The morning after – Saroop Ijaz

Following is an article published in Express Tribune.  The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk

To wake up hammered, disoriented, with a headache in an unfamiliar place with a stranger on the side is unnerving. It might be exhilarating or it might be mortifying, yet it will almost always be a slightly nervous moment. That is how some will feel today. Some might not have a complete stranger on the side, yet a changed person, and it is a new place and you are a bit hammered. There is nervousness, because somewhere deep down, there is always a small possibility that this might not be fleeting. To be caught in a moment happens to the best of us, and it could be quite pleasant or positively horrible. There are rendezvous which end up in lifelong companionships, some happy, some not quite so, or paying child support or worse. Yet, the morning after and the anxiety is the price of that moment, and the thrill of it. To be young and clueless has its charms, so does being not so young and reckless. Being a little nervous is not always a bad thing.

It is Election Day as these lines are being written, and by the time you read this, you will have some idea of what the results look like. The obvious and safe thing to do right now is to not make a prediction. Predictions are a bad idea generally, particularly so in this election. The analysts, the guys on the street, the astrologers, the candidates themselves, nobody had a clue, okay, at least, most didn’t.

This election has seen more blood than any election should see. The polling day begins with news of electoral candidates being kidnapped. Most of the violence and the threat of it were not random; it had a clear and declared pattern. Some parties were targeted and cornered, while others addressed huge gatherings. Most recently, the son of a former prime minister was abducted. The campaign was conducted primarily in Punjab, while the other provinces burnt. None of the parties who had a free campaign run (namely the PML-N and the PTI) seemed overly concerned with soliciting the “poor” vote. One of these parties has a tremendously confused stance on one of the major crisis we face — terrorism. The other, has gotten both the major questions exactly wrong — namely militancy and the civil-military balance. The tone of this election was set by urban, middle class Punjab. More media coverage was given to the untimely death of a white tiger than the dozens of PPP, ANP and MQM workers and supporters murdered. The accidental tumble of Mr Imran Khan (who thankfully, is well) saw this country displaying heartening solidarity and empathy. However, not much of it was reciprocated when Syed Ali Haider Gilani was kidnapped.

Were these elections Free and Fair? Short answer: no. Could it have been worse? Short answer: yes. Will visible improvement be made in the country in the short run? Short answer: no. Has there been progress made? Short answer: mildly emphatic yes.

These were not ideal elections. Actually, these were as distant from ideal elections as we have seen. Yet, there is hope. Today is a day to invoke some clichés. The system would have been strengthened. People would have made choices (what choices they make is an important question, yet secondary to having the freedom to make it). No major political party boycotted the election (kudos to those who were under unrelenting attack). A lot of people would have voted for the first time, hence displaying their faith in the system for the first time. All political parties both inside and outside parliament deserve congratulation. No party has actively joined hands with the establishment, though there is occasional footsie by some. The process of a transition would have begun; an imperfect, wobbly and bloody transition, yet a democratic transition. There is value in that.

It might be useful to remind ourselves of the cost of this transition. Shaheed BB was martyred in this struggle, and this country owes a substantial bit of democracy to her martyrdom and her willingness to die for it. Regardless of the results, I will end up listening to Bhutto de Beti and Dilan teer bijan on the evening of May 11. This election could not have happened had this incredibly brave woman not decided to stand up for us. And regardless of the results and party affiliations and victories, display the decency to express your gratitude. Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Bashir Bilour and many others from the PPP, the ANP and our brave soldiers had to die for you and me to have the opportunity to vote. One does not have to be a voter or supporter of these parties to acknowledge their struggle.

The transition and the potential new government also pose a challenge to many of us. Defending democracy for the past five years earned the title of “government apologist”, etc, and now there is a distinct possibility that there might be a different government with ruling parties that we do not agree with ideologically (at least, the possibility is a strong one in my particular case). The right of the elected representatives to form government and run it without undue interference from unelected institutions and to complete its term will have to be argued and defended as firmly as before, even when some of us might not like the parties in power. Perhaps, it becomes even more important when we do not like them.

So, in the end, be a little nervous on the morning after. A lot of us were caught in the moment, and went with the flow, when not completely conscious. Have a glass of water; maybe light a cigarette, wait for the hangover to subside, look around, retrace the night and think calmly. We do not know if it is going to be a one-nighter or a lifetime of bliss. Probably neither really, it will be somewhere in the middle. Yet, congratulate yourself; at least you made a move, took a chance.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2013.

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