It was apparent from day one which way our latest democracy project was headed but friends going merrily, and blindly, around the democracy bush refused to see it. They chanted the standard mantras about saving the sapling of democracy and how it would mature with time. Well, almost ten years down the line, here it stands in full bloom. The only problem is that the sapling was of a monstrous man-eating tree that eats up not only citizens but their hard-earned money as well.
When Nawaz Sharif talks about fighting for democracy, he is actually talking about saving this monstrous tree. He would like to paint himself as a symbol of democracy which he certainly isn’t. Even if one were to forgive and forget his patently anti-democratic past, his dictatorial conduct during his latest stint as prime minister and the Ziaist model of governance that he continues to follow like a holy book, clearly show his distaste for democracy and his single-minded obsession with monopolising power.
He would like us to believe that he was victimised by the Supreme Court and there were no valid reasons for the honourable judges to show him the door. Given all that was revealed during the hearing of the case, it is amazing that he can make these claims with a straight face. Earlier on, he targeted hidden hands of the establishment for pulling strings from behind the scene as well but he has dropped that from his narrative for the time being. Clearly, he is hoping for support from the establishment he blamed for his ouster not long ago.
Nawaz Sharif’s narrative is a hard-sell. The judiciary in Pakistan, especially the Supreme Court, has evolved into an independent institution with the strength to decide matters without fear or favour. The security establishment is in no mood to take sides and the army chief has expressed his resolve to uphold the constitution and the rule of law on various occasions. That’s a bit too democratic for Nawaz Sharif. He would like the institutions of the state to go out of their way, to bend and break laws and rules, to support him.
In his Ziaist manual of governance, the institutions of the state must behave like his hand-maidens, following his orders without question. He would like senior government officials to behave like the chairmen of SECP and NAB, tampering official record for his benefit and burying cases of corruption against him and those he decides to favour. He would like state institutions to be as partisan as the ECP, hounding his opponents and looking the other way when his party breaks every election rule in the book.
Little wonder then, that our oh-so-democratic government has a single-point agenda these days: to save the skin of Nawaz Sharif, a man disqualified to hold public office by the highest court of the land for being dishonest and untrustworthy, a man under trial for living beyond his means and money-laundering among other financial crimes. The government can’t overturn the Supreme Court verdict, but it is doing all it can to subvert it. The prime minister and his bloated cabinet seem to have no other purpose in life.
The public and its welfare were not on their list in any case. And what do they care about the law of the land and democratic principles? Nawaz Sharif is their king and they don’t mind abusing their oaths and powerful offices to restore his lost glory, even if it means spending taxpayer’s money for him to bask in the pomp and glory that he so enjoys. To hell with the parliament and their own parliamentary party: They’d rather decide their priorities in meetings with their king, behind closed doors in London, in Punjab House and Jati Umra.
When it comes to legislation and that too about something as important as electoral reforms, the foremost thought in their mind is the rehabilitation of their fallen king. In the national assembly where they have a majority, they’d delete the clause of the Political Parties Order that bars a person disqualified to hold public office from heading a political party, and resort to all sort of undemocratic chicanery to get it passed by the Senate where they don’t have a majority. Each day, they subvert democracy for their king.
Just like the noonies today, the PPP jiyalas turned all democratic principles upside down to protect their corrupt President. Both found unscrupulous coalition partners willing to sing their song for personal gains. Let’s face it: Our established political parties are little more than personality cults which attract opportunist parliamentary power-players to their fold. The parties provide the umbrella of power to these entrenched electables so that they can get away with their corruption and lawlessness. Governments change but this underlying exploitative dynamic of power stays the same. To call it democratic is a joke.
The bigger problem is that given our parliamentary system and the culture of our political parties, things can only get worse with time. The so-called leaders use political power and state resources to further consolidate their hold on power, patronising their chamchas with state largesse and punishing those who oppose them with coercion through state institutions and personal army of thugs. Election is a contest between entrenched power-players as no ordinary soul has the resources or the muscle to give them a real fight.
The system is designed to shut out any possibility of change. The PTI is a good example. From a party of change, committed to bringing a fresh crop of leaders to the fore, it has succumbed to the pressure of getting the required number of seats in the parliament, counting on entrenched electables to reach the magic number. The quest for power has trumped ideals and principles.
Once again, our democracy project has brought things to a point where people don’t think that the worst form of democracy is better than the best dictatorship. Once again, you can’t blame people for caring little about democracy and its survival.