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A state of limbo

Pakistan is frozen (during a long hot summer) in a state of political limbo emanating from a singular test of wills between certain unbending forces. The economic effect of this freeze – frame is the continuing flight of capital to safer havens. This economically excruciating phenomenon is being repeated twice this year, once when our erstwhile investment companies took wings while the Finance Ministry’s bureaucracy looked on in benign fashion and now as a somewhat confused reaction to the Finance Minister’s taxation proposals. Complicated by the perception of indecisiveness in the political sector, the melting pot in Pakistan is close to reaction, with adventurism of the Third Kind always omnipresent and lurking somewhere in the gray area of unknown intangibles. Such a situation should have made it fatal for our economic well-being but lo and behold, the much maligned economic sector still manages to boom along, with nary a bust in sight, inflation and unemployment notwithstanding. Long live the black economy and in the circumstances, more power to it, howsoever else one may malign it, the engine of State is kept chugging along because of it, in total contrast to the accepted economic indicators of doom. This is all very well for the short run but black money has the Octopus-like capacity to devour the real economy and coupled with a sustained vacuum in the political life of a nation, is anathema for its economic destiny.

Known for his political sagacity, the President seemed to be running out of options till he came up with the Election date followed closely by his party-based party-less Election gambit. Surely but slowly he is regaining the initiative and come end September, when the worst of the ensuing floods will be in full swing in Pakistan, he should have re-established himself on the political high ground and if previous experience is a measure, the political parties should be in disarray by then. While the political parties may have under-estimated his special ability to remain cool and unperturbed under fire they may yet surprise everyone by remaining united till what they perceive to be the PART-ly elections in a bid to show a common front in their desperation to shorten the President’s political career. The President’s call to his natural constituency of the Great Silent Majority remains un-answered at this time but the winds do change during Autumn and anything may happen between now and November 16. As the present scenario unfolds, the political parties will probably either all go to the Supreme Court and presumably they will get a verdict in their favour for Party-based polls – but then what? The President could then conceivably have the option to postpone the elections and put up the matter to the general populace for referendum. In the end, referendum or not, one cannot escape the logic of the argument that each public representative needs to be elected by a majority of his constituents on his/her own merit and not depend on somebody else’s coat-tails (or Kameez). The allotment of election symbols on party basis is in fact counter-productive to the democratic process because it asks the individual to choose the party rather than the individual whereas it is individuals who combine to make a party and the individual should not be dependant upon the party to get oneself elected in one’s constituency. Particularly in a third world country where the rate of illiteracy is so high and the populace can be easily swayed by populist slogans by (what the President lovingly refers to as) “pressure groups”, it is important that the individual should get elected on merit so that he (or she) can justify his/her election to the constituency he/she represents. If the slogans and the media can have an all-pervasive influence on electioneering in the US of A, where the pragmatic and honest policies annunciated by Governor Bruce Babitt resulted in his getting the short end of the shrift right in the beginning of the Democratic Primaries, it speaks volumes for what the absence of tall (and false) electioneering promises can do for the aspirations of any candidate in Pakistan, or for that matter in any third world country. Certainly Party symbols have no constitutional imperative behind it and the logic and thrust of President Zia’s arguments evolve on that basis. On the other hand the logic being utilised by the political parties also carries merit inasfar as they seek to bring their like-minded candidates on a single slate into the National Assembly and, therefore, the elections certainly need to be Party-based. The Democratic aspirations can only be translated into reality through either Proportional Representation (PR) and/or run-off Second round elections meant to secure the choice of a simple majority of total voters in a single constituency when ultimately faced with two stark choices instead of the multiple ones in the first round. It is a costly process but much more economical than the present arrangement which tends to elect candidates on ethnic, religious, sectarian and parochial lines, laying the germs of future conflict. To this logic further, the Senate is an august body and has honourable members but the Senators also need to be elected on the basis of adult franchise to rid themselves of the taint of having come to the Senate on purchased Provincial Assembly votes. Most of the Senators do have the capability of being elected on that basis, conceivably only a few technocrats may be effected – and to ensure technocrats also have a say in government, some formula can be devised to ensure their representations. The Social Democrats in UK usually get about 20-23% of the popular vote and less than 4% of the seats in Parliament which means to say that a good 16-19% of the populace have no say in the English Parliament, what to talk of the Government. If there is a case for Proportional Representation in UK, there is much more a democratic case of it in third world countries like Pakistan. Once the rules are thus defined, let the best man (or woman) win. Incidentally, do they have election symbols in UK or USA for candidates in General Elections ?

The perception of the common man in the streets of Pakistan is that there is a failure of leadership at all levels and that he is the worst for it. Complicating all this is the alarming breakdown of law and order, particularly in Sindh Province, arrested somewhat after May 29, and the continuing deterioration of the official economy despite Herculean efforts by our top technocrats, led by Dr Mahbubul Haq, to stem the slide. All this is a case for growing disaffection, exploited intelligently by the vocal opposition.

However, there has been no deliberate attempt by the Opposition to foment anarchy and that is a national plus point, the maturity behind which should be duly recognised by all and sundry and not taken as an inherent weakness on their capability to translate their present snow-balling popularity into street power. A sad commentary on the situation is that basically the phenomenon of burgeoning popularity of the opposition is in fact somewhat of a negative achievement, born out of the confused wranglings for the leadership of the PML. It is in the nature of the democratic process to agitate for power and in that pursuance almost all is fair, except playing with the particular fire which threatens the existence of the nation. The President seems to have tacitly acknowledged the fact that despite what the Opposition leaders consider to be the deepest of provocations, they have not resorted to the ultimate eventuality of going into the streets, though it does seem that Air Marshal (Retired) Asghar Khan is being brought out of mothballs in his favourite (and only effective) role as a political hit man. The Oppositions’ grievances notwithstanding, the President is a consummate power player, sophisticated in the art of politics. His penchant to stay in power is as natural as the enthusiasm of those politicians out in the cold to acquire power, all truly believing that the destiny of the nation is safe with them and that is how it should be i.e the politicians must have inherent self-confidence and faith in themselves to lead the nation, the hankering for which is the end game of any democratic process, whether it be Thatcher against Kinnock or Bush against Dukakis, the Cardinals voting their choice of the Pope, etc. The hypocrisy of high brow- morality being annunciated by some politicians on the subject of power acquisition is a bit too much for us to swallow, though it may go down well in our version of Peoria, Illinois i.e. Mochi Gate, Lahore, but handling the reins of Government have much more to it than mere slogan-mongering. All said and done there are definite pitfalls in Party-less elections, one is the great divide upon ethnic, religious, parochial, sectarian lines, etc resulting in a breakdown of the fabric that binds unity together into the same melting pot. Some of these fears have been more than justified by the 1985 elections and the leadership across the broad political spectrum in every sphere of life acknowledges this great devastating weakness. On the other hand, democracy (and national unity) can certainly be served better by intelligent voting patterns based on Parties canvassing for having some of their representatives in the National Assembly (and the Senate) based on the popular vote. The Supreme Court has already given such a verdict and the President has acknowledged that the parties will play a role before, during and after elections. The ground rules need to be carefully elucidated to assuage misgivings.

The Government definitely must hold elections on Party basis with each party having full right to choose and canvass for its own candidates. However, parties may not be given any particular election symbol because each hopeful must get elected on his/her own steam in each constituency. Some of the parties rightfully claim mass popularity and have adequately efficient organisation, the lack of election symbols for Parties rather than that proposed for individuals should not be any great hindrance to their success. At the same time, the percentage of votes in each constituency should be compiled on a Proportional Representation basis, candidates being elected from the slate given by each party e.g. if the PPP gets 21% of the popular vote, 21% of its candidates should be elected to the National Assembly, the list being selected from a descending order of merit based on the percentage of votes received by each candidate in their own individual constituencies. In this manner, one could ensure the democratic aspirations of the national populace on a pro-rata basis. At the same time, in order to ensure national integration and shun regional parties, each party in the National Assembly must get at least 10% votes in each Province. Further, in order to get some seats in the National Assembly, each Party must have at least 5% of the total popular vote in the country. This would ensure the emergence of genuine national parties, of which these are only maybe three or four at the moment. The smaller and/or regional parties will be forced to merge with the bigger parties closest to their particular point of view. To have various factions in a party is a part and parcel of the democratic process. The present Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful, Bentsen, is a virtual clone of the Republican Presidential candidate, George Bush, and does not see eye to eye with his own Presidential candidate, Dukakis, on any major issue, being so far to the right that the Republicans look liberal to him. Yet he is dyed-in-the-word Democrat and will contest the election as such. It only goes to show that one can have substantially different views but belong to the same party out of conviction for a particular mutual goal.

This is not meant to be an all encompassing set-piece formula. If finances of the country would allow one should conceivably go in for a French style Second Round knockout election. Whatever the formula, it must be fair to all the people, you cannot give everyone everything but you can certainly give something to everyone. Why not start by giving a genuine democracy to Pakistan based on the real vote of the populace and find out the true aspirations of the Great Silent Majority?


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