The way of the devil

When democracy starts hurting itself

“It can be frustrating and even frightening to observe the success which sometimes comes to outlaws and rogues who seem to refute notions of universal justice. Every time we see a villain enjoying the fruits of dishonourable acts, we find ourselves doubting the value of character and the validity of the virtues we have been taught. Thus, it takes character to believe in character, but that belief is always rewarded, often by material success, but always by the esteem it earns from those who matter.”

Michael Josephson

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One is struck by the intense and belligerent confrontations which typify the world around us. It is as if we have lost the art of conversation and have mastered one of abuse and invective.

Even more worrisome is the presence of an increasing number of people who actually believe in the benefits of a life shorn of character and honour. This wickedness is accompanied by a strong urge to not only practice the way of the devil, but also promote it vigorously among others to follow. The dramas enacted in the name of evening shows on television screens bear testament to how much degradation has set in and how it has entrapped people in its tentacles. The dread is that if this is allowed to perpetuate unchecked, it would damn the national character irretrievably.

Parliament remains the best place for enacting changes in laws and processes. But, under the special circumstances which exist in the current times, there is yet hope that the apex court may come to the rescue of democracy and the sanctity of the vote could be guarded for the forthcoming Senate election. That may well pave the way for enacting wholesome changes in the electoral laws for making the system more transparent and accountable. It is time to finally banish the way of the devil

The approach adopted by various political parties regarding the holding of the forthcoming Senate elections presents a picture of contrasts. In the past, virtually all of them were sworn to conduct the elections through open ballot – a demand which is contained in the much-trumpeted Charter of Democracy signed by leaders of the PML(N) and PPP. But when it comes to the present election, the conglomerate of the opposition parties has backed off from their long-standing position. They are now insisting on holding the election through the traditional secret ballot which has been the cause of much anguish in the past with bags of money exchanging hands to buy votes, thus casting a dark shadow over the institution of democracy itself.

The Senate election is different from any other election in the sense that the number of seats each party can win is known in advance because it is directly proportionate to the number of members they have in the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly. A number which is at variance with this calculation can either be attributed to a prick of the conscience, or a sell-out in exchange for coins of silver. While instances of the former are quite unknown, the history of elections in Pakistan is replete with occurrence of the latter. It is this gruesome phenomenon which must be put to an end and it is here that the proposal put forth by the PTI assumes its relevance as it safeguards the legitimate interests of all political parties.

Why is it then that the opposition parties are opposing it in every possible manner and at every conceivable forum?

Ever since coming into power, the PTI government’s attempts to legislate for implementing its programme of reform have been thwarted because it did not have a majority in the Upper House of Parliament. If these elections are conducted and seats won as per the respective parliamentary strength of each party, PTI will emerge as the single largest party and, together with its allies, the majority party in the Senate. It is then that it would actually be able to execute its broad-based agenda of reform for the country. That means that it would not only be able to obliterate the setbacks linked to the wreck that it had inherited from the previous government, it would also be able to erect a sound foundation to fight the next election for a larger representation in Parliament to genuinely usher in an era of multifaceted and broad-based development.

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That is a harrowing thought for the opposition to contend with. Some of its stalwarts are already sitting out of the assemblies. If things work out as they should, the rest are also likely to meet a similar fate. That would mean not just the elimination of some leaders from mainstream politics of Pakistan, but that their kind of politics will also be consigned to the bin. Fully abreast of this possibility, the parties of the opposition ,who have been threatening to drag the dead bodies of their opponents on the roads and hang them from the lamp-posts, are now perched in their laps fighting for their combined political survival. In the process, they are sworn to frustrate the PTI move to get the seats which, as per the Constitution, is its democratic right.

The PTI is doing it from a high moral ground as it is the only party which has taken action against its own assembly members who were accused of having sold their votes. During the last Senate elections in 2018, it kicked out 20 of its KP legislators and also made its sitting ministers resign. No other political party has ever had the courage to take similar action against its members. On the contrary, they have not only defended their conduct, they have nurtured and patronised such elements within their respective parties, thus breeding a culture of corruption that the country is so devastatingly afflicted with at present.

Take the case of the vote of no-confidence moved by the parties of the opposition against the Senate Chairman a few months ago. Before the vote, 63 of their senators lined up to swear allegiance to their respective parties. But, they lost in the final count with some of them having decided to change sides. It was a source of immense embarrassment for the opposition parties and they vowed to punish their errant members. Nothing came out of it. They all stayed within their respective parties. The culture of deceit and deception runs really deep in these parties.

But, may be, the all-powerful oligarchs don’t want to do anything because they are all joined together in corruption. From top to bottom, this scourge is rampant across their party ranks. The leaders have skinned the country hollow, but they could not do it alone. They also had to give license to others in the party to do likewise– an opportunity which they indulged to the hilt. Senate election is an occasion when millions can be minted in a matter of days. May be this is an opportunity they would not be able to deny to their legislators irrespective of what they may say in public. That is possibly why, in spite of past proclamations to the contrary, the opposition leaders are insisting on holding the election through secret ballot to escape being paraded red-faced through the political alleys of the country.

But this is no recipe for strengthening democracy. The practice of buying and selling of votes has weakened the institution. PTI has made a strong and earnest bid to drive this malpractice out of the electoral maelstrom to give strength and credence to democratic practices, but the opposition is going overboard in its attempt to sabotage the prospect.

Parliament remains the best place for enacting changes in laws and processes. But, under the special circumstances which exist in the current times, there is yet hope that the apex court may come to the rescue of democracy and the sanctity of the vote could be guarded for the forthcoming Senate election. That may well pave the way for enacting wholesome changes in the electoral laws for making the system more transparent and accountable. It is time to finally banish the way of the devil.

Raoof Hasan
The writer is a political analyst and the Executive Director of the Regional Peace Institute. He can be reached at: [email protected]; Twitter: @RaoofHasan.

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