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Friday, July 19, 2024

The mockery of democracy in Pakistan

PMLN/PPP was handicapped as PTI had never been in power, so PTI had a field day building up a narrative brick by brick of corruption against the two parties who had been in power for almost 50 + years. PPP had it rough as with their change of electoral CSP which had a regional base, PTI scored two hits one after the other.

Democracy has gone through many upheavals and changes. It has been presented in many forms which have gone through a transformation to adhere to the needs of the system at that particular time. The idea generated by Greeks before Christ time went through evolutions of several kinds suited to the need of time finally settling down in a one man one vote system of western democracy. Much can be said for and against this system and it is much maligned as every dictator, fascist, general and demagogue has established a model of their own and called it democracy.

Retaining the original flavor of the origin of the word democracy denoting people power, some effort or in some cases sham effort has been made to retain this connection. Different systems have been tried out to translate people’s power into a voice to determine what the people are saying. Of course it’s subject to change and thus from time to time everyone listens or pretends to listen to people’s voices to understand what change they want. This led to government change, regime change, monarch change or in a nutshell change. In a way what was done to Julius Caesar in the Senate of Rome represented a regime change & Brutus probably was one of the original democratic turncoats.

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Thankfully the modern world sees a much painless bloodless regime change via election or loss of majority in a representative house. This is what happened earlier this month in Pakistan. A regime changes in the most peaceful way possible that is via not an election but loss of majority in a representative house. Sounds very normal. Then why this big hullabaloo? Even if we take in the foreign element as “fait accompli” regime change, or government change is a part of democratic norms.

So, what’s the beef?

Let’s leave who is right and who is wrong for intellectuals. History will judge once the dust is settled and judge very comprehensively. Why does the change seem a massive one and seems like a watershed event in our history? The answer lies in the last 10 years of the history of Pakistan. In the later part of Musharraf’s military rule the ambiance of Pakistani society changed. It was essentially a two-party system representing almost 70 % of the voters and the rest of 30 % divided into different political parties with none of them representing a sizable chunk.

Around that time a third party also entered the system and over a period of few years with the unfortunate demise of the Pakistan People’s Party into a regional entity but retaining still a sizable chunk it became a three-party field. The scenario was clear enough before this. Pakistan People’s Party represented left of the center Pakistan Muslim League represented the right of center. However, their central selling point was actually a made-up one emotional rather than tangible. PPP banked on the heroism of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in facing death from a military dictator and PMLN declared themselves as the successor of the man (General Zia Ul Haq) who allegedly murdered Bhutto (a judicial murder). Naturally enough they were protagonists, and this enmity was what sold in the elections.

As time went by & PMLN drifted a bit far from Zia’s legacy the sense of enmity wore off. It no longer remained a burning issue as PMLN also over a period of time conceded the judicial murder of Bhutto. PPP needing an electoral enemy made the mistake of latching on to an ethnic party Muhajir Qaumi Movement portraying Muhajirs as the scarecrow figure of enmity representing danger for their power base of rural Sindh. It was a mistake.

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95 % of Muhajirs lived in Karachi, the capital of Sindh

The rest of Pakistan with 5 % of Urdu speaking Muhajir residents did not see them as a danger. PPP with their new CSP was reduced to a regional party of interior Sindh (who did see Muhajir as an imaginary danger as repeatedly emphasized by PPP). Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf brought forward corruption as their CSP. Thus with PPP going off the center stage the two finalists PMLN & PTI fought on the corruption issue.

PTI successfully built up a narrative about corruption and the rest of the two parties being corrupt. Both the parties unfortunately did not have a riposte at their disposal as PTI had never come into power. So, abuse of power is something that could have happened with having power. This crippled them from giving an acceptable reply. Thus, PTI had a one way traffic of heaping blame on them. The change of CSP suddenly shifted the center light from Bhutto’s martyrdom and the legacy of General Zia to corruption and abuse of power. This resulted in the spotlight being fairly and squarely on corruption.

As the election issues evolved and corruption achieved more and more importance. A detailed national narrative consensus started to emerge. PMLN/PPP was handicapped as PTI had never been in power, so PTI had a field day building up a narrative brick by brick of corruption against the two parties who had been in power for almost 50 + years. PPP had it rough as with their change of electoral CSP which had a regional base, PTI scored two hits one after the other.

One was to label them corrupt two to take away their scarecrow as they Urdu speaking Muhajirs started to shift to PTI leaving their original ethnic party MQM This decimated the party to a rural Sindh electoral fate. PMLN had already moved out of Zia’s shadow due to his dictatorial identity and thus had a better time countering PTI. However International identification, coupled with the Panama papers, exacerbated by confrontation with institutions finally threw the party out of power in 2018.

Now ten years of intense propaganda, repeated almost a daily dosage by PTI of narrative building, severe emphatic disclosure almost with carpet bombing intensity by state media, the identification, procurement and making accessible of all assertion by foreign entities made the corruption of Sharif & Zardari family a universal truth. The most damaging aspect was the complete adaptability of the armed forces to add their weight to the narrative.

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This was the last nail in the coffin

The question arises why? All military dictators had tried to use corruption as an issue to perpetuate their rule; the masses never agreed to that. So why will they take this assertion this time as gospel? Every time the army had propagated the corrupt status of politicians, they had actually usurped power and had an ax to grind. The Armed forces as an institution have full respect and belief of the Pakistanis because we live with enemies on almost all sides of our country. The existence of Pakistan literally depends on the armed forces. Plus they are one of the most disciplined and trained armies in the world. But this time they were not in power yet they added to the narrative. This actually was the stamp of final confirmation in people’s minds.

So now we have a situation where people have no doubt that the Sharif and Zardari family are corrupt. Electoral support is a different matter but recognizing the fact is a separate issue. Zardari’s 10 % tag, his surrey mansion, his chateau in France, the launch full of money is believed by people, while Shahbaz’s money laundering, Nawaz’s properties in London is believed by people. In Imran Khan’s case he has a philanthropic history to support him and has developed an aura of honesty around himself but again this was his first trek into the power corridor and now that he is out of it the jury is still out or the opposing parties would want it to be.

It took many years to actually powerfully and assertively proclaim that corruption is bad and these two families are corrupt. The establishment played a serious role in forming & developing of the belief. Suddenly the roles are reversed. Alleged money launderer Shahbaz Sharif is the Prime Minister, alleged corrupt Zardari might actually become the president.

The masses are confused, the masses are irritated, the masses are angry, the masses are sad, the masses are annoyed. They want this mess cleared. If Shahbaz Sharif was not a money launderer, why was he persecuted with so many cases? If he is then why is he the Prime Minister of Pakistan? This time the situation has an extra twist and that twist being the credibility of the army is also at stake. Directly or indirectly, they have contributed to the narrative of the corrupt politicians which actually inclined people to believe the narrative. Masses are so irritated that they want this issue to be cleared. No more persecution, no more spin, no more twisting the truth, no more beating about the bush.

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The other option is letting the masses conclude that yes they were corrupt but they are good rulers and they are needed to put the country on the right path. If the masses are forced to make that conclusion the societal damage that it will do to the country is immeasurable. It will be a crystal clear message that corruption is not bad, corruption is acceptable and corruption pays. Societal changes are not brought about by narrative building; it takes years. So this generation will be gone and corruption will become the way of life in Pakistan.


The author has worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. He is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.