President Asif Zardari and his spokespersons have unwaveringly been assuring that the Assemblies will complete their five-year terms and the elections will be held on time. Yet, unending speculations have all along been rife about the imminent army takeover, an interim government of technocrats being installed with army support at any time or another snap general election are to be held to remove the incumbent PPP-led coalition. As the unexpected happened and the government went nowhere, the pundits commenced forecasting about the general election dates. First, September 2011 was the favourite month that was revised to March 2012, as nothing happened in September. All are now reconciled that the last drop of the pleasures of governance will be enjoyed by the rulers that takes it to no later than May 16, 2012, should the constitution be followed.

The same is true about the mantra of national reconciliation that the President and his party have never retracted from. The PPP offered coalition to anyone and everyone willing to accept, regardless of ideological differences and merrily shared the spoils with magnanimity. The President surprised everyone by bringing even the PPP’s historical arch rival, the PML-Q (earlier declared by him as the Qatil League, whose leader was nominated by his wife as accused in case of her possible assassination), into its fold and placing its leaders in exalted positions. What an extraordinary lesson in running a coalition government in a democracy! The only one that got away was the PML-N that would settle for all or nothing.

The good news is that a tradition of giving a chance to the electoral system guaranteed by the constitution has been initiated. The bad news is that numerous bad precedents have been set. The other good news is that uninhibited (perhaps too uninhibited) dialogues and discussions on practically all issues under the sun are being held and tolerated in the media and other forums, and there are no political prisoners. This will in due course be the key to ironing out issues that have so far been swept under the carpet both by dictators and the variety of limited democracies that have come and gone in our country. The bad precedent is the negation of a two party system or at least the desire and the mindset to have no opposition or a weak opposition incapable of offering any resistance or checks to the government actions. The concept of a ‘national government’ that is joined by all political parties and thus has no opposition is against the spirit of parliamentary democracy.

The other bad precedent is to consider Parliament and its elected members as above the law. Parliament, as a body of people’s representatives, is undoubtedly supreme that can pass legislation to be implemented as the law of the land. In case the members of Parliament pass a bad law that violates the spirit of our constitution, the courts have a responsibility to provide its interpretation and a judgment to its validity.

Likewise, the judiciary, the armed forces and the bureaucracy make the affairs of the state function and are the other pillars that support it; neither of which is above accountability. The courts cannot function and the state will cripple, if the miscellaneous branches of the executive reserve the option of deciding whether they would or would not implement the decisions and verdicts of the courts of law.

The world has shrunk into a global village during the last few decades. The ongoing sophistication in the Internet and telecommunication has accelerated the flow and exchange of information, technology and news that has brought people and nations of far-flung areas closer and more familiar with each other, resulting in a fiercely competitive environment. The economy has emerged as the sole engine that controls and drives all foreign, defence and domestic policies of a nation. Our leadership, however, seems to live in the bliss of its ignorance insulated from the rest of the world. Its top priority has been political expediency, relegating economic progress to the bottom of its agenda. Our last five budgets were balanced primarily with borrowed money and remittances from overseas Pakistanis. The State Bank has been pushed to keep printing notes to finance the development expenditure sacrificing three of its Governors, who would not play ball. No efforts were made for industrialisation, to increase productivity or expanding the education base for all children, male and female. The state assets have been handled irresponsibly and the public corporations were stuffed with surplus employees recruited on political considerations and without merit that turned them more inefficient, undisciplined and financially unviable organisations on the verge of collapse. Such politics has been a disservice to democracy that has put doubts in people’s minds, whether parliamentary democracy does really work for the welfare of the ordinary citizens or is a tool to exclusively benefit those elected, who lord it over them without any fear of accountability or reproach.

The present regime that comprises major political heavyweights is plodding along seemingly oblivious to the nosedive the nation is taking in all fields across the board. Whoever forms the next government will inherit a host of monumental problems that have been left unattended. Two repayments of the IMF loans are due in the next quarter that will further deplete the already low level of State Bank reserves to an alarming level. The value of rupee will further depreciate making the imports costlier and causing higher inflation. Nothing has been done on the ground to enhance the generation of electricity that is the basic and integral need for the growth of the industrial sector and to attract foreign investment, besides being a necessary 24-hour service that the state must be able to provide to its citizens. The constitutional right of education to every child looks like a pipedream. The uncontrolled abundance of weapons and their easy availability has created powerful armed groups that threaten the peace of big cities and lives of their residents.

The elections may be around the corner, but prosperity and good fortune are not. The next government has to brace itself to take immediate and unpopular decisions to tighten its belt and infuse strict fiscal, political and administrative discipline. The people are destined to bear the brunt of the follies of its past rulers for some time to come. The silver lining is that we have reached at a level from where we have no option, but to rise or be annihilated.

The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.  Email: k.a.k786@hotmail.com