The General elections have been announced and there is excitement in the air regarding the nomination of candidates and the election campaign, however, even observing from a distance this whole electoral process is a glaring negation of the very concept of democracy. The completion of the term of the second consecutive government in Pakistan is being hailed as a success of democracy, but completing the term is in fact a mere part of the whole system of democracy.
Democracy in its true essence is the right of all eligible citizens to participate, either directly or indirectly, in making the decisions that affect them. Democracy entails protection of the human rights of all citizens; it is about the rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.”
The first principle of democracy, as a political system for choosing and replacing governments through free and fair elections, views democracy as a means for people to choose their leaders and hold them accountable for their actions and policies. People must decide who will represent them through free and fair elections. But if we look at the system in place in Pakistan people never have a real choice to begin with.
The common man is but a mere puppet in the bigger power play between the political rival parties which are in fact more like elite clubs than anything else. The political leaders use the people’s votes to get into the parliament just to legitimize the whole process and give their rule constitutional protection. But other than that the people have neither any recourse, any real say or power to reach out to their rulers and be heard.
The political parties draw the crowds on false promises and sometimes blatant lies. They rely on theatrics and word play, knowing full well that they have no intention of fulfilling their promises and actually do not hold the capacity or the resources to do so. Yet the elections are a big test and in order for the members of any party to reach the parliament and the corridors of power they need the majority vote so they lure the public, they make promises and they say all the things which appease the crowds.
The truth is that the whole election process in Pakistan is a game for the rich and powerful and it does not matter how that wealth was acquired. All the major political parties in Pakistan discard all pretence of any ideology, principles or moral high grounds when it came to selecting the candidates for contesting the elections. The only criterion that is considered is that the candidate should be influential enough to get the majority votes. That candidate has to be a wealthy person who can donate large sums of money to the election funds of the party, he should have a fleet of cars to carry his entourage around and he should have enough money to flash in his constituency to impress the general public and get the votes. There is no need for any other kind of qualification.
In Pakistan there are three major parties contesting elections in the four provinces and in each party we witnessed an unending drama of how the party tickets were awarded to those who wished to contest elections.
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf invited all and sundry to apply for the ticket with a hefty fee and thousands of party members simply decided to take part in the grand lotto. They were told that the tickets would be awarded on merit and yet, interestingly there was no criteria given for that ‘merit’. thus everybody thought that he or she was selected on merit. They were told that there would be a selection process, interviews and short listing; only the truth is that the actual selection had little to do with either the merit or the selection process. So thousands applied, fought hard, lobbied, ran from one party office to another, tried to find someone to back them and in the end it was the chairman and few of his very close confidants that decided the final list. The majority of ticket holders are the ones that had recently joined PTI from other parties.
The whole idea of bringing a change through ideology hit the ground and fell flat on its face. The party selected the same tried, tested and rejected politicians from other parties, who had been in the elite parliamentary club for many decades without ever delivering anything. Imran Khan the party chairman, had but a single point agenda for the last five years and that was to get power and somehow become the prime minister of Pakistan, little realizing that with this team even if he gets what he wants, he has lost the game before it had even started.
The people who have no coherence, no agenda, no ideology, no moral high ground and no adherence to any democratic principles would not be able to deliver anything even though they might be sitting in the parliament in considerable numbers.
The only thing that could have brought a ‘change’ was new talent, a passionate and young new party who would act like a team, which had been trained on an ideology, agenda and programme. This hotch-potch mess of disjointed hand-me-down politicians in PTI, discarded from other parties are more of a liability than an asset. The list of ticket holders in PTI even includes people with criminal records and dubious reputations.
Pakistan People’s Party usually has the same fixed candidates for contesting elections, who are mostly feudal lords with big land holdings that have the people’s vote in their pockets, quite literally. So the poor people of Sindh are in no position to make any decision for themselves and are bound to vote for their lord and master if they are to survive. The sister of Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari is on record threatening people with dire consequences if they dared cast their vote anywhere other than her party. As for Bilawal, he has little power and very limited experience in politics.
Pakistan Muslim League N-which is now claiming to be the anti-establishment party-decided to stage an interesting role play for the selection and ticket awarding. They formed selection committees in districts and short listed names of candidates with performance record who would be selected after interviews before a selection panel. So we saw how the party president gave an interview stating his performance and then the daughter of party leader, his son in law, sons of the party president, then some aunts, uncles, cousins and relatives from extended family and they were all approved by the selection panel on merit, of course. The most interesting thing in the awarding of PML-N ticket was the inclusion of a unique clause which other parties missed all together and that was, loyalty to the party leadership’. The party members who dared to have difference of opinion were declared, ‘disloyal’ and unworthy of any further representation of the party in elections.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. She has extensive experience in writing on development economics and disaster management.