“We have the choice to try for a new world every day, to tell what we know of the truth every day, to take small actions every day.” –A.L. Kennedy
“Write us a chapter to be proud of.” –Bono
This article is based on a purely hypothetical scenario although politically and conceptually compatible with fundamental norms of parliamentary democracy. In a politically correct parliamentary system, the elected incumbent governments are known to have resigned voluntarily if they have failed to fulfill the public mandate granted to them by the voters. It could happen because of lack of political capabilities, incompetence in political management skills, political vision incompatible with strategic requirements at a particular time, political discourse unmatched to the needs of evolving ground realities and a host of other national problematics including an elected government’s inability to transcend the socio-economic-political status-quo and transform the prevailing political culture that is detrimental to the nation-building process. Widespread corruption, promotion of vested interests, nepotism, an increase in mass poverty levels, lack of essential public services, growing unemployment, skyrocketing prices of daily consumable commodities and the public’s general dissatisfaction with a government’s performance are the other reasons for which some elected governments have been known to resign.
The other norm and a practice in a parliamentary system is that the opposition party/parties in the legislature can remove an elected government by a vote of no confidence. This is precisely an exclusive benefit of the parliamentary system because it preempts the possibility of a civilian dictatorship by giving political power to elected representatives to remove an incumbent government by vote when it is not performing well. A fixed tenure of an elected government in a parliamentary system is not guaranteed. An elected government stays in office as long as it performs adequately. When it fails to perform, it is kicked out.
The questions that every citizen of Pakistan are asking these days are: Is the PML-N regime in Islamabad performing adequately to resolve this nation’s basic problematics? Is it any different in its national political discourse from Zardari’s 5 years of so-called democratic rule and Musharraf’s dictatorship? Is the PML-N any different in its national political economic policy approach from its predecessors? Can the masses trust Sharif’s regime any more than they could Zardari’s and Musharraf’s regimes? Do the PML-N top managers have the political capacities, management capabilities and visionary audacity to deal with the most complex nature of this nation’s contemporary problems?
The problem with the PML-N is both of political style and conceptual substance. Its top management invariably lacks the desired pragmatic political professionalism and expertise needed to address complicated national issues. As of today, there is virtually no economic policy, no political direction, no crisis-management set up to deal with growing domestic and foreign policy problematics on a daily basis. It is hard to recall any Pakistani top political management which seems to be so detached from the ground political realities and the consequences of its inaction to address people’s fundamental issues.
It appears that on a fundamental level, the PML-N management’s greatest fault has been its inability to develop a resurgent, resonant and resilient political vision for the country’s roadmap for national reconstruction and lack of clearly established political and economic priorities, its absolute failure in fighting growing poverty and its egregious mismanagement of domestic and foreign affairs. Obviously, the incumbent administration in Islamabad seems so detached from its fellow citizens, their daily existence and their democratic sentiments. For example, consider the diametrically different living standards and privileges of the ruling elite compared with that of common citizens.
Let us deliberate on the ongoing debate on the US drone strikes. Islamabad was accorded a full-fledge parliamentary mandate to demand from Washington the cessation of drone attacks on Pakistani territory. And yet, in the joint communique of the Obama-Sharif meeting, not a word to this effect has appeared. Pakistani citizens, law makers, opposition parties and opinion leaders are shocked and outraged, and the masses’ confidence in PML-N leadership is deeply shaken. This event smacks of the political hypocrisy of the PML-N top political managers and creates an atmosphere of crisis of confidence in Islamabad’s leadership.
Consider the conflicting statements on the peace process: Islamabad insists that an initiative was already underway to talk to the Taliban to restore peace, stability and security in the country. The Taliban claim that no such undertaking was initiated so far. So the question is: What will the repercussions of the conflicting claims on the already parliamentary mandated peace process granted to PML-N leadership be? Will the PML-N political managers in Islamabad steadfastly and diplomatically pursue the intended peace process or will they abandon it? The other question, in this context, is how long will Pakistan continue to go on fighting militarily with its own people if the peace process is abandoned? The PML-N top leadership seems clueless in response to this most formidable challenge - as it seems to be clueless and detached to nearly all other national issues.
The problem is not so much that the PML-N leadership has serious difficulties in dealing with and resolving the impending urgent national issues of people’s daily deprivations and their daily sufferings. To be frank and honest, it is Islamabad’s political management’s attitude and communicative style that is most damaging. Problems can be fixed if they are properly conceptualized, analyzed and prioritized. But to be permanently wishy-washy about the nature of these problems and to have an attitude of indifference to their solutions are what the real problem of PML-N leadership incapabilities amount to. It is obvious that the PML-N leadership has been promoting diversionary tactics to distract public attention from major challenges facing their administration.
It is worth remembering that there is probably nothing more damaging to an elected democratic leadership than a combination of people losing faith in their elected representatives and the loss of face of the elected leadership caused by their hypocrisy, inaction, double-talk and an overly visible detachment from the real problematic issues confronting a nation. These two related aspects sum up the destructive potentials for an elected leadership. My question here is: Is the incumbent PML-N leadership heading that way - both at the personal, political management elite level as well as in the broader public diplomacy context?
The hypothetical title of this article is a symbolic acknowledgement of the fact that Pakistan needs a political leadership representing growing sentiments, public aspirations and rising out of the genesis of a democratic society.
Indeed, PTI and MQM combined can help the nation by installing “Real Time” opposition in the national legislature. Would not that be a victory for the parliamentary democratic norms to help democracy flourish in this nation? And imagine the consequences!
What is your take on this issue? I would say: let us write a chapter to be proud of!!
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.