Democracy in slow motion

This week began with a big bang. The final JIT report was submitted to the Supreme Court and it was made public almost instantly. Nawaz-loyalists could spin it to their heart’s content, and try to dilute the significance of its clear findings with manufactured controversies and conspiracies, but facts in the comprehensive report speak louder than their many words. The House of Sharif has been caught with its pants down.

We can’t be too sure about how the events would unfold in the coming days. It will depend on how the Supreme Court handles the Panama case and how the Prime Minister reacts, on what the political opposition does and what the Bar leaders decide, on fissures within the ruling party and the public mood. If push comes to a shove, it will depend on where the military stands. But one thing is certain: The Nawaz government has fallen like Humpty Dumpty and nothing could repair it now.

The final JIT report is as good as a verdict against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and it is hard to imagine that his government would hold despite its findings, what with the damning details circulating in the public domain. The entire report has been translated in Urdu and it is being shared widely. Evidence of forgery, tampering of official record, tax-evasion, money-laundering, hiding assets, living beyond one’s means and lying blatantly to the public is being brought under the microscope of talk-show hosts and their guests.

Trust the diehard champions and cheer-leaders of democracy to see the accountability of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children as a conspiracy against democracy. They have nothing to say about the actual findings of the JIT report and would rather bring everything down to a sweeping notion of civilian supremacy which is clearly distorted. They’d have us believe that the JIT members, the Supreme Court judges, the security establishment and Imran Khan are all conspiring against the elected government. They insist that the only way to save democracy is to save the Nawaz government.

The saner elements are calling for Nawaz Sharif to step down and let another PML-N leader assume the office of prime minister till the next elections but the diehard defenders of democracy would have none of that. It is for the people to decide and people will decide it in the 2018 elections, they say. They’d have us believe that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification by the Supreme Court would constitute an unconstitutional ouster.

As if there weren’t enough problems with our money-driven parliamentary system already, these democracy-defenders would like to convince people that democracy is the name of a person called Nawaz Sharif. They’d like us to believe that democracy starts and ends at elections, and whoever wins should be allowed to rule as a king for the next five years; free to commit crimes and violate the constitution with impunity, free to basically do as he pleases.

What makes their position even more absurd is the fact that our electoral system is broken to begin with. The parliamentary committee on electoral reforms has done nothing to ensure that massive irregularities identified in the 2013 elections are not repeated. Nothing has been done to make the Election Commission of Pakistan independent. It doesn’t seem to matter that only those with tons of money have a real chance in the game of elections. People in whose name they play their exclusive game can only cheer from the stands every five years. That’s their place in the scheme of things.

Ideally, we should envision our democracy project from a scratch and build it from the grassroots to ensure inclusion. The parliamentary fraud is an exclusive circus of the elites. It is non-representative and its first-past-the-post electoral scheme flies in the face of basic principles of democracy. The constituencies, districts and provinces have been carved out to ensure that the deeply-entrenched power-players remain deeply entrenched.

It’s more like a power-grab that spans generations. Why would the elites that control our parliamentary system reform it to make it more inclusive? They like it the way it is as it is carved out to their advantage. They like the rules that make it exclusive. So how do we hope to transition from an oligarchy to a functional democracy on the back of such a system? It’s more of a vicious circle.

Besides, given the findings of the JIT, can we trust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ensure a free and fair election? Even if we were to disregard the deeper problems with our parliamentary system, can we ignore what we have learnt from the JIT report about the person of our prime minister and his finances? Given his propensity to treat state institutions as handmaidens for personal advancement and a legacy of tampered official records, can we expect fair-play?

The champions and cheerleaders of our broken democracy, and our political leaders who ride on the back of their twisted narrative, offer little hope for bringing our parliamentary system closer to democratic principles. They are trapped in a bubble of self-serving democratic theory that has nothing to do with real people on the ground.

To my mind, it is Pakistani officials like the JIT members who are laying the foundations for a democratic culture, officials who do their duty with integrity and competence without fear or favour, who refuse to be treated like personal servants of people in power and serve their institutions instead. They signify the awakening of the public mind which is pushing us towards a more democratic polity in slow motion.

In a broken world taped over by value-free diplomacy, where those who lead our world make deals over dead bodies and broken hopes, where rivers of innocent blood are allowed to run for decades and entire societies are allowed to be ravaged by greed and an unquenchable thirst for power, this broken democracy is all we have to work with for now. The hope is that brave men of integrity keep rising in our official ranks.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be contacted at

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