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Pulling a PML-N

Updated March 01, 2015


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

What, exactly, is the problem they’re trying to solve here? This whole business with the Senate elections and this sudden crisis. What’s up?

You’d think the country is about to get 52 corrupt, callous Richie Riches in the form of new senators. But anyone looked at the maths recently?

There’s four from Fata, two from Islamabad and 46 from the provinces who are going to be elected. Nobody is talking about Fata (which is, well, ironic, given that the conversation is ostensibly about money) and nobody is talking about the NA (the electoral college for the Isloo senators).

Aha, so that’s still 46 corrupt, callous Richie Riches and that’s pretty damn bad, you’re thinking.

But hang on. Of the 46 from the provinces, there’s eight women, eight technocrats and two non-Muslims — and nobody is claiming that’s where the trouble lies. You can’t really force yourself into the Senate against the wishes of parties on one of those 18 tickets.

So that leaves 28 from the provinces. Aha, you’re thinking again, 28 new, corrupt, callous Richie Riches from the provinces is 28 too many. It’s a bloody crisis.

But, again, hang on. The 28 on open — technically, general — seats from the provinces are equally divided: seven from each province.

Nobody is suggesting Sindh is a problem. (Imagine that!) So that leaves 21. Punjab is pretty much sewn up, the only seeming question mark over one seat. And that seat’s more about embarrassment for the PML-N than the PPP tossing around fistfuls of cash.

Which leaves 14. Ah, good ol’ Balochistan and KP. Fourteen corrupt, callous Richie Riches from two of the four federating units is much that is wrong with the system that passes for democracy here. Off with their heads! Not on our watch! Out, out, out!

What is the PML-N if not a party of bored, semi-talented men with small ambitions and big wallets who hanker after fancy titles?

But — yes, again — hang on. Nobody’s saying the big parties aren’t going to get their principal candidates elected. It’s not like the PML-N isn’t going to end up with a few senators from KP. And, for all the hand-wringing and tut-tutting, you wouldn’t bet against the PML-N picking up most of its quota in Balochistan. Same goes for the PTI in KP.

Which leaves us with less than a handful of seats on which some funny business may take place — and even then there’s no guarantee that funny money will buy success.

So — where’s the problem? If the problem is a few — a tiny, tiny few — bored, semi-talented men with small ambitions and big wallets who hanker after fancy titles and a shot at lording it over the people, then what the PML-N should really do is fire itself.

’Cause what is the PML-N if not a party of bored, semi-talented men with small ambitions and big wallets who hanker after fancy titles and a shot at lording it over the people?

But crisis it is — because the PML-N has decided it is. Amend the Constitution! Save democracy! Stem the rot! If there is a crisis it’s not really the one the PML-N wants you to think about. Step back and the big picture is all too clear and all too familiar: carpenter, tools, bad.

The PML-N wants you to believe the system is broken, but it’s really the PML-N that’s not working — well or even at plain par.

The story of how we went in a matter of days from an election the public didn’t give a toss about to this wild air of crisis and franticness in the government is a story of the PML-N being the PML-N; the PML-N being in denial about being the PML-N; and the PML-N blaming everyone else for the PML-N being the PML-N.

Here’s basically what happened. Nawaz went to Balochistan for one of those apex meetings and afterwards discovered that it’s gotten worse in what passes for a PML-N party set-up there. The MPAs weren’t just playing hardball, it really did look like they may land a blow or two by going their own way on the Senate issue.

Meanwhile, fear had wafted down from KP too. There it was a double dose of trouble: fear that a seat or two may slip from the N-League’s grasp; and fear that a mercurial Imran may lash out at the PML-N and turn vote-buying on the margins into yet another assault on Islamabad.

And then there was the perception problem: as the election neared, the media narrative that was emerging was of a corrupt system and corrupt politicians.

All of that is simple enough. But all of that obscures the basic problem: the inner core has undone the PML-N again. The more immediate failure was to steer the Senate-election process competently. Sit down, map the threats, work the angles, keep an ear to the ground and a firm hand on the wheel.

Essentially, do what Zardari did in 2012 when the PPP navigated serenely through raging conspiracy theories and a media frenzy. Do your homework, stay calm, bring your A game.

The longer-term failure: arrogance and dismissiveness towards the MPAs. Treat someone badly enough for long enough and they’re likely to act out. Give you trouble when you need them. Embarrass you. Defy you. Make you pay attention.

So if anything’s a crisis it’s that the PML-N has pulled a PML-N — again: planned poorly, behaved badly, reacted late and reached for the hammer when a firm hand on the shoulder would have done.

The system isn’t broken; it’s the PML-N that isn’t working. And no amendment can fix that.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm