J for General
By Jalees Hazir
The media came under heavy firing in the Punjab Assembly last week. The legislators were furious because they felt that the media was using the issue of fake degrees to run a propaganda campaign against public representatives. Though the PPP has been making noises about being targeted by the media for some time, it has now been joined by the PML-N in its tirade against an institution that represents the strength of Pakistan’s democracy. Clea-rly, when it comes to our journey towards a democratic pol-ity, the circus of political parties posing as our Parliament is the weakest link. Targeting other institutions that are doing their job just won’t do.
Along with an independent judiciary, a free and robust media has emerged as the hope for a more democratic Pakistan. The two institutions have kept some check on the abuse of power and corruption of our elected representatives who consider these crimes as their birthright. By making them accountable for their illegal conduct and exposing their chink-ridden armours, the judges and journalists are actually on the same page as the rest of the nation. The people of Pakistan expect something better from those who claim to represent their interest, and in a way, the two maligned Js are working to make this awakened public will operational. The third maligned J is actually a G, but we will come to that later. Let’s first look at our so-called public representatives and their power-cliques that they like to call political parties.
It doesn’t require a lengthy analysis to grasp the truth about our political parties, the essential building blocks of a parliamentary democracy. While all of them were not always so bereft of ideals and solid politics, unfortunately they present a very bleak picture in todayÂ’s Parliament. They operate more like power-cliques built around personality cults. Whatever little discussion takes place in their formal decision-making forums is more than neutralised by the domineering whims and petty agendas of their party heads. The yes-men and yes-women populating these forums are not elected by party members but handpicked by their political bosses.
The wannabe parliamentarians are not fired by any political ideals but driven by calculations of their chance to win party tickets and elections: they party-hop at the drop of a hat. Have you ever wondered why the whole spectrum of political parties on the menu is a bland shade of grey, offering no inspiring recipe to change things? Have you ever noticed how comfortably they settle in seats of power when their turn comes, going round the deep exploitative grooves of status quo-esque governance? They wake up to the issues of the people at the time of elections but even then only half-heartedly. Besides, elections that bring them to power are hardly a democratic exercise.
Some aspects of the fraud called elections in Pakistan were brought forth after the recent by-elections by the PTI chief Imran Khan. The mind-boggling numbers of bogus votes registered in just one urban constituency should serve as an eye-opener. Here’s another one: The voters’ lists from 1997 were used in elections being held in 2010. The government machinery and public funds were blatantly used by the sitting government to influence the election results. Other underhand and high-handed tactics of our established political parties and their established candidates have also been frequently reported where they use money and violence to get the desired results. Given the fact that the turnout in elections is normally less than 50 percent, how representative are our pubic representatives anyway. Remember that in a first-past-the-post electoral exercise, you don’t even need 50 percent of the votes cast to win a seat. The idea is not to trash democracy but to point out the precarious foundations of our legislators’ representativeness. Surely, they are in no position to ride any high horse.
The story doesnÂ’t end at their dubious democratic credentials. In fact, one would be willing to overlook these weaknesses if any semblance of public interest was visible in their governance priorities. But what do we see? The proponents of democracy seem least concerned about the people of Pakistan in virtually everything they do. They use the positions of power entrusted to them to rob the public for their personal benefits or for those of their cronies. Their policies are designed to fill private pockets to the brim but have an adverse impact on the lives of the people in whose name they govern. In most instances, their insincere decisions are made out of choice and not ignorance. To the lies about their assets has been added the issue of forged degrees. And they are abusing the media for talking about it. Where is this arrogance coming from?
Democracy is an ideal worth striving for, and the two institutions in the forefront of this struggle in our contemporary political landscape are the judiciary and the media. They provide our parliamentarians an opportunity to put their topsy-turvy house in order and bring themselves up to performing the task that they are entrusted with. Making it to the assemblies through a murky electoral process does not give them the right or moral authority to bully other institutions into accepting their crimes in the name of democracy. And this brings us to the third J that is actually a G.
Speaking in the Punjab Assembly two days before he moved the resolution against the media, the former Musharraf supporter who is currently a PML-N MPA blamed three Js for the problems of Pakistan and accused them of hatching conspiracies against democratic institutions: the judges, the journalists and the generals. Lambasting the army, another important institution that was seen attempting to focus on its job post-Musharraf, is a favourite pastime of our political leadership. The helplessness of civilian governments is a bit unexplained though. What stops them from exercising their constitutional authority over the army? That, in fact, is one of the jobs that they are entrusted with by the people of Pakistan. So why do they broker deals with generals behind closed doors to serve their petty power interests rather than doing the right thing? Is it because deep in their hearts they recognise the generals, and not the people of Pakistan, as the true source of their power?
Source: The Nation