Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan works for a
based Think Tank. Lahore
Politics of Compromise
People of same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. Adam Smith (Does this hold true for capitalists only?)
President Asif Ali Zardari has been practicing politics of compromise with big fanfare. This compromise includes nearly everyone in the assemblies including those once accused of murdering BB. Governance of compromise might be an appropriate term to describe this ingenious political setup because those outside of the assemblies aren’t included. Everyone was offered a share in government and those who were reluctant were ably coerced into it with a bit of arm-twisting.
For the last 4.5 years every political party in the elected assemblies is in government at different level and the elected assemblies only comprise of allies. This kind of politics has effectively taken out the opposition from the political scene. In the centre PPP is in the government along with MQM, ANP, FATA PML(Q) and others. Same with KPK and Sind. Punjab also had such setup of PPP, PML N&Q but later PPP ministers were withdrawn. Maulana Fazal is always in the govt, even when he is officially leader of the opposition. Balochistan assembly traditionally consists of treasury benches alone and now the rest of the country is following it. In this strange setup everyone is in the government and opposition is non existent.
This has resulted in a bizarre political setup where there is no genuine opposition. Lately some politicians have been working hard to give an impression of opposition, while enjoying the perks only governments in Pakistan can give, but the Pakistani nation isn’t showing the gullibility of believing them.
Opposition is an integral part of parliamentary democracy which cannot function effectively without it. It is necessary and indispensable. The opposition keeps a check on the government finding weaknesses in its policies and performance while offering a credible alternative. Moreover, by overseeing and criticizing the action of the government, it works to ensure transparency, integrity and efficiency in the conduct
of public affairs and to prevent abuses by the authorities and individuals, thereby ensuring the defense of the public interest. Government institutions like NAB or judiciary can never keep the governments in line as oppositions do. It is the fear of the bright and active politicians in opposition which has been proven as the most useful check on government’s performance. As someone said aptly, “Conscience is basically the fear of being found out” and so it protects from untoward behavior. Freedom of this fear can encourage people to indulge in all kind of improper behaviors this poor nation can ill afford. Opposition less democracy gives the people the roughest of deals, somewhat like capitalism without competition, making the common man the ultimate loser.
The effects of this strange political setup without opposition in the assemblies are too obvious. Some of the simpler but not less cunning politicians, openly declared on the media that equal opportunities should be provided for corruption and now it is their right to indulge in it. Surprisingly these elected officials weren’t penalized by their parties or even the media and shamelessly continue to be part of government although deserve to be in a correction house or a psychiatrist’s couch. All encompassing governments are functioning for the last 4.5 years and juicy government departments and corporations have been doled out generously. Railways, PIA, Steel Mill and KPT, to name a few are in the hands of different allies of compromise. Not going into the innumerable stories of corruption and limiting to tangible and verifiable results, we can say with certainty all of them have been wrecked costing hundreds of billions to the national exchequer, or may I say the common man on the street working hard to feed his family. Railways that were working well for over a hundred years is nearly finished losing all its credibility and service denying the middle classes of inexpensive travel option. PIA is practically bankrupt as is Steel Mill risking hundreds of thousands of jobs. Many of them are surviving on artificial life support of government infusions of funds which can’t last long. Economy is in shambles and job creation non existent. Inflation is rampant and electricity expensive but unavailable. Law and order situation a mess. Not a flattering picture of democracy.
Interestingly the collapse of each state institution brings a few more smiles on the faces of allies in the government. Strangely these economic disasters instead of causing cracks in the “Compromised” coalition somehow strengthen it even more. No one has ever been held accountable for the poor performance of these state institutions jeopardizing the national economy and innumerable jobs. To date the coalition is going strong apparently at the cost of the state.
This kind of political compromise has it roots in the charter of democracy signed between the late BB and Nawaz during the dark days of military rule. After the COD was signed in May 06, within months BB and Musharraf reached understanding on transfer of power under the close watch of Condy Rice and the Americans. Immediately after Jan 07, BB, who was being treated as a con woman for over a decade by Americans, started getting treatment of a stateswomen and celebrity. Ms. Rice exposes it clearly in her book that PPPs government was decided in Washington and further steps were to be taken to ensure the predetermined façade of democracy in Pakistan. A strange democracy where the results are preordained in a foreign country.
The said COD also talks about education, economy, unemployment and condition of the poor, but they have been conveniently ignored.
While signing of COD it was decided that PPP govt will rule Pakistan for 5 years and after that it would be Nawaz’s turn and the two won’t undermine each other’s govts. No wonder Nawaz openly declared that he would support PPP govt even if its own people deserted them. Distribution of provincial govts among these two parties also appeared to be there with Punjab reserved for PML(N) and Sind for PPP. BB’s unexpected sad demise changed the understanding nominally and Zardari replaced BB effectively. This understanding and setup worked smoothly for first couple of years with just a few hiccups.
Lacunas don’t exist in nature and whenever they are made artificially they don’t last long and forces appear from nowhere fulfilling them. Rise of PTI and judiciary effectively taking the role of opposition are direct results of this.
Reasons given for this politics of compromise without opposition are certainly noble. There is a feeling that we have had 4 bouts of martial laws in Pakistan with devastating effects damaging our society and its basic fabric, basically because the oppositions of those times invited the military. Although this argument might have some substance if considered as making conditions suitable for military takeovers, it has some serious flaws. This argument makes COAS looks like a feeble post very reluctant but obedient and subservient to the politicians, opposition only. Nothing can be farther from truth. If they are so obedient to the politicians they should be showing the same when asked to leave. It is a strange but very selective and opportunist obedience. It appears that the unscrupulous generals of those times had been planting people to invite them and they always tried to look reluctant.
What actually causes martial laws is not invitation of the opposition politicians but opportunity presented to the devious generals. Economic conditions and dissatisfaction of the common man with democracy is the biggest factor making military interventions possible. Conditions deteriorate when common man shows dislike for democracy and starts longing for generals. Maligning of the politicians, pliable judiciary and foreign support are the other major factors. No wonder the buccaneering generals are delighted with the current situation showing everyone that our people are unfit to rule themselves needing a big brother looking down their necks.
The government has harmed the cause of democracy with its politics of compromise a lot but it is still surviving due to 2 unexpected allies, the Americans, having shown their dislike for military govt in Pakistan and the judiciary, outright rejecting possibility of legalizing any unconstitutional step. Judiciary appearing to be going against the govt is its biggest ally and savior although democracy has taken a real drubbing in the public opinion.
Democracy, like love, can survive almost any attack, except neglect and indifference. Our people must show their concern and give clear message to those in power that they can’t be taken for granted using names of dead people or underage children, any more. Gimmicks and demagoguery won’t work anymore. They have grown and aren’t gullible any longer getting bribed by small goodies bought from their own money.
The PPP government might be well advised to broaden its compromising politics and compromise with the judiciary instead of taking it head-on. Focusing on the people instead of the greedy allies is the only way Zardari’s govt can fare better in the next elections not far away. Otherwise they are destined to get what govts with history of bad management deserve and get in elections, if somehow saved from military takeover.
Diverting the energy and resources towards the people instead of allies can be a much needed service to democracy and not coalitions created by compromises on principles.