I cannot begin to express my disappointment and anger, my heartbrokenness at the exhibition of dictatorship, narcissism, favouritism, lack of democratic spirit, and dynasticism by the PMLN, looking at its list of candidates on reserved seats. I speak not just for myself, but for millions who got convinced by the party’s slogan of ‘respect my vote.’ Anyone can take a brief look at social media criticism coming from PMLN supporters to know that I am voicing the anger of millions.
Many like me thought the party had learnt some lessons on how parliament and democracy are strengthened. But to our horror we find the party is making exactly the same mistake again after suffering itself and making the entire country suffer at its hands.
Can the PMLN explain its criteria for selection of the candidates? Was the process transparent? Was it based on merit? No one should think for a moment that I am writing this either because I have changed sides out of fear, or because I wanted a reserved seat. I am a UK-Pakistan dual citizen and neither seek nor am eligible for holding parliamentary office. I write this because I was, am, and will forever remain a constitutionalist committed to democratic principals. However, there are hundreds of women like me who are courageous, grounded, intelligent and hardworking, whose entry into parliament would have taken it to new heights; whose membership of parliament would have put the parliament on its way to becoming the kind of strong institution that it deserves to become for a truly democratic people’s Pakistan.
But tragically, one saw sisters, daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law, mothers, mothers-in-law, and aunts-in-law of PMLN leaders, and mere sycophants being given tickets for the national and provincial assemblies on reserved seats. Koi sharam, koi haya? After eleven months of ‘respect my vote’ mantra, the party awards tickets to acolytes? Koi ethics, koi grace? Some candidates certainly hold merit, but far too many do not. If the party felt that it was ensuring loyalty thus, could it not see the loyalty of those who at personal risk have carried its narrative? Could it not see the loyalty of those who despite harm to themselves have stuck by the party and furthered its cause because of their commitment to democratic ideals? Could the party not see that sycophants could not save the government, that today where the party stands in terms of the peak of its popularity is because strong and intelligent people in the population translated and simplified complex concepts for the voting public. These heroes of the movement were not trusted.
But I will rise above my disappointment and my anger; I will mend my heart and I will still vote for the PMLN; because, in my opinion, this party is still the best alternative for Pakistan at this point in time. Pakistan is its people, and the people have been better off under a PMLN government. The party and the government were not perfect by any stretch, but they were better than the others by a huge stretch. Secondly, and more importantly, I will vote for PMLN because something much larger is at stake: today it is the only major party that symbolizes the struggle for civilian supremacy and the people’s right to self-rule.
The first tweet I was shown yesterday was from Salman Rashid (@odysseuslahori) which was not the vow and conversion of one man, but a confirmation that something is changing on a very large scale; that a larger phenomenon was unfolding and that history was in the making. He had tweeted, “My wife, a die hard PPPian always voted. I always hated every politician, never voted. Confession: I am voting now. And both of us have resolved to vote PMLN! Two things: NS refused to budge during dharna. He did not leave PM House in face of danger. And he stands up to the army.”
I have been watching many parts of Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa very closely and have been convinced of this wave. Salman simply reminded me of my conviction. This is no time to let anger get the better of a higher cause. Last time I was angry, I channeled my rage into sage and strong advice to Mian Nawaz Sharif as to what he must do, whilst reminding him frankly of each one his mistakes that had landed us all in the soup. That was on the 30th of July, 2017, in this very newspaper. This time I will channel my anger into the cause that is higher and more urgent than his person or his party interests – which is to do my small part to further strengthen democracy in this country. And a fundamental part of my struggle will be to keep criticizing all undemocratic actions the PMLN takes to drag it kicking and screaming to become a more genuinely parliamentary party that believes in actually strengthening parliament and not in plopping dummies. and dwarves into it.
Let me write a parting bitter repartee: with this ill advised action of handing out reserved seats to several weak or non entities, the PMLN has disrespected the vote and the voter; it has shown lack of faith in those it actually awakened and those who are its real strength. But those people will not show lack of faith; they will still vote for it and then hold it accountable. They, it seems, have learnt to strive for their idealism, hence they will also lead the party to the right path.
The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.