Pakistan is experiencing a dearth of democratic culture
Pakistan has often experienced an unrestrained and intense political antagonism due to its competing political elite – something which, in the long run, undermines their interests and agenda. It seems that the country’s key political parties and leaders may be returning to a similar course of action.
A new confrontation is expected to develop among major political parties once again as two of the state’s institutions, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Supreme Court, embark on holding accountable some political leaders from the previous administrations -- namely the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) which was in power from 2008 to 2013, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which was in power from 2013 to 2018.
The top leaders from both these parties -- former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari -- are likely to be thrown in the deep end of the situation as they continue to face charges of corruption and money laundering. Both Sharif and Zardari have described the accountability process as being victimized by the NAB and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, who are said to have the blessings of the military’s top brass to go ahead with the proceedings.
However, the threat of being convicted has resulted in them forging closer ties, despite the fact that their relationship, in the past, has always been marked by bitter rivalry.
These three major parties -- the PPP, PML-N, and PTI -- often engaged in bitter exchanges when they were pitted against one another as part of their election campaigns for the July 25 general elections this year. When the PTI emerged as the leading party in the elections at the federal level and in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the PML-N and the PPP questioned the PTI’s win and the legitimacy of the electoral process. They went on to describe Imran Khan as a “selected” rather than “elected” prime minister and partly blamed the military establishment for their electoral setback.
The PTI responded in an equally scathing manner. What followed were several National Assembly sessions where un-parliamentary political discourse and the trading of insults and counter-attacks were the choices of conduct between the ruling PTI and the two major opposition parties, especially the PML-N which was more bitter than the PPP after losing power at the federal level and in Punjab.
The confrontation between the PTI and the opposition parties delayed the setting up of several parliamentary committees, which resulted in no legislation being passed in the parliament in the first four months of Khan assuming office.
What Pakistan is currently experiencing is the dearth of a democratic culture due to the political conduct of its leaders. Several of them compete with one another by using foul language in their discourse, blaming the adversary party for all the ills in the country.
The PTI, for their part, blame the previous administrations for the current state of the economy due to rampant corruption, money laundering, and the misuse of state resources by the Sharif family and their close associates. Of late, their criticism of Zardari and his associates has also sharpened. In response, the PML-N and the PPP have hit back by filing their own set of complaints which involve accusations of money-laundering and the purchase of property by some PTI leaders through dubious means.
Now, in the last week of December, all three parties are expected to engage in another round of political bickering and blame game. If some key leaders of the PML-N and the PPP are convicted of corruption and money-laundering by the courts, they plan to take to the streets to dislodge the PTI government. However, given the weak organizational structure of these political parties and Khan’s rock-solid mass appeal, they are unlikely to succeed in their plans.
A confrontation between the government and the opposition, and especially the latter’s propaganda against the state institutions, can adversely impact the long-term prospects of democracy. Democracy demands restraint, moderation, and accommodation of various views for those with competing interests. It also expects that the political parties and its leaders respect and strengthen state institutions. These democratic norms are being completely disregarded in Pakistan.
The growing intensity of the war of words between the opposition and the PTI government should not divert the latter from addressing the country’s economic issues. The PTI should initiate concrete and visible policy measures for delivering its election promises to the people. It needs to pay more attention in the Punjab province where its government faces a leadership crisis and is finding it difficult to function as a coherent entity.
It must also take steps which go beyond removing encroachments from government land to ensure price control and other measures are implemented for improved standards of education, health care, and civic amenities. The PTI can sustain its current support at the grassroots level not only by engaging in tough talk with the opposition but by working towards addressing the country’s socio-economic problems.
– Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi is a Pakistan-based political analyst.