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PTI vs PML-N: And the loser is...

Updated November 17, 2014

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It serves none of the two parties to resolve the current stalemate.—Reuters/file
It serves none of the two parties to resolve the current stalemate.—Reuters/file

Normally, when one resigns from a job, it means they are leaving. Normally, their employer accepts their resignation and starts looking for a replacement.

'Normally', it seems, is a word that is poorly understood in Pakistan.

The 'resignation joke' has been going on for a few weeks now. The PTI, in its attempt to gain traction, decided to resign from the National Assembly, while staying in the provincial assemblies. And, while they received a lot of flak for their selective resignations, the party has a relatively thick outer layer; criticism simply bounces off the Niazi Reich.

One would expect the PML-N to be over the moon at the prospect of getting the PTI out of the assemblies, and would immediately accept their resignations. But, that did not happen.

Instead, the PML-N and PTI involved themselves into a sad game.

Sick and tired of listening to the rhetoric from both sides on why or why not the resignations are going through, I decided to look at this interaction through a simple game theory framework.

Read on: The PML-N’s best friend

For those of you who are not familiar with game theory, it is a study of strategic decision-making. In the case of the PML-N and PTI, what triggered the game theory effect was PTI choosing to resign from the National Assembly.

The PML-N has two options to react to this: either accept those resignations and call for by-elections, or stall the process and tire the PTI out.

What the PML-N is choosing to do is the safer option of stalling the process instead of accepting the resignations. Why?

Because having by-elections right now carries the risk of getting PTI back in the parliament, while sending the impression that the government has been weakened (even though PTI will simply be regaining the seats it gave up). The perception alone is forcing the government to stall the resignations.

For the PTI, getting their resignations stalled helps tell the public that they are out of the system, while allowing their MNAs to receive full benefits of their jobs without having to do any work.

Thus, this game is in a deadlock. It is similar to the prisoner’s dilemma, with one difference:

In the case that both groups defect, the rewards are higher than if they cooperated.

The only group that gets the short end of the stick in the process are the people.

Specifically, the people who elected PTI’s members into parliament to represent them are the ones getting no benefit out of this deadlock.

The PML-N, by not accepting the resignations of the PTI members and not holding by-elections on the seats, denies the citizens of those constituency any representation in the parliament. There are 30-something constituencies in Pakistan which are not being represented in the federal government of Pakistan, and apparently everyone is totally fine with that.

Read through: Mantra of change

Here is the important thing to note: as Pakistan and the attention of Pakistanis stay fixated on this useless politically-motivated stalemate, serious issues are going by without the crucial discussions and debates that they deserve.

I'm referring to issues like the cost-benefit analysis of the new energy policy – the exuberant rates being offered for energy producers (up to nine cents a unit in certain cases); State Bank-facilitated hostile takeovers; the chronically rotten law and order situation in major cities, and so on.

No one wants to discuss the fact that the rates at which new power projects are being green-signaled will hit the end consumer the hardest (when they end up paying tons of money for expensive electricity only because some energy tycoon in the country decided to build a power plant in the middle of nowhere, requiring seven trainloads of coal to produce 1300 MWs of power).

Nobody wants to discuss the sort of trade preferences being given to Chinese manufacturers, who are slowly conducting a hostile takeover of Asian markets by out competing them, courtesy the Chinese economies of scale.

No attention goes to issues like this because the game of deadlock is sexier and so much more entertaining.

Explore: Power politics: 3 serious governance issues nobody is talking about

It's true. Watching the baboonery of politicians tussling it out on TV is so much simpler to understand and enjoy – you just have to pick sides. And then, just like professional sports, you can keep cheering your team on while spending stupid amounts of money buying merchandise and tickets to watch them play and hopefully win, only so you can feel good about your own lives by living vicariously through your team’s win.

To sum it up, in the prisoner’s dilemma with the PTI and PML-N, the awaam is the prisoner.

While the public elected this leader lot to serve us, they instead went on to fight their own battles with the public stuck doing prison time.

But then again, it’s all just a game.