Just when we conclude that we have reached the nadir of our fortunes as a nation, President Zardari and the coterie of the incompetent and the corrupt individuals around him make us realise that there are even lower depths to which we must descend to satisfy their lust for power and greed. The 22nd of June when the PPP and its allies elected Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as the new Prime Minister was another day of ignominy.
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had earlier disgraced himself through his mismanagement of the Ministry of Water and Power and the consequent aggravation of the power crisis in the country. The new Prime Minister also comes tainted with allegations of corruption relating to the rental power plants scandal. But then, one may ask, what else can one expect from the Zardari-led PPP leadership whose hallmark has been incompetence and corruption? It is nothing less than a national tragedy that the PPP, which in the past boasted of great leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, has now been reduced to electing incompetent politicians like Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as the Prime Minister. In short, Zardari single-handedly has succeeded in destroying the political credibility of a great party; a task which even a military dictator like Ziaul Haq could not perform.
It does not make any sense to hand over the reins of the government to somebody who could not handle effectively the affairs of one ministry. But running the government on efficient lines is the least of the concerns of President Zardari, who is more interested in prolonging his corrupt rule than anything else. As Co-Chairman of the PPP, he has concentrated powers in his own hands even though the Prime Minister is supposed to be the Chief Executive of the country, according to the Constitution. So from Zardari’s point of view, the question of the competence of the Prime Minister is irrelevant since he himself runs the show. In fact, an incompetent Prime Minister tainted with charges of corruption is an attractive option for Zardari since it is easier to keep such an individual under his thumb. After all, there is always the danger that a competent and honest person may gather the courage to stand up to Zardari’s shenanigans.
It is unlikely that the PPP would change its position on the issue of writing a letter to the Swiss authorities regarding the reopening of corruption cases against Zardari. The writing is, therefore, on the wall that sooner or later Raja Ashraf would meet the same fate as befell Yousuf Raza Gilani because of the non-implementation of the Supreme Court decisions on the NRO case. Zardari’s real game plan, it seems, is to gain as much time as possible for the loot and plunder of the nation’s resources in the next few months before the general elections are held. Looked at from this perspective, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has been selected as a sacrificial lamb by Zardari merely to prolong his corrupt rule.
In a mature democracy, the disqualification of the former Prime Minister would have resulted in earlier elections allowing the people to give their verdict on the burning issues of the day. This would have allowed the new government fortified with the people’s mandate, whether led by the PPP or otherwise, to come to grips with the challenges confronting our nation. This would have been the normal response of enlightened political leaders, who considered politics as a way of public service rather than an avenue for self-enrichment. Unfortunately for our nation, the present PPP leadership belongs to the latter rather than the former category. It is not surprising, therefore, to see them prolong the agony of the nation so that they can increase their ill-gotten wealth.
Whatever may be the preferences of the PPP leaders, the day of reckoning is fast drawing near in the form of general elections to be held early next year. In fact, the election campaign has already begun. The next few months would witness the rising of the political temperature, as the election campaign gathers momentum and the political parties intensify their efforts to woo the voters.
Time has come for the people of Pakistan to wake up and get ready to elect their representatives with due care taking into account their past performance and future plans. If the present PPP-led federal government has failed to provide good governance to the people as this scribe believes it has, it must be thrown out through the democratic mechanism of elections to be replaced by others who promise to do better. This is the only way to send the signal loud and clear that the people of Pakistan would not tolerate bad governance or corruption. Hopefully, the next government thus chosen by the people would be more responsive to the demands and expectations of the people than has been the case with the present PPP-led federal government.
Although the present PPP-led government has failed to deliver, this does not justify any attempt to derail the democratic system in the country. Democracy is the only form of government in which the people retain the option to change their rulers periodically in a systematic manner if they are not satisfied with their performance. Even before the expiry of the term of a government in a democratic setup, the criticism of the opposition parties and the media keeps the government of the day on its toes. These inbuilt checks and safeguards minimise the possibility of serious blunders of policy on the part of the government.
In contrast, military governments give the impression of being more efficient because of their ability to take quick decisions. But in fact, they suffer from serious systemic flaws because of the absence of checks and balances under a military dictator. The possibilities of major policy blunders under the military rule, therefore, are far more than those under a democratic setup. Further, military rulers lack the ability of solving difficult political problems, which require compromises and flexibility of approach. They, on the other hand, generally tend to overemphasise the use of force and suffer from rigidity of mind in dealing with political issues. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of our national disasters like the dismemberment of the country were the direct result of the military rule in the country.
The latest example is the mishandling of the Balochistan issue by Pervez Musharraf because of his exclusive reliance on the use of force. The result is the raging insurgency in that province with serious adverse political, strategic and economic repercussions on the country. Further, military governments are no less corrupt than the elected ones because of the lack of checks and their tendency to cover up their wrongdoings. Above all, the military rule destroys professionalism within the armed forces diverting their attention from their primary responsibility of safeguarding the geographical borders of the country under the command of the federal government.
So democracy in the long run is the best form of government for the country. Of course, there would be from time to time inefficient and corrupt elected governments as is the case right now. But the inbuilt safeguards in due course would cleanse the democratic set up of its flaws provided the people are vigilant in checking the performance of the government and provided they choose their representatives with due care. The real test for the people of Pakistan would be at the time of the next elections. As they say, eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.
n The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.