Op-Ed: Opposition running ‘Democracy (Pvt) Ltd’ in the name of Democracy

Between Article 63-A of the Constitution, Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, we no longer live in the age of constitutional democracy, in Pakistan. Between Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, we live in the time of Democracy (Pvt) Ltd. A father and son (or daughter) enterprise.

Opposition Democracy

The veneer of democracy, within our ‘democratic’ parties, is gradually (but surely) being demolished by a new generation of hereditary leaders across the opposition spectrum. In particular, as the next generation of political leadership takes over from their respective fathers in PML(N), PPP, and JUI-F—extinguishing all dissent in its path—we should finally bury the myth of democratic political parties, and instead adopt the more apt idea of ‘Democracy (Pvt) Ltd’.

Too harsh an assessment? Let us analyse this claim.

Undemocratic culture within political parties

There can be no cavil with the fact that over the past many decades, PML(N), PPP and JUI-F, and even PTI have functioned within the unrelenting clutches of their respective ‘quaids’. No one can meaningfully question the judgment of the leader. No one can really contest the quaid’s leadership. No one can take a dissenting line within the party, or disagree with the narrative of its leadership, without facing extreme backlash, even excommunication. A lesson that the likes of Chaudhary Nisar (of PML(N)) and Naheed Khan (of PPP) know very well. A lesson that Ghias-ud-Din and Jaleel Ahmed Sharaqpuri of PML(N) have recently been taught again by fellow PML(N) members, when these individuals had the audacity to proclaim that they do not ascribe to Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz’s narrative against state institutions.

Read more: Pakistan’s democracy & model of development: A bubble burst

This kind of individual hegemony is not only undemocratic, it is also against the spirit of the relevant law. Specifically, per the Election Act, 2017 (as well as its predecessor laws), each “political party” is required to have “an elected general council at the federal, provincial and local levels”, after healthy competition within the party. Per Section 208 of the Election Act, 2017, the “office-bearers of a political party” are required to be “elected periodically”, through open elections that take place at least once every five years. And, most importantly, per the law, every “member” of any political party must have “an equal opportunity” to contest for “any political party office”.

Now, the dream of an “equal opportunity” aside, what do you think would happen to the likes of Jaleel Sharaqpuri, if they submitted their name for election of the PML(N) presidency against the Sharif family. They would lose, of course, but what would happen next? Will they be allowed to even stay a member of the party? Will they be awarded a party ticket for the next election, after exhibiting such impudence against the king? Better yet, could their life and property remain safe, against attacks from the likes of PMA Mian Rauf and his associates?

Even worse treatment would be meted out to anyone who dares such audacity in the PPP. After all, the likes of Rao Anwar and Uzair Baloch, across interior Sindh and Karachi, have been ‘kept’ for exactly this kind of work.

Read more: PPP paid Rs50 million in cash to Uzair Baloch, reveals Habib Jan Baloch

Be that as it may, it had been hoped that the post-Nawaz/Zardari/Fazl-ur-Rehman period would see a relenting of such monarchical hold on political power. It had been hoped that, once Nawaz and Zardari grow old, and move out of active politics, that their political parties would open the door to meritorious competition. That new faces, groomed in the shade of political struggles would take over the helm of political affairs. There would be a plurality of opinion; space for political dissent; room to look past individual fiefdoms, and towards greener pastures of democratic promise.

All of that, as it turns out, was a pipedream.

Political baton: a property of the direct descendants?  

Over the past few weeks, especially during the recent multi-party conference and subsequent meetings of PDM, the political baton of most of the major political parties seems to passing from their ‘quaideen’ to their direct descendants: Maryam Nawaz, Bilawal Zardari, and Maulana Asad Mehmood.

PML(N) has tremendous political leaders in its wings, with decades of democratic experience and credentials—but the clear and present successor to Nawaz Sharif is his daughter Maryam alone. Not even Shehbaz Sharif, or his children. Not Abbas Sharif’s children. Not the many leaders who started this political party in the mid-1980s. No. Just Maryam. Because politics, like the Avenfield Apartments, is a hereditary entitlement.

Similarly, the ‘democratic’ credentials of the erstwhile Bhutto’s PPP have now been reduced to the inheritance right of Zardari and his kids. After the death of Benazir Bhutto, towering political personalities—like Aitzaz Ahsan and Raza Rabbani—all fell in line with this inheritance claim, written hurriedly at the back of a napkin. No election to political party office was required. ‘Sayein’, and his generations to come, will forever hold a right of rulership over Bhutto’s ‘democratic’ enterprise.

Raed more: PPP & PMLN leadership has darkened the future of their parties: Fawad Chaudhry

Not to be left behind, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has brought his son, Maulana Asad Mahmood, to the forefront of his political party. And ANP has Aimal Wali Khan as the head of its KPK political activities. On a lighter note—though this is not a joke—recently a member of ANP said that their future General Secretary, son of Aimal Wali Khan, has been born; and that the party looks forward to working under his leadership as soon as he is able to find his feet.

When confronted with this embarrassment of hereditary leadership, in the name of democracy, members of PML(N) and PPP are quick to point out that they nominated Yousaf Raza Gillani and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (outside of Bhutto and Sharif families) as Prime Ministers. Well, let’s not be fooled by this. After Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, Shahid Khaqal Abbasi became the Prime Minister of Pakistan—not because he was the party’s democratic choice (though none of them would accept this publicly). He was the choice of one person: Nawaz Sharif; in concurrence with his ambitious daughter, of course. And this alone was sufficient for Mr Abbasi to become the Prime Minister. And, similarly, Yousaf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervez Ashraf were not democratic choices of party workers; they had the blessing of one man alone: Asif Zardari.

In the comfort of this hereditary political leadership, the next generation of PML(N) and PPP leaders are becoming more belligerent in their narrative. Since they are the kids of their fathers, their claim to leadership remains unchallenged. And anyone or any system that challenges this political claim is met with venom. Institutions, courts, media, public, anyone who interferes with this hereditary claim to power is an enemy. And it is this idea (along with a defence of financial fiefdoms) that makes Maryam Nawaz, Bilawal Zardari and Maulana Asad Mahmood belligerent in this pro-confrontation, anti-judiciary, and anti-state institutions stance!

Here is the truth: between Article 63-A of the Constitution, Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, we no longer live in the age of constitutional democracy, in Pakistan. Between Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, we live in the time of Democracy (Pvt) Ltd. A father and son (or daughter) enterprise. There is no room for dissent, in this political model. No space for independent thinking. Politics is now another name for serving the royal family members, only. And anyone who disagrees will be discarded and victimised. And in this structure of governance, we are not citizens of the State. We are subjects of the King.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at saad@post.harvard.edu, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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