Elections prove democracy maturing

electionsLast week’s by polls and Senate elections demonstrated that democracy in Pakistan is maturing.

Both sets of elections were carried out with relatively little controversy compared to past elections. During the by polls, there was the tragic incident of PTI supporters opening fire on PPP workers celebrating a victory in Multan, the confusion over NA-140 results, and of course the case of Waheeda Shah’s slapping an APO. But isn’t it a positive trajectory if we have entered a phase in our democracy when the most controversial incident is a mere slap?

The Senate elections too went off without much incident. Despite accusations of some that there was massive horse trading and deal making the affected the outcome, the results paint a different picture. PPP’s diehard activist Aslam Gill lost what was supposed to be a secure Senate seat from Punjab. Sure some secret conspiracy to rig the outcome of elections would have prevented such a result. Actually, Gill’s loss is hard evidence that the polls went off more fairly than in the past, as were reports that PML-N’s position was strengthened by the results as well.

Most importantly, though, the elections happened. Despite all the doomsday predictions of coups and Parties fielded candidates, organised their supporters, and officials were elected according to the process defined in the Constitution. By all accounts, there was no major interference from agencies or institutions and a democratically elected Senate is in place through 2015. Calls for boycotting the by polls went ignored by the masses demonstrating that they are more interested in leaders who are willing to work towards real solutions than those who know nothing but protest politics.

With this, the stage is set for the next general elections in which the masses will once again make their way to the ballot box and the nation is preparing, for the first time in our history, to transfer power from one democratically-elected government to the next.

The elections in 2008 were not flawless, but they were the beginning of a new era. Since that historic shift, we have seen each following election carried out with fewer incidents and less controversies. Regardless of which party each voter supports, it is clear that that is overwhelming support for the democratic process. And with that, we all win.

PTI’s New Election Strategy Same as Old Election Strategy

Imran KhanPTI has never managed to do well in the polls. In the 15 years since Imran Khan began his one man political show, the only seat his party has ever managed to win was Imran’s. In 2008, PTI didn’t even bother to compete in elections. But the past few months have seen the rise of Imran’s “tsunami”, and hundreds of thousands of supporters turning out to free concerts rallies across the country. But while PTI seems to have figured out a winning marketing strategy, it’s still clinging to the same old failed election strategy of the past.

Sitting on the Sidelines

The first glimpse of the PTI “tsunami” is coming up in by seven upcoming by-polls. According to a report in Dawn, the strategy is the same as in 2008 – sit on the sidelines and complain.

In by-polls for five National and two Punjab assemblies’ seats to be held on Feb 25, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) being a silent spectator is likely to lose the ground once held by its leaders.

Of the seven by-poll seats, four National and one Punjab assemblies’ seats were held by PTI leaders who vacated them to join hands with Imran Khan, chairman of the PTI. Later, as the PTI made a policy not to take part in by-polls, the former parliamentarians are in a fix either to stay away from the process or support their traditional rivals.

Dynasty Denied

One of Imran Khan’s PTI Vice-Chairman Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi wants his son to inherit his old National Assembly seat (NA-148). Imran Khan didn’t think he could cover up for such blatant dynastic politics, though, and rejected the idea. Rather than suggest a ‘clean’ politician for the seat, though, PTI is preparing to run…nobody. According to Dawn, “Mr Qureshi wants his supporters not to vote in by-polls”. I guess SMQ thinks that if his son can’t inherit his old seat, nobody should have it.

All Kings and No Soldiers

The dilemma with NA-148 is an extreme example, but it is also indicative of a larger problem in PTI. With the induction of big wigs from other parties, PTI has been plagued with the problem of having too many ‘Kings’ and not enough soldiers. Take former PML-N leader Javed Hashmi. He jumped on the PTI bandwagon in December after feeling that the Sharifs ignored his desire for advancement.

Of course, Javed Hashmi is not the only political big wig to switch to PTI in hopes of a promotion. This has caused all manner of jealousy and infighting among the PTI ranks, even causing Imran to announce that he’s going to have to dissolve the whole organisation so that he can come up with a new structure that pleases everyone. Oh, and this new party structure, “will not be elected but carefully selected”.

Perhaps no greater example of the impending problem, however, is NA-140 where two PTI big wigs are actually supporting opposing candidates – neither of them representing PTI. Of course, this is just a taste of what’s to come once the general elections are scheduled.

Both Ali and Kasuri recently joined the PTI and were aspiring to contest the next general election from the NA-140 constituency from where they contested the last general election from PPP and PML-Q platforms, respectively

Luckily, PTI already has a strategy for this type of problem – nobody runs and everyone can complain about how unfair elections are.

Bad Omen

Ultimately, whether or not PTI has a losing election strategy is not only something that should concern PTI supporters. As I noted, PTI does is good at marketing and they have managed to attract a lot of new supporters lately – that can’t be ignored. But we should ask ourselves this: If Imran Khan can’t even manage his own party during elections, how is he supposed to manage a government where he doesn’t get to reinvent the entire structure and ‘carefully select’ the players each time things go wrong? Is he going to follow in the footsteps of his political mentor Gen Zia-ul-Haq and persecute opposition members rather than try to find common ground with them?

Mainstream political leaders like Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, Fazl-ur-Rehman, and Altaf Hussain are often disparaged by Imran Khan because they make deals and compromises. But that’s how politics works in a democracy. There’s no supreme leader who gets to ‘carefully select’ whoever he wants and ignore or imprison those who disagree with him.

It remains to be seen whether PTI can translate Facebook fans into votes. Imran Khan’s ‘tsunami’ may be more hype than reality, but many sober analysts do believe that PTI has the opportunity steal several seats from PML-N in Punjab during the next elections. Of course, even this possibility requires Imran Khan to get his party in order and to develop a better election strategy than he’s had in the past. So far, it’s not looking promising.

Want the economy to improve? Defend democracy.

As political season gets into full swing, one of the top issues is certainly the weak economic growth that the country has been suffering. Obviously there are many reasons why the economy has sputtered instead of taking off, but one important reason in particular is being overlooked. Arif Habib Group Chairman and CEO Arif Habib warned this week that economic growth is suffering due to negative perception of the country by foreign investors.

Speaking at a reception held in his honour by Ruhi Farzana Shafi, he said that “our capital markets are one of the best in the world providing 31 percent average return in the last 10 years, but it has been marred by image issues.”

Over 100 foreign investors left after Islamabad blast.

Image issues? What issues could possibly mar our image with foreign investors? Could it be the image of two government officials – a governor and a cabinet minister – being assassinated for standing up for minority rights? Could it be the image of lawyers throwing flowers at confessed assassin Mumtaz Qadri? Could it be the fact that Osama bin Laden was found living outside Kakul? Perhaps. And perhaps instead of ignoring this growing threat, the judicary should take notice and put militants in jail rather than allowing them to go around shooting up the streets.
Or perhaps it could be the never ending stream of cynical media reports and political slogans terming the government elected by the people as the most corrupt, incompetent rulers. Or the media predictions that the government will fall any day now. Perhaps it is the statements of anonymous military spokesmen who claim that Army is using the judiciary to unseat a democratically elected president.

Could it be that the ‘image issues’ we have come from the fact that in the modern media age, all of our political hyperbole, constant complaining, and drawing room gossip is now available for the whole world to see? And maybe, just maybe, foreign investors don’t want to risk their money in a nation that can’t hold two elections in a row? Actually, there may be something to this.

According to research by economist Ishrat Husain published in the Columbia Journal of International Affairs, political instability – or the expectation of it – is a key obstacle to economic growth in Pakistan.

The tour d’horizon of the past sixty years of Pakistan’s economic history lends credence to the argument that interruptions to the orderly political process whereby elected governments were dismissed, forced to resign or overthrown further accentuated the tendency of risk aversion. Besieged with a feeling of uncertainty over their future, elected representatives have indulged in distribution of patronage to their supporters as well as to self-enrichment. Both the preoccupation with keeping power—applied to both the military rulers and the elected regimes—and fending off attacks from the opposition by co-opting them through state patronage or by coercion has led to laxity in fiscal and monetary policies and to the concentration of economic and political power. The excessive use of discretion in case-by-case policymaking to favor narrow interest groups has derailed institutionalized decision-making based on well-established rules and transparency in transactions.

The solution, Ishrat Husain says, is obvious:

The lesson to be learned from this experience is quite obvious but worth repeating. Democracy, with such flaws and shortcomings as corruption and patronage, may cause economic disruptions and slow down development in the short-term. But it should be allowed to run its course as the inherent process of fresh leadership and governmental accountability through new elections provides a built-in stability to the system that eventually brings the economy back to equilibrium. Interruptions to the democratic process in the name of economic efficiency have created more problems than solutions in Pakistan.

With Senate elections only three months away, and general elections soon to follow, derailing the democratic process would be gratuitous and self-defeating at this point. Whatever might be gained by installing this mythical government of selfless technocrats would be more then undone by the demonstration of impatience and unwillingness to abide by the rule of law.

If the people want to change who’s in office, let them choose so with their ballot. Economies don’t turn around overnight. If we want the economy to improve, we should elect those who we believe have the best policies to improve it and give them a chance to do so without terming them a failure before they can even start.

Strange outcome of ECP’s dual standard

ballots

ECP has barred dual nationality holders from contesting elections, it was reported today. ECP has also declared that it is re-considering a proposal expanding the right to vote to people who aren’t Pakistani nationals.

The strange outcome of ECP’s dual standard, obviously, will be that people who don’t live in Pakistan and have no intention of ever living here can decide elections, but people who actually live here can’t contest elections.

 

Lords and Masters

There seem to be two common ideas that PTI walas are pushing in their support for their Kapataan: One is that Pakistan needs Dignity, Integrity and Self Respect. The other is that PTI has achieved a sweeping popularity, or to use the unfortunate choice of metaphor of PTI General Secretary Arif Aliv, a ‘tsunami’. The first issue I have dealt with before. Today, though, I want to address the issue of PTI and democracy.

Last weekend, Islamabad lawyer and PTI wala Babar Sattar wrote another ode to the rising Kaptaan that made some curious claims about the role of democracy in Pakistan. According to Babar, “support for democracy in Pakistan is waning because people are losing faith in the electoral system as a mechanism for change”. I found this very puzzling. How can people lose faith in the electoral system after only one election? Thankfully, Babar explains it for us mere mortals.

If all that the electoral process can do is either maintain the status quo or redistribute power in varied proportions amongst the same discredited players, should we not brace up for a long dark night with no stars on the horizon? If democracy continues to be defined by this garbage-in-garbage-out politics, how will continuity of the process help?

In case you have not had the privilege of legal training, let me decipher this for you. The electoral system is a failure because people are electing the wrong leaders. Democracy is only good if it results in the right outcome. And who decides what is the right outcome? Apparently, Babar Sattar does.

But Babar is no dummy. The problem, he explains, is that the people have not had a choice that represents pure, selfless good. According to Babar Sattar, “this is where Imran Khan offers a glimmer of hope”. Because unlike MQM which is “out of ideas”, ANP which has “lost its ideology and its soul”, Babar Sattar says PTI offers the following:

  • “[Imran Khan] has positioned himself right of the centre in the company of good-for-nothing religious parties company of good-for-nothing religious parties”.
  • “The structure of [PTI]…can’t boast of reputable second-tier leadership, transparent decision-making processes and internal democratic mechanism that would prevent it from evolving into another autocratic party masquerading as a champion of democracy”.

The good news, according to Babar Sattar, is that despite the fact that his party is filled with a third-rate anti-democratic leadership that keeps company with good-for-nothing religious parties, Imran Khan brings a lot to the table. For example, Babar lists the following:

  • “Celebrity”
  • “A career of distinction as a sports hero”
  • “Philanthropy”

Babar admits that these are not “not endearing” qualities, so he goes on to list what I guess are supposed to be Imran Khan’s “endearing” qualities. Please allow me provide a brief translation for those who have not been fully indoctrinated into the ‘Cult of the Kaptaan’:

  • “Ability to speak unhesitatingly with candour” (Translation: He speaks without thinking.)
  • “Dogged faith in his own ability to foster change” (Translation: He’s an unrepentant narcissist.)
  • “His perseverance in politics despite being dismissed by pundits as a viable alternative to the mainstream parties” (Translation: He refuses to learn from his mistakes.)

According to Babar, Imran Khan believes that “ordinary people are the lords and masters of Pakistan”. Of course, it’s these “ordinary people” who keep electing “garbage”. One would think that if Imran Khan truly believed that ordinary people are the lords and masters of Pakistan, he would respect their decisions in elections.

And this brings me back to the question of this transparent attempt by PTI supporters to put into people’s heads a belief that PTI has massive support even though they can’t seem to win any elections. Does PTI believe their own hype? Or are they preparing to take another beating in the next elections by preparing to term the elections as bogus when they don’t win?

In an ironic turn of events, the American Ambassador to the UN Susan E. Rice yesterday congratulated the people of Tunisia on their elections.

Finally, the United States congratulates the Tunisian people on the reported high turnout in Sunday’s elections for a Constituent Assembly. This is a milestone on the Tunisian people’s path from dictatorship to a democratic government founded upon respect for the will of its citizens. We look forward to working with the people and government of Tunisia, including the new Constituent Assembly, over the next phase of their country’s historic transition.

The Americans are congratulating Tunisia after the people elected a moderate Islamist government (surely not their top choice), while PTI terms the people elected by Pakistanis as garbage. It makes you wonder really believes that the ordinary people are lords and masters of their own fate?