Wednesday, August 1, 2012

After 2013, Shorter Election Cycles

It’s been some summer. In Pakistan’s tumultuous history, summer seasons are not known for being incredibly politically decisive. It’s just too hot. And a bad time to march outside. But regardless of that, we’ve seen power riots, bombings, cross border terrorist attacks and an uptick in the murder of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan. The horrible monoculture of corrupted, semi-anarchic violence, mixed with high 21st century personal weapons and communications technology we’ve been familiar with in Karachi has spread throughout the periphery of the country. FATA, Balochistan, and to an extent, Gilgit Baltistan, places where there just isn’t enough money to buy protection the way Punjab and parts of Sindh and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa can afford, have been abandoned to a vacuum of militant violence by the establishment, the military, much of the political class, and to a great deal, the ideological hotshots of the Pakistani private consumer media.

This though, has been a difference in degree of violence, we crossed the qualitative rubicon way back in 2005-2007. Back at the ranch in Islamabad, we have seen the real action, the true qualitative “change” happen, where a clash of institutions dislodged the Prime Minister from his elected seat, in the hopes of sending president Asif Ali Zardari packing.

Back in 2007, when everybody joined for a movement to restore the Chief Justice, besides democracy, one principle that was being fought for, was to restore some balance to the equilibrium of institutions that dominate Pakistan at the federal level. In 2007, the parliament was shot through with rigging charges, and was supine at the feet of General Musharraf’s military dictatorship. He was from the Pakistan military, and so that institution held the commanding position within his personalised political set-up. And to kick out the Chief, Chaudhry Iftikhar, Pervez Musharraf’s paranoid intent was to render the Supreme Court supine in front of him.

Fast forward through the Chief’s restoration movement, Benazir’s murder, the unrigged election of a free-er parliament in 2008, forcing Musharraf’s resignation, the election of a President Zardari, the Chief being restored a second time and a couple of wars to take back some districts and here we are, a re-invigorated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, in the pursuit of having Zardari tried for some old cases, declaring the elected (and now former) Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gillani in contempt of court for not writing a letter to the Swiss Courts to open a case against President Zardari. President Zardari, whose reputation for corruption has preceded him, is however the sitting head of state and does have immunity from prosecution.

The Supreme Court, having claimed one elected Chief Executive’s scalp at the altar of “Rule Of Law”, has let up for now. Despite the provocative appointment of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf at whose feet the power crisis can be laid as, as Prime Minister, a reticience has come in to kick out another Prime Minister. The court is not falling for the very clear desire it still has to kick out Raja Pervaiz, even though there is a strong lobby for it. Possibly because of the larger distaste in the electorate, and the reaction building up in PPP circles.

There is however a buildup of massive amounts of tension in the system. The case against a member of Chaudhry Iftikhar’s own family is a part of that increasing build up of tension. We do not know which part of the Pakistani right wing, the army high command, the PPP high command or the intelligence apparatus motivated the shady real estate tycoon Malik Riaz, to reveal the allegged corruption of Chaudhry Iftikhar’s son. This put a man like Chaudhry Iftikhar, who’s position in the Supreme Court has usurped some executive authority to take some decisive action. To take down Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani’s elected seat was a desperate move in its own manner.

Considering that 30,000+ Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks in the Zardari-Kayani era, responsibility falls on those who control the levers of power in Pakistan to prevent tension from building up in the political system. Earlier elections after 2013 would aid that.

The right wing, in its senile desperation is turning partially suicidal. And with multiple commercial media avenues open to them, compounded with this government’s governance deficit, they can persuade enough people to oppose the government to create instability. Within this instability, many ordinary non-political people fall collateral damage to death or the loss of their livelihood (a slower death).

Rather than have them mercilessly explode and throw government partisans at the problem, suicidal partisans ready to die, and ready to let innocents around them die, openings must be created to allow some new talent to cycle in, and political frustration to cycle out. This can best be accomplished in the form of shorter election cycles, and an expansion of elections to the local level.
The People and The Power
Source: Feica

The need for more regular elections can be argued in Pakistan even more significantly if we take into account the structure itself of the Pakistani democratic set-up, where it is derived from, and the most visibly significant cases of its application.

Pakistan’s own system of governance is derived from the British Parliamentary system. Our particular exigencies are created by Pakistan’s politicians and the state institutions that oppose them not having incredibly spotless reputations.

In the British system, or if we use its official name, the Westminster System, elections are held every five years, with the obvious method of bringing down a government through a vote of no-confidence. However, the British are not troubled with multiple armed fractious ethnic or sectarian factions, nor are they on a kind of hair trigger nuclear alert with a next door neighbour. Pakistan has all that. The British also tamed their privileged anti-democratic state institution, the monarchy, long ago from interfering in the democratic process, whilst Pakistan’s privileged anti-democratic state institution, the military, still has the capacity to harass the elected set-up. Under these circumstances, taking the political temperature of the public at a more regular interval, if nothing else, but to shore up the civilian and elected side of things, seems useful in keeping extra-parliamentary forces, which are very alive and kicking, at bay.
This is a practical and useful idea. The United States has elections after every two years and that helps clear the air very quickly. I am referencing tangentially at the massive amount of anger that the Zardari government faces, to the point where it destabilises government and creates a gridlock in even starting governance in the face of multiple tragedies. I'm not advocating elections now, when the first elected government since a nine year long dictatorship was bought to an end, has not even completed it’s mandated tenure. I would recommend changing the length of the mandate.

But seriously, in a country like Pakistan, with its fast changing political landscape, and a country where much needs to be changed, five years is a little long between elections. Maybe not five years, but four years would certainly be a more appropriate length of time, after which an election could be held. It could be considered that after 2013, the next elections be held in 2017, rather than 2018, maybe as an experiment.

As a comparison, one could consider the election cycle of the US or India, two democracies Pakistan has to deal with on a regular basis. India has elections every five years, but these are spread out over a month and are a logistical exercise of mammoth proportions. The United States has elections every two years and these elections always politically clear the air pretty fast, and point the way the wind blows amongst the domestic populace. In the last 6 years, three elections have been held, in 2006, 2008 and 2010, in which the population has swung drastically in a different directions every time, from in 2006, throwing the Republican majority out, to then throwing the Republican presidential election candidate under the bus in the face of an economic meltdown, to then revoking that Democratic majority in the lower house of Congress. These wild changes could be attributed to the massive change in desire amongst the American populace, in reaction to Republican mishandling of the government (2006), and possible foreboding for the economic collapse, on to a reaction against the economic collapse (2008). This was followed by what was perceived as regulatory capture (the massive bailouts, and the in-some-quarters resented compulsion to buy health care aka Obamacare) and a reaction against it in the form of Tea Party victories in 2010. The Tea Party victories were compounded by the discouragement of the Democratic base in 2010, because they felt that President Barack Obama did not go far enough in trying to alleviate the worst effects of the 2008 economic crash.

Pakistani democracy needs to be strengthened. And the only way to do that is to take the electorate's political temperature more regularly, so that the public's opinion becomes the ad-hoc gauge for political power. A shorter election cycle will allow us to do that.

No comments: