The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore firstname.lastname@example.org
The chief minister (CM)-designate for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has already made the silliest statement for the next few years, or at least, let us hope so; as there is little room to go lower. The PTI nominee for CM says that he has no enmity with the Taliban. What valour, what clarity to begin the fight. Although no real surprise there as that was the declared policy of his party all along, never mind thousands of our civilians and soldiers martyred. However, it becomes more intriguing if one considers this in combination with the young, energetic, largely urban, some of them lifestyle liberal supporters exercising their democratic right of protest against the election results in DHA, Lahore. How do they reconcile their party’s position in K-P with their lives in Lahore and Karachi? They simply do not. Will these politically conscientious young men and women be able to protest to the tune of invigorating music in Hakeemullah Mehsud’s country? Would they then be as excited about giving peace a chance? Reconciliation of apparent contradictions or making sense is not something to aspire to now. Perhaps, Lahore is a different country. Perhaps, we have quite a few different countries in the new country.
When one party gets most of its seats only in one province, namely Sindh, it is said to have been wiped out, on the verge of becoming a regional party. Whereas another party secures most of its seats in another province, namely Punjab, it gets simple majority, and it is said the electorate has chosen the “national leader”. “Regional” or “Provincial” is only relevant when used for something other than Punjab, which by the way is almost always a “card”. Ever heard of the ‘Punjab card’? Me neither. While we are at it, what in God’s name is “Interior” Sindh (as opposed to what, “Exterior” Sindh?) The PML-N won mostly in Punjab, the PPP in rural Sindh, the MQM in urban Sindh and the PTI in K-P, seems quite neatly regional at some level. Lest we forget, no change in Balochistan, the perpetual party, it seems, remains in power.
The overzealous PTI supporter feels that the population was not educated enough and not “urban” enough to realise the promise of utopia on offer. The proud Punjabi voter rationalises the PPP’s victory in Sindh by viewing Sindh as a backward feudal serfdom, where no autonomy of individual choice exists. The PPP jiyala in Sindh sees the Punjabi establishment at its antics again. As for Balochistan, it seems we do not even care enough to ascribe stereotypes anymore. Every party’s “hardcore” supporters view the supporters of other parties as not only having a political difference, but as ignorant, irrational and malicious, with an ethnic/cultural stereotype to boot. To quote Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous statement although not quite how he intended, “l’enfer, c’est les autres” (Hell is other people).
It is imperative that all reports of incidents of malpractices are looked at and thoroughly investigated, and there are many. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has failed and failed miserably, yet nowhere has it failed more than in Balochistan. However, do not fret about it, nothing as glamorous as the DHA protests.
This election was not rigged at the “systematic” state level, as is our custom. However, it was a poorly managed affair. It was never free and fair, even if the general result would have remained largely the same. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM were never given the chance to campaign. This is not to undermine the entire electoral process, which was still better than nothing or the mandate of the winning party, the PML-N. The PML-N did consolidate its usual voter base and also successfully penetrated southern Punjab, displacing the PPP. The appeal to martyrdom and sacrifice failed in contrast to the promise of better delivery (Metro Bus and Ring Road, etc). An urbanisation of Punjab, at least in terms of issues happened. The PPP needs to rework its message, focus on delivery and governance and have something to offer to urban Pakistan and also realise that it cannot abdicate Punjab. Those predicting the demise of the PPP jump the gun, many of them have made identical predictions in the past, and will probably continue to do so in the future. However no question about the PPP getting its act together, which it almost always does in opposition. The PTI has put up an impressive show, proving stereotypes wrong. One hopes that with this relative success also comes maturity and self-reflection. These are all heartening developments; this is democratic progress.
Yet, there is cause for great concern. The liberal and secular (even if nominal) have been rejected. That happens in democracies, they need to dust off and bounce back if they can. More alarming is the decline of the federal parties, and perhaps, politics. The conservative right-wing parties dominating this election promise rationality in governance and politics as opposed to appeal to martyrdom and emotion. Nothing wrong with the idea, we can certainly use some rationality. However, what will be a hypothetical rational choice for a party in power both in Punjab and at the Centre? Pure rational choice for a political party for the purposes of ensuring re-election will be to guarantee a basic level of governance in Punjab, even if it entails diverting resources from the smaller provinces, even at some expense to the Federation (although the expense cannot be too great since then, there is a possibility of your governed territory becoming smaller). For the simple fact, sweeping Punjab will make you prime minister. It is Machiavellian indeed, yet rational. This is not to suggest that this is likely to happen. Mian Sahib, we have been told, has matured and now is a democrat. One dearly hopes that “they” are right. Mian Sahib has been given a clear mandate by the people and it needs to be respected by all political forces, as should everyone else’s mandate. The business in Balochistan, yet again, starts at the wrong foot.
All individual and legitimate grievances should be taken to the ECP and the courts, yet it is imperative that they understand that the process has to continue. United they stand, or else they know the history. More somberly, all of us need to remember that this Federation is fragile; disconnect and arrogance has cost us once and greatly.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2013.