Last Thursday, the victory of Abdul Qadir Gilani, son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a by-election to a federal parliamentary constituency from the populous Punjab province, said much about the gap between the elite and the country’s mainstream.
Following his victory, though by a narrow margin, some of Gilani’s supporters celebrated his success in the “people’s court” - drawing attention to a sharp contrast with a judicial court. The point, of course, did not go unnoticed by regular observers of Pakistan’s politics.
The younger Gilani came to the limelight to contest from the same constituency vacated by his father, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was dismissed recently by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on a contempt of court charge.
The elder Gilani’s departure was triggered after he refused to back away from defending President Asif Zardari on a matter where the Supreme Court had ordered the government in Islamabad to formally request the Swiss authorities to reinvestigate allegations of corruption against the President.
Ultimately, the matter got wrapped up in a bloated ego where notwithstanding Zardari’s controversial background, the simple issue of a formal request to the Swiss authorities for revisiting investigations of corruption was considered unthinkable. For the ruling party, Gilani’s choice of going down fighting may vindicate his stand on democracy, though his defiance did no service to improving Pakistan’s prospects.
Having gone through that recent experience, it now seems that Pakistan’s rulers are set to further politicise the matters they face today. A “people’s court” as opposed to a “judicial court” has indeed become the rallying cry for all and sundry, from ranking and high-profile leaders to grass-root activists belonging to the PPP, led controversially by Zardari.
According to one line of thought, Zardari’s position as President obliges him to remain neutral; whereas assuming charge of a large political party while serving in the country’s top public office, only makes him partisan. There are other issues too, which, of course, have wrapped the ruling structure in repeated controversies.
Respecting the judiciary and abiding by verdicts from courts must always be a central pillar for any democratic order, no matter how dysfunctional. But the reference to the “people’s court” smacks of pushing Pakistan further away from the most cherished norms of democracy.
Rather than accepting the Supreme Court’s verdict in the case of Gilani on the contempt charge, the PPP and its leaders appear determined to salvage whatever little is left of their deeply tarnished credibility, by politicising the matter. Tragically though, defiance of the kind shown by the PPP’s leaders will neither serve Pakistan’s interests nor their own.
The younger Gilani’s victory by a narrow margin said much about the prevalent trends. The PPP’s hold on the federal ruling structure and its use of official influence to seek votes for the younger Gilani still produced a narrow lead - a far cry from a landslide win. To add to the party’s muscle came the former Prime Minister himself.
Going forward, the younger Gilani’s victory says much about the sinking credibility of the PPP. In a year when Pakistan has seen some of the worst public protests over the government’s failure to tackle an ever-growing shortage of electricity, this should hardly be surprising. Going forward, the government may pat itself on the back for its so-called successes, but it is just not likely to receive a similar acknowledgement from Pakistan’s mainstream population.
Across Pakistan’s ordinary homes, the country’s common folks are just too busy trying to make their ends meet. Four years after the PPP-led coalition came to power, the prospects for ordinary people have only worsened under the heavy influence of issues such as rising inflation, growing unemployment and a general decline in the quality of life illustrated best by the acute electricity shortages.
The younger Gilani’s victory may have given the stage to the PPP to celebrate its success, but the party’s ability to steer popular opinion on its side has virtually dried up. While the ruling structure prides itself on being democratic, its history says much about the ways in which the PPP-led ruling elite remains distant from true democratic norms, found in many other parts of the world. Any amount of celebration over the younger Gilani’s electoral success will not change the writing on the wall.
The writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reproduced
from the Gulf News.