Political grid: Pakistani politics made easy
RAJA IRFAN NASR
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.