Political rivalry, a concomitant of a multi-party democratic system, plays a healthy role by keeping the ruling party on its toes. The opposition keeps a check on the government by critically examining its policies and pointing out its mistakes in parliamentary debates or through press conferences and if nothing else works through public protests. The opposition thus provides the government an opportunity to correct its course. It is in the government’s own interest to allow the opposition to speak out, instead of steamrollering it. Problems arise when political rivalry degenerates into political enmity and rivals try to knock each other out through foul play as one has often seen happening in Pakistan.
During the last 75 year of the country’s history, rival political parties have generally treated one another as foes rather than competitors. The PML(N) and PPP not only tried to destabilize each other’s governments but also used accountability laws to discredit each other’s leaders. A faint realisation of the futility of their unending feuds led the two to agree on a Charter of Democracy (COD). Both vowed to abide by it and undertake the agreed legislation whenever either of them came to power. Both came to power but the key recommendations of the CoD remained unimplemented.
With the appearance of Imran Khan on the political horizon, politics became a war between “us” and “them” rather than a competition between parties with different manifestos. Never in the country’s history were swear words and curses hurled on opponents so liberally. Once in power the PTI resorted to an unprecedented character assassination campaign of its opponents through social media trolls. A number of opponents were sent to jails through NAB without there being any solid cases against them. With PDM in power, Mr Khan’s liberty march was foiled with the help of government machinery, caring little for democratic norms. The PTI government in Punjab has now put officials loyal to it in charge to teach a lesson to the PML(N). The way the PDM government at the centre treated the wife of a driver while trying to recover r Khan’s chief of staff Shahbaz Gill’s smart phone is illustrative of how the desire for revenge has replaced better sense in decision makers. There is need to treat political opponents as challengers rather than enemies.