Monday, July 21, 2008

Political Grid

Political grid: Pakistani politics made easy


One is hearing a lot about it being a defining moment in Pakistan's history. Political parties and the civil society organizations are exhorting people to seize the moment, come out on the street and decide once for all how the country is to be run. Such calls and their general acceptance clearly demonstrate the sorry state Pakistan as a country finds itself in the 60th year of its existence.

It is a common theme of political parties both in the government and in the opposition supported by the civil society organizations that popular will as expressed in a free and transparent general election should be the starting point for constructing a new social contract that will set forth the direction for our country. This simple solution however becomes a big task as our history does not have examples of general elections those were considered free and fair except for one held in 1970 and there too the popular will as expressed at the ballot box was not accepted by the ruling junta. One however hopes that both the rulers and the ruled have learnt lessons from history and there is a sincere wish now to take our country out of current mess and start a rebuilding process in which all will be the winners as citizens of Pakistan.

Assuming that we are to have general election this year, the result of which will be acceptable to all, it becomes important that the political parties position themselves very clearly in front of the electorate to help them make informed decision rather than getting swayed by rhetoric of which we have had enough. The more these parties define themselves, the more it will help the citizens of Pakistan to seize this defining moment in our history. Political parties owe this to the people of Pakistan.

Our current political landscape highlights two basic issues on which we the people have to take decisions that can have far reaching consequences. First is choice between Dictatorship and Democracy and the second is that between Liberalism and Militancy. Unfortunately we have reached a stage where we cannot decide on one and postpone the other. We have to decide on both within this year in the general election.

In an effort to give these issues a framework for better understanding, a political grid is developed which highlights the choices available to the electorate.
The terms used are defined as follows:

Dictatorship: A leader with absolute power, usually by force

Democracy: The free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government, practiced by electing representatives of the people who then take steps in line with peoples' aspirations

Liberalism: A belief in tolerance and gradual reform in moral, religious, or political matters

Militancy: Aggression in the defence or support of a cause be it religious or nationalist, often to the point of extremism including use of force

The political grid gives us four choices related to two big issues confronting us i.e. Liberal Democracy, Liberal Dictatorship, Militant Democracy and Militant Dictatorship.

These systems of government are in use around the world and one can plot countries in this grid. That exercise if undertaken will make it easier to highlight the positives and negatives of the particular system as practiced to the people of that country.

It is generally said that no system is good or bad but it is the way it is run. Going by that dictum, these are choices and whichever is preferred by the majority of people of Pakistan as expressed at the ballot box should be acceptable to all. It is also assumed that all political parties, whatever agenda and its implementation strategy they are pursuing, have general well being and development of people of Pakistan as their objective. It is pertinent to point out at this stage that the world at large will also have a view on whatever form of government we decide as no country whether big or small can hope to survive and prosper in isolation in today's world of both political and economic interdependence.

An attempt has been made to plot main political parties in different boxes of the political grid based on their current postures.

Liberal Democracy

PPP clearly qualifies as a liberal democrat however the question mark on its democratic credentials is rumours regarding a deal with General Musharraf. MMA when it talks of supremacy of constitution and rule of law and belief in peoples' verdict in general elections comes out as a liberal democrat but when it supports religious militants who challenge state authority through illegal means it falls into the category of militant democracy. PML (N) fits in as a liberal democrat but creates confusion when it maintains silence on religious militancy or aligns itself with the MMA.

Liberal Democracy as a form of government is adopted by most of the developed world. Francis Fukuyama in his landmark essay 'End of History' considers it a winner and an accepted norm universally.

Liberal Dictatorship

Current government set-up led by General Musharraf and supported by PML (Q) and MQM fits in here. However, appeasement policy of PML (Q) towards religious militants and MQM use of militant tactics in its strongholds negates its liberal posturing. Both PML (Q) and MQM state their belief in democracy. They can qualify for liberal democrat position if they demonstrate their democratic mind-set by facilitating holding of free and transparent general elections this year.

Singapore is an example of a country achieving its economic miracle under liberal dictatorship and now gradually moving towards liberal democracy.

Militant Democracy

This is the most dangerous form of governance in the political grid as it can quickly turn into a militant dictatorship without a general acceptance from the electorate. Remember Hitler came into power in Germany through this route. MMA government in the NWFP when it encourages or remains quiet on acts of vigilantism in the province fits in here.

Iran is an example of a country run under this form of government.

Militant Dictatorship

None of our political parties supports this form of government. Militant Dictatorship has never happened through the will of the electorate; it can be an outcome of spiraling down from militant democracy.

North Korea as a country comes into this category.

It is now for our political parties well aware of our history and having experienced both ups and downs of power and its use and abuse to place themselves honestly in the grid for people of Pakistan to make an informed choice. They owe it to us in this defining moment of our history. If they have self belief and honesty of purpose then they should not have any hesitation or shame in saying loud and clear what they stand for. Majority of the electorate may be illiterate but they are not ignorant, they will discern wobbliness and expediency and reject them.

It becomes paramount responsibility of the Media in this election year to ensure that our political parties position themselves very clearly in front of the people on twin issues of Dictatorship vs. Democracy and Liberalism vs. Militancy. Use of political grid will help it in this venture.

A New Dawn

A New Dawn
Printed in The Nation dated Friday, May 23, 2008

We finally have a popular, democratically elected government. This is a wish that has come true after a long wait and struggle. We all yearned for it after experiencing the ups and downs of the military and civil governments over the last 60 years. We all felt that a democratic order despite its failings is a much lesser evil as compared to the dictatorial military rule. We were all very happy that our political leaders were acknowledging their mistakes and promising us a new beginning. We all believed that only a democratic government representing the will of the people could keep the country united and resolve the multifaceted problems facing us including those of extremism and terrorism.

Our hopes showed signs of fulfilment when the coalition governments were sworn in at the federal and the provincial levels. We saw our political leaders showing sagacity and political maturity. We had our prime minister and the chief ministers in the provinces unanimously elected.

The bitterness of the past was all forgotten and it was a march forward in line with the Charter of Democracy (a document which some of us even equated with the Magna Carta) signed earlier between our two main political parties. We all felt that this prevailing spirit of understanding and accommodation would help in establishing democracy on a firm footing in our country.

We believed that a democratic order in which all the four federating units had a stake would help us in becoming a cohesive and strong Pakistani nation. It would be a government in which the people and their welfare would be a top priority and all the resources would be marshalled to that end.

All these good feelings and hopes are still there but perhaps not in as pristine a condition as they originally were. Our faith that a democratic order - warts and all - is the best system of governance suited to our conditions remains unshaken. We know that long military rule interregnums have always left us worse off as a country and as a nation and nobody knows this better than our political leaders currently at the helms of the affairs. Our political leaders and our people remain aware that the so-called Establishment which has grown from strength to strength is not going to let go without putting up stiff resistance. We know that we can succeed only by remaining united and vigilant and have to be prepared to thwart attempts at creating disunity amongst us.

Unfortunately, while the celebrations on having turned a corner and getting on course for a bright future are still fresh, the deposed judges' restoration and continuous stay of General Musharraf as the president have become issues that can, if exploited by the self-serving anti-democratic forces, put a stop to all hopes of a democratic revival and a New Dawn for our country. Both these issues are critical as anything less than the restoration of the deposed judges would amount to validating the illegal action taken on November 3 last year by the chief of army staff.

And General Musharraf's election as the president while still in uniform was totally against the letter and spirit of the constitution. Our main political parties - PPP and PML-N - are united in the desire of having these judges restored to their just positions and calling General Musharraf an unconstitutional president.

No political party having roots in the people can dare have any other position. The difference of opinion among them is on the modalities and timing of putting these wrongs right. Given time the leadership of both these parties has the vision and commitment to resolve these issues as their festering would be a political suicide for them.

Ordinary people are happy that the elected governments at the federal and the provincial level are now finally in place and making the right noises regarding the issues of great concern for them. However segments of our intelligentsia are turning the judges' restoration and General Musharraf's impeachment into a do or die battle that has to be fought today and are not at all willing to give time to the democratic government to sort out the mess it has inherited in a thoughtful, calibrated manner.

Differences of opinion among the coalition partners are being projected as a correct or "sell-out" stands. Attempts are being made to categorise political leaders as heroes or villains. This pressure is pushing the political leaders to harden their stance and they have started indulging in the game of political point scoring. Watching some of the talk shows on the electronic media, one gets the impression that our hopes of a Grand National government taking us forward towards a better tomorrow are doomed. Mudslinging among the political parties, as seen in the 1990s, is about to start and political leaders would again become a tool in the hands of the Establishment for playing games at which it is quite adept to the detriment of the people.

It is paradoxical that while we suffer military dictatorships for years, our patience runs out in months when a democratic government takes over. We want all the sins of the dictatorial rule atoned for within days and anything less is taken as sheer incompetence, expediency or compromise with the status quo. A sociologist may have an explanation for this but this is an attitude that we should have learnt to curb by now. Our history is full off disasters we could have avoided had we shown patience and faith in a political system.

It has always been our impatience and yearning for a messiah that has landed us into military rules time and again with its disastrous consequences. If we continue with the same attitude we are likely to have no different result. We have to understand that politics is all about taking everybody on board and leaving nobody out in the cold. It is all about negotiations, compromises, agreements and results. Even use of force, when undertaken, is considered a tool for short-term effect and as a part of ongoing negotiation to reach a settlement. All this takes time but the solutions thus arrived at are always for the long term and for greater stability.

It is heartening to see that our political leaders despite provocations continue to show faith in working together and respecting the mandate given by the people. They are quite categorical in their pronouncements in this regard. They know that they can change the system, strengthen state institutions and let democracy take roots in Pakistan only by staying together.

They are aware that there are strong forces looking for an opening to sabotage this process. It is the duty of the civil society, including the media that political leaders are supported in this endeavour and are allowed to work at their own pace. Democracy can only work when we develop the patience to give the elected government time for which it is elected to deliver on its promises. If it fails to meet peoples expectations then comes election time it will meet its Waterloo.

At times two political parties can provide totally different solutions to the same issue. This does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong. It is their way of looking at the issue and in the end it is for the electorate to decide which party it would repose its confidence in. TV channels talk shows hosts who have gained well-deserved stature in a short time due to their ability and knowledge are advised to encourage unity among the coalition government partners, discourage attempts to turn differences of opinions into a make or break situation and avoid forcing the political leaders into tight corners in their enthusiasm to reduce everything to black and white, here and now.

A new dawn is beckoning us from afar. Will we march towards it together or will our steps falter due to impatience, as has happened many times in our past?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

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Pakistan Thinkers Parsadise is open for all proactive,creative and positive people with a vision to play a role in nation building.The blog is open for discussion on issues of common interest.