‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’, as the saying goes. Maybe it was too much of an advice for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to heed. As soon as they issued tickets to the discredited and ousted Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) parliamentarians in Punjab, they learnt ‘everyman’s trash is always trash’.
The resounding success of the PTI in Punjab by-polls proves the effectiveness of extreme narratives and the power of social media in propagating them. Clearly, the PTI is gaining strong headwinds in face of a combined opposition that is becoming a farce for its own misjudgements.
To save the country’s economy and build peoples’ trust in a stable democratic processes, the operational imperatives of a functioning democracy must be understood. Democracy in the popular sense of its meaning is the rule of people through electoral politics, where pressure is exerted on the elected representative to deliver on campaign promises. This is based on the assumption that the people’s representative has legitimacy to hold the office – and more importantly, the opposition accepts his or her legitimacy as well.
In Pakistan, particularly around the 2018 general elections, the mainstream political debate has centred on the leaders’ legitimacy (or illegitimacy, for that matter), however no political decision of force has been taken to make the state politically strong. As soon as Imran Khan took charge as the prime minister, the ousted political forces banded together to undermine the legitimacy of his PTI government. They called Khan “selected”, as they held that the powers that-be engineered his success. In less than four years into his government, a vote of no-confidence was tabled in the National Assembly, and he was out before he could see what hit him. The Punjab Assembly also got dissolved with as many as 25 parliamentarians losing their seats for voting against their party’s trust.
If the political stakeholders accept elections as a way to elect legitimate leadership then the transparency of the election exercise must be ensured. Democracies hinge on elections.
However, in the July 17 by-elections on 20 vacant seats in the Punjab Assembly, Imran Khan proved that he still holds the peoples’ trust and is a political force to be contended with. The by-polls also revealed that the traditional hidden hand that used to manipulate elections to deliver a particular result stayed. So far allegations of mass rigging have not been raised. In all probability, the July 17 by-elections were fair with high voter turnout rate.
This brings us to the crux of the argument. Is it a political failure of the previous federal government not to have carried out meaningful electoral reforms? Though the government tried to introduce meaningful electoral reforms, it failed to build consensus among all the political stakeholders in the country. Resultantly, democracy got a bad name and it could not be strengthened.
International Court of Justice (ICJ) does not take up a case unless the disputing parties agree to accept it as the adjudication body. The ICJ decisions thereafter become binding on the disputants since they implicitly acknowledge that the court will decide fairly. Similarly, if the political stakeholders accept elections as a way to elect legitimate leadership then the transparency of the election exercise must be ensured. Democracies hinge on elections. If elections become a questionable process, the legitimacy of the rulers becomes as questionable, and a reactive process sets into motion that engulfs the system in disequilibrium.
It is important to stress on the need to change fundamental attitudes towards electoral processes. Only free and fair election will settle the political storm and legitimate governments will be formed in Pakistan — for an illegitimate leader invites rebellion.