily loadshedding has worsened the country’s economic woes, crippling industries across the country. More than a third of electricity is lost through line losses and theft. The shutting down of industrial units has cost the economy US$12 billion annually with tens of thousand of workers losing their jobs, massive unemployment frustrating people. The increasing protests against this have turned violent at times.

Foreign direct investment has dried up because of the worsening law and order situation, and new jobs are not being generated. The loss of revenues notwithstanding, the social and psychological toll spawned by persistent unemployment cannot be adequately expressed.

Mian Sahib’s initiative to negotiate with the Taliban is shared by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Law and order has deteriorated with militants, extremists and the lawless wreaking havoc at will. Such negotiations will polarise public opinion. How can we talk with people who have killed innocents by the thousands, beheaded our soldiers and bombed our mosques; who do not recognise the constitution and see democracy as anti-Islamic? The Taliban and other militants spreading death and destruction are nobody’s friends. Appeasement will be disastrous. Instead, doubts and concerns about their warped mindset must be removed and a consensus must be reached.

The unending cycle of violence can only be brought under control when terrorism is defeated by a duly formulated comprehensive policy. Neither the PML-N nor the PTI should be taken in by Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s offer to mediate with the Taliban – their representatives refused to meet him in Doha very recently. A Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF) on the pattern of the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) must be set up, or the ANF beefed-up to become a CTF. Are drugs a greater threat than terrorism?

Without the participation of the people democracy is a farce. Providing governance to the people at the grass-roots level is vital for any civilised society. Functioning local bodies are the very basis of any democracy; they encourage self-participation, ownership, debate and involvement of local communities, stakeholders in the welfare and well-being of a unified society. Notwithstanding their mandate at the macro level, why do our elected representatives fear the people at the micro level? All provincial governments must immediately announce LB elections to take place within 60-90 days.

A free market-oriented businessman, Mian Nawaz Sharif has a reputation for economic competence. He has the wherewithal to take Pakistan out of the economic quagmire Zardari and his PPP have led us to. The tasks are gigantic, the challenges daunting and the hazards along the way numerous. The question is: is Mian Sahib up to providing the special leadership this country badly needs?

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

Ikram Sehgal, "What lies ahead," The News. 2013-05-30.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political science , Election commission-Pakistan , Political parties , Political leaders , Political process , Government-Pakistan , Civil society , National issues , Economic issues , Economy-Pakistan , Armed forces , Unemployment , Democracy , Corruption , Terrorism , Taliban , Poverty , President Zardari , Malik Riaz , Nawaz Sharif , Tariq Khosa , Pakistan , United States , PMLN , PPP , PTI , ECP , NRO , CTF , ANF