While the Supreme Court’s Joint Investigation Team report on the Prime Minister and the Panamagate Leaks might have unleashed a call for his resignation, as well as for fresh elections, it so far has failed to address the real underlying question: The electoral system creates dirty money, and encourages corruption.

If Mian Nawaz Sharif does fall from office, whether by resigning before polls, or by defeat at the polls, or by being disqualified because of conviction, it will be accounted that another head of government fell to the Panama Papers. It will not be accounted as a fall to one of the leading problems facing modern democracy: Campaign finance.

The problem is that campaigns are now essential for elections, and they cost a lot of money, even if one is to count only legitimate expenses, such as the printing of campaign material, and the constant hiring of chairs and tentage for rallies, as well as the setting up of election offices. Then there are the expenses of polling day, which start with the transport to polling agents and voters, meals and snacks for polling agents and election camp staff. This is not to enter the murky world of buying votes. All constituencies do not involve vote buying, but there are some where it is impossible to win without paying for votes. All told, elections are expensive. Not in Pakistan, but in many countries the parties bear the bulk of the expense, and thus the party leader exerts control over candidates. In Pakistan, a more personal touch is used, and party leaders give out money.

Where does this money come from? It is funny money, given under the table, and off the books. In the USA, where all office-holders raise money themselves, legislators are allowed to keep any campaign donations received for an election not run. This has become a sort of nest-egg that legislators take into private life. It is the sort of money that has led political leaders as far geographically removed as former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Indian Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao to be convicted of accepting money and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to be convicted of corruption. In all three cases, they had been involved in taking money for fighting elections.

Some of this funny money sticks to the taker’s fingers. The problem with the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf is that it does not offer a solution. Its leader, Imran Khan, may have both won a World Cup for Pakistan and built a cancer hospital; but making him Prime Minister does not solve the problem of campaign finance. Corruption then becomes a way of practicing politics. That has happened apparently in Israel, where apart from Olmert, Aryeh Deri, the head of Shas, an Orthodox religious party, returned to the Interior Ministry after having left it in 1995 on charges of bribery, for which he was convicted, and even served three years in jail.

Even the Panamagate impact has been less worldwide than claimed. Where the Prime Minister of the UK resigned (there was also the little matter of the Brexit referendum result), the Prime Minister of Malta won the early election he had called after he was embroiled. There have been two Presidents thrown out of office on corruption charges, those of Brazil and South Korea, but those were not Panamagate cases, indicating that Panama offshore companies are not the only places where funny money can be stashed away. Brazilian corruption is notorious, and the corruption scandal there which saw Dilma Rouseff impeached also involves oil, in the shape of Petrobras, the state monopoly which ruling politicians milked. The scandal also saw the conviction of Rouseff’s predecessor, Luis Ignacio Lula Da Sailva, who intends to run again in next year’s election. Now he will have to do so only after appealing his conviction, just it might so happen that Mian Nawaz contests the next election only because he will have appealed a conviction.

It should be remembered that Mian Nawaz faces charges where he cannot sit back and wait for the prosecution to prove a case against him. The burden of proof will be on him. However, he would know by now, from his experiences in the Musharraf years, that there are always comebacks. However, he should not be too complacent. Whereas there is a need for him in the political arena, that could change. After all, he emerged as the head of anti-PPP forces even though the PPP had already been opposed by the PNA, which contained such heavyweights as Mufti Mahmud, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Asghar Khan and Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani. It is a separate argument how far the PNA contributed to Mian Nawaz’s success.

One of the prospects raised by the present case is that the military and judiciary have re-established the nexus which led to the judicial validation of all impositions of martial law, but which appeared broken by the prosecution of President Pervez Musharraf for high treason. Though the DGISPR has denied that the military has any influence on the JIT, it is not reasonable to argue that two brigadiers, one representing the DGMI, the other the DGISI, would not seek guidance from their parent departments, or even more directly from the COAS. How far they would be able to influence their civilian colleagues, who were at college in the Zia era, and were senior officials during the Musharraf era, and would have been schooled into compliance with the military?

The effect of the JIT report on civil servants has not been estimated. Previous court decisions have made civil servants aware that the courts could expose them for doing what their predecessors had done without compunction, which was to obey all orders emanating from above. At Partition, Muslims in government service were not very many, and thus a strong tradition was not established in Pakistan. Civil servants became willing to act as tools for first politicians, and then for military rulers. Military rulers particularly relied on civil servants, and in the process, those who said a course of action was not possible because it was against the law, found themselves sidelined to make way for those who said that it was possible. After a while, this became the ethos of the service, until the Supreme Court made it hard to do so without exposure. It should be noted that among other things, Mian Nawaz relied heavily on civil servants as Punjab Chief Minister, a practice he continued as PM, and which his brother Mian Shehbaz adopted when he came to hold the office.

If this pliability disappears, then rulers will not be rulers, able to impose their will, but merely implementers of the legal system. Democracy has not yet solved the problem of campaign finance, but finds that there is another problem looming, that of bureaucratisation. It is supposed to mean rule of law, but it seems from the Pakistani crisis that rule of law is merely an excuse to change the government. Democracy is supposed to mean rule of the people, but it is now being invoked against an elected government. And the question remains unanswered of why people elect those who see public office as a means to recouping expenses, rather than solving people’s problems.