IT’S been a busy week, it’s the end of the year, so straight to some talking points.

The anti-democrats If you talk long enough, you’re liable to say a revealing thing or two. Qadri, the political impresario who electrified non-voters, said many odd things in Lahore.

Politicians are corrupt, system needs cleansing, good governance, blah, blah, blah. In channelling the establishment’s thinking, he did a bang-up job.

But embedded in that quasi-logic was an insight into why short-circuiting the democratic project is always such an imperative for some folks.

Initially, the argument is always couched in instrumentalist terms: if you want a better, more prosperous, more stable, more secure Pakistan, than you need a more committed, more professional, more patriotic type of leader. I.E. anyone but a constituency politician, and preferably someone in uniform.

But it’s not really about ends; it’s about control — or more appropriate, an unwillingness to cede control.

How dare the two largest parties, elected by the people, decide on their own who will steer the country through the next election, Qadri thundered.

How dare the two largest parties, elected by the people, exclude the other ‘stakeholders’ in the system, Qadri roared. Interesting.

Said with the conviction of Qadri, the underlying logic can get obscured.

The PPP and PML-N aren’t just the two largest political parties in Pakistan. They represent two very different parts of the population spectrum.

Rural and urban. Landless peasants and small-business owners. Poor and middle class; middle class and upper class. Secular and conservative. Agriculturalists and big business.

But it’s just not that. In mature democracies, the two-party system is an accepted, and acceptable, standard.

Try telling the Democrats and the Republicans in America that they can’t make legislative and governance choices on the people’s behalf because they’re only two parties.

In saying what he did, Qadri — and the establishment that cheers him on or set him loose or blows him kisses or whatever — expressed a contempt not just for politicians, but of politics itself, of the electoral kind anyway.

The Qadri & co agenda may be sold as the promise of fixing Pakistan, but it’s really about controlling Pakistan — for their good, not yours or mine.

The PPP problem

The haters hated and the jiyalas loved Bilawal’s breakout speech in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. All very predictable for a partisan show meant to whip up the party base.

But what a missed opportunity.

Bilawal is a kid, part of the very same youth bulge that, for the first time since the lowering of the voting age in 2002, could have an electoral impact.

Imran Khan, in his 60s now, fervently courts youth support. The Sharifs, with hair transplants for Christ’s sake, have tried desperately to politically animate the youth.

And here you have a kid, speaking in heavily accented Urdu and all of that, yes, but still a kid, talking about the politics of martyrdom and handouts and roti, kapra aur makaan, a slogan his grandfather championed 45 years ago.

Sure, you can’t ignore the base ahead of an election, but the poverty of thinking in the PPP brain trust was underlined this week by Bilawal’s speechwriters, who simply rehashed an old message for a new generation of Bhuttos and jiyalas.

It wasn’t just the youth who were ignored. If you happen to live in urban Pakistan, are reasonably well-educated, have a job in the private sector or own a business, what exactly were Bilawal and his speechwriters offering you?

It’s not a new problem. The PPP has long struggled to adapt to the changing demographics of Pakistan, retreating further and further into its rural base in interior Sindh and southern Punjab and the politics of martyrdom in pockets elsewhere. But the party’s messaging problems have accelerated under Zardari’s leadership, partly because Zardari’s primary purpose is power, not the protection of brand PPP.

You can see it in the big leadership changes he’s made this year. Anwar Saifullah in KP, Wattoo in Punjab, a PML-F guy as the new governor: Zardari has farmed out the PPP’s electoral campaign in swathes of the country to party outsiders. If that seems inexplicable on the eve of a general election, it is.

Bilawal may be politically too young to understand what’s happening to him and the party he will inherit twice — once from his mother, a second time from his father — but there will come a day when he will have to rescue his party from his father.

Election time?

Call the election, give us a date, do it now. Everyone is clamouring for Zardari to call the election.

It’s a final ace up Zardari’s sleeve: despite all the legislative disempowering of the presidency, the date of the next general election will be set by Zardari.

So what’s he waiting for?

For one, neither he nor the Sharifs are in a hurry. There’s development money still to be spent, fairy dust to sprinkle over ramshackle constituencies to make people forget the bad and hope for the good. The more weeks there are to lavish money, the more the fairy dust may work.

For another, who else can force Zardari’s hand to dissolve parliament early? Qadri and his millions? The boys? The robes? Never say never, but meaningful pressure has yet to materialise and time is running out.

Third, if there is a fallback plan, as many suspect there is, then why expedite that process?

The fallback plan: Zardari steers the PPP to second-largest-party status in the National Assembly; hangs on to the provincial governments in Sindh and Balochistan; and with control of the Senate already locked in, works the margins to eke out re-election as president, with the federal government in the PML-N’s hands. Cohabitation, Pakistani-style.

But, and Zardari must especially be relishing this, the call on the election is ultimately Zardari’s to make. If circumstances or calculations change, he can pull the trigger on an early election.

For now, though, for all the speculation and chatter, it still looks like it will be a full term, followed by a fairly short election campaign.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

More From This Section

The Pemra mess

THE regulation of TV and radio channels is a subject of direct relevance to all citizens. Electronic media have been...

Scary ineptitude

INCOMPETENT handling of crises, often self-created, ought to be the major worry today as it poses a greater threat ...

Moral dilemmas

Tough choices must be made in the war against terrorism.

Kashmir saga

There’s no end in sight for the issue of Kashmir.


Comments are closed.

Comments (13)

Mustafa Razavi
December 31, 2012 1:11 am
"Try telling the Democrats and the Republicans in America that they can?t make legislative and governance choices on the people?s behalf because they?re only two parties." First of all we are not following the American system as a model in this country, secondly I don't think most Americans are even moderately satisfied with their system. "lesser of the two evils" is a phrase heard often when Americans discuss their politics. America's two largest parties together received nearly 119 million votes against a population of 315 million, that is 38 votes per 100 citizens. Our two largest parties received 16 million votes against a population of 180 million, that is about 9 votes per 100 citizens. That is a more than 1:4 ratio in favor of the American system, which itself needs armies of dishonest "journalists", "intellectuals" , "historians" and "experts" to fabricate it's legitimacy.
Zahid chadhar
December 30, 2012 9:36 am
Its not for nothing that Qadri has jumped in this mess. He is serving a specific agenda of establishment ,wo wants PML(N) out of federal govement at any cost. This time its America and establishment who has joined hands together to steal the mandate of PML(N). If this plan of establishments works then PPP will be the sole beneficiary in this scenario because IK is very unlikely to make it to Islamabad,
ali ahmed
December 30, 2012 3:14 pm
The whole political system stinks,because system is made by the corrupt and powerful men.,our parliamentarians does not have any shame at all..they will never permit Pakistan to raise its head in the community of civilised nation of the world..
Amir Saeed
December 30, 2012 11:13 am
yeah sad. Don't think he will the energy left five years from now, especially given the kind of campaigning, extensive travelling and hard work he is putting in. But again like Faiz said: Yeh bazi ishq ki bazi hai jo chaho laga do dar kaisa Jo jeet gaye to kya kehna, haaray bhi to baazi maat nahee
farmerdrfar
December 30, 2012 2:54 pm
Excellent analysis and article...as usual.
baseer
December 30, 2012 10:19 am
That will be a tragedy for Pakistan. An electoral victory for PTI will be Pakistan's Tahrir moment. A revolution achieved through electoral politics, re-enforcing faith in the democratic process.
Falcon_2013 (@Yousaf_Manzoor)
December 30, 2012 2:40 pm
I won't discount IK yet. IK is planning a very aggressive election campaign with Asad Umar as campaign manager. The show is yet to start.
riz
December 30, 2012 2:25 pm
well,i disagree. the militay or intelligence or both will not allow PPP or PML-N a full term. to secure a full democratic term an extra-ordinary government with super-duper performance will have to be formed and run so:this is impossible for our politicians. so very soon after the elections we will have a martial law and another long-term of rule by a man-in-uniform(why not woman,ever).
Guest63
December 30, 2012 10:39 am
In my humble opinion , You are spot on , The last thing on AAZ's plate it the PPP , his foremost interest is Power and to safe guard his skin in the walled fortress called Presidency ( his alternate residence of choice as per his own shouts ! ) so his aim is to live there till Oct 2018 and he will ensure to that end come what may . Bilawal is a pan in his scheme of things to safe guard his own skin , ( giving him the name bhuto , chairman post to name a few ) . Bilawal will find it out dearly once he can manage to get out of the clutches of his cunning father's scheme of things which only are there to cater for one soul and one soul only , Asif Ali Zardari to Khapay till he wants ..... The uncles and the aunts which were pointed out to Bilawal will never dare to desert AAZ first and foremost .......
Ganesh (India)
December 30, 2012 6:13 pm
So much is being written about Tahirul Qadri all of a sudden in Pakistani media now a days. All that is needed for a new entrant is to organize big political rally in Lahore or Karachi. They either promise to improve Pakistani system in couple of days or demand government to improve within few days else threaten government of holding ?long march? in Islamabad. Are Pakistani public so naive/dumb to fall trap to these kind of tactics??? I dont think so. Strange thing is even main stream political parties like PPP, PML(N) etc looks to be giving knee jerk reactions every time new comer holds a political rally?.
Ganesh (India)
December 30, 2012 6:30 pm
One of the bitter most yet fair thing that one needs to understand in democracy is that Government/political system is always as good as society which created it. In Democracy leaders always follow act according to what majority of people want.. good or bad, the people decide. Simple but hard truth. We in India realising it slowly now.......
Ganesh (India)
December 30, 2012 7:17 am
So much is being written about Tahirul Qadri all of a sudden in Pakistani media now a days. All that is needed for a new entrant is to organize big political rally in Lahore or Karachi. They either promise to improve Pakistani system in couple of days or demand government to improve within few days else threaten government of holding 'long march' in Islamabad. Are Pakistani public so naive/dumb to fall trap to these kind of tactics??? I dont think so. Strange thing is even main stream political parties like PPP, PML(N) etc looks to be giving knee jerk reactions every time new comer holds a political rally....
Zach
December 30, 2012 7:18 am
Its sad but seems to be turning true that IK will have to wait for 5 more years..
Explore: Indian elections 2014
Explore: Indian elections 2014
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
Cartoons
E-PAPER
Front Page