Politics and the art of rigging | The Express Tribune

Like in the past the opposition parties are still part of the system. Despite that, past opposition parties were always coerced and their leaders jailed. In retaliation, they would hold protest rallies and conspired with the establishment to overthrow the incumbent. And succeed. What appears to have changed now is, that unholy equation.

In this regard, Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s statement is amazing: “Generals should stop supporting the government and declare this is not our government, we will then be brothers.” That reminds me of late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and Benazir Bhutto during September-October 1999 when they were running the anti-Nawaz Sharif movement.

In return, by October 2007, BB, with MQM and PML-N was awarded an NRO, while Maulana and other religious parties benefitted hugely in 2002 elections. They had help in winning most seats in Balochistan and NWFP (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), and reportedly grabbed huge chunks of land. Consequently, they formed governments in both provinces. In return Maulana helped Musharraf win the vote in parliament for presidential elections. Interesting, the moment the establishment support ended, the MMA disintegrated and its component parties lost their vote bank overnight since 2008 election. However, coffers continued to grow till 2018. Because, everyone who came to power believed in ‘live and let live’ (paisay banao aur bannay do) philosophy.

On the positive side, political reciprocity then also let three parliaments complete tenure — a historic development that would have been impossible without sacrificing seven PMs in 15 years. But political consensus died in the wake of 2018 elections as Imran Khan refused to follow the dirty game. In his own words, “I will never give NRO to crooks”.

Like Bhutto, Imran is an honest man, and both largely responded to the emerging socio-economic and political contradictions. For instance, the 1965 war left a huge impact on Pakistan’s economy, resulting in threefold rise in labour strikes. The Green Revolution had evicted millions from villages to towns. They were desperate to find a solution. No wonder, the slogan ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ or Bhutto’s socialism quickly became popular.

Similarly, while the neo-liberal market driven global economic model expanded the middle class in developing countries and converted rich into the superrich, the left-behind and insecure classes raged to the streets in many countries. Terror outfits terrorised even state terrorists. Recall, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movement of December 2011. Since then, inequality has become a core theme of development discourse globally. But we must not ignore the importance of a two-year-long (2007-08) movement of civil society for the judiciary’s restoration in Pakistan. These shook global policymakers. Money laundering, corruption and poor governance were considered major causes of street protests. Hence, their elimination became a key policy slogan. Many politicians adopted it to defeat their opponents.

Despite his numerous noble endeavours and charisma, Imran failed to translate them into his political power. But the above-mentioned socio-political and economic developments accelerated the process of his ascendency. By 2013 elections, his party won the most seats in K-P, and emerged as the third largest party in the NA. His party stands on two pillars — end of corruption and provision of welfare state. He is now slave to his slogans. He can’t betray his own ideology. If he does, it will be suicidal. Meanwhile, we have a corrupt political class that has proved its bankruptcy time and again.

Consider institutions which are internally undemocratic and controlled by cronies. It’s obvious that most of our political parties don’t fulfil even rudimentary conditions of a political party. Hamza Alavi had written in early 1970s that civil society in post-colonial countries like Pakistan was underdeveloped; 50 years on, it has further deteriorated. Therefore, one can’t expect public good from them. They ruled the country but never governed it. Why should we trust them again?

So, what motivates the opposition’s agitation? Economic interests or ideology or both? It seems just economic interests. Politics is about power and power about interests. But it can’t be to make money through public office. Until 1977, leaders had little interest in that. In 1980-90s, politics became the best investment. In the past losers would reconcile with the new situation quickly as they still had stakes in power structures and hoped to return to power in the next [rigged] election. During the inter-election period, they would search for ways to reach out to the establishment for support. This shameless game not only alienated the people but also criminalised our polity. 

This was unstainable. The situation started to change in 2007-08. Five factors played a major role in this regard. First, failure of the 1990s experiment and civil society movement for judges’ restoration empowered the judiciary and parliament, and helped consolidate freedom of the press and proliferation of electronic media and popularised social media. Two, elimination of fascist and terrorist groups, like the MQM and TTP, improved the image of armed forces. Third, the Panama Papers paved the way for making powerful corrupt politicians accountable. Fourth, realisation of economic failure, rising debt, failure of successive governments to implement Social Action Programme in the 1990s and MDGs and fear of failure of SDGs. Fifth, rising tension between judiciary and ruling parties during 2008-2018 further strengthened the already overdeveloped state. These required structural reforms both from the political class and state.

But the nation just got cosmetic changes. E.g. electoral reforms of 2017 did not address issues of democratisation of parliament. Instead, corrupt civilian elites consolidated their power base. All amendments were just procedural — with no clauses to end control of dynasties, to fill quota seats of women and non-Muslims, and the Senate seats through popular vote. As head of FAFEN then, I had said that repeatedly. I was accused of being too radical by my own people.

However, to enhance public trust in the system, removal of deadwood was necessary. For this, anti-corruption drive was accelerated, powerful leaders disqualified (thanks to Panama Papers), and attempts made to improve governance and economy, and empowerment of election commission.

But even though the losers of 2018 and G-B general elections have no proof of organised rigging, they continue crying foul. Interestingly, of 16 NA seats of Balochistan, PDM candidates defeated each other in eight; and in K-P, the ratio was 25.5%. As beneficiaries of rigged elections in the past, they can’t perceive anyone could win genuinely and are unwilling to listen to independent election observers including FAFEN.

Regarding G-B elections, the party ruling the Centre always won majority. The PPP and

PML-N won in 2009 and 2015, respectively, when they were in power in Islamabad. The tradition lived on. The losers too kept their tradition decrying rigging. So, the message the losers sent to voters was, ‘your vote’ was not worth it. No wonder, the country has one of the lowest turnout rates.

To sum up, like in the past, today’s opposition is begging of generals to remove Imran, not because he is “selected or incompetent” but because of his categorical stand against their corruption. I think he knows that if he vacillates on his promises, he may face the wrath of his fans. The game of corrupt, dynastic and poli-business must end, should we be interested in cleaning our governance from corruption.



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