Don’t Believe the Hype


President Zardari

Crisis sells newspapers. It gets more viewers for television so that the networks can sell advertising. All of this is understood and well known. My colleague wrote yesterday “don’t call it a comeback” about the recent rise of support, even among opposition leaders, for the democratic process and the President. Dr. Masooda Bano writes in today’s Daily Times that there is an air of planned hype around the crisis mode surrounding the President’s recent speech that was received with some criticism. We should not believe this hype, though, and Dr. Bano makes an excellent argument for why it is so important for the country to rally in support behind the democratic process.

The issue is not whether Zardari is clean or corrupt; the issue is whether or not he heads the PPP that won a major public mandate to run the affairs of the state. To make demands on the government and to deliver on basic public needs is a legitimate demand. However, to start a campaign to derail the democratic process by initiating a campaign against Zardari should have no support.

This is the point that should be made over and over. Always I hear people arguing about whether Zardari is clean or corrupt. He is the democratically elected President! People argue that PPP was only elected because of sympathy. Even if PPP got votes from sympathy, those votes still count! Whether or not you like PPP or Zardari is not the issue. The issue is that Zardari was elected in a fair democratic process. If we decide that Zardari is not the man for the job, there will be elections again at the end of his term and we can replace him with someone else. For the time being, though, he is President because we – the people of Pakistan – voted it to be so.

This crisis ‘hype’ is also ridiculous because what Zardari is saying is not new. In fact, it is part of the daily discussions across teh country. Do we really doubt that there are some people who would like to destabilize the democratic process and make some sort of coup? Ahmed Quraishi says on TV and on the Internet that he is against democracy and would like to see a coup! This is no secret. Why do we act shocked when Zardari says this?

There is nothing in Zardari’s speech that is not part of the popular belief. If he hinted towards the role of US in weakening institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and argued that Pakistan won’t be allowed to reach that stage while talking about the forces within the state, which are out to destabilise the democratic process, the question is what is so shocking about it. Anyone who engages with the ordinary public on these issues knows that both are popularly argued positions and many within the masses actually want the government to keep a distance from the US. The movement for reinstatement of the judges removed under the Muhsarraf rule was proof of the public demand for a clear delineation of authority and responsibility among the institutions of the state. There are few, apart from those directly benefitting from the military coup, who today would approve of another military intervention in the democratic process.

I was not suprised to see the reaction to Zardari’s speech. Yes, I actually thought that maybe it was not the best idea to say these things because I knew how there would be this reaction. But I knew there would be this reaction because it was obviously going to happen based on the fact that it happens every week. Reactions to Zardari in the media are like a bad teledrama: So predictable that it is obvious before it even happens.

This government was elected democratically. In the next election, we will have the opportunity for reelection, or to vote differently. But until then it is important that even those opposed to the government act as loyal opposition. This is a most important part of a healthy democracy. There is a process for making change in the country. Trying to destabilize the government is not it.

Don’t believe the hype.


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