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Democracy wins again

Updated May 26, 2018

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FOCUSING endlessly on the failings and shortcomings of representative institutions, the world of media analysts often loses sight of what a democratic order can deliver even in its current state in the country.

Imagine what wonders democratic institutions could perform at their vibrant best, as opposed to perpetually remaining locked in a debilitating battle with some other state institutions that are not willing to abide by their constitutionally defined role.

Barely eight days before the end of its term, parliament gifted rights of equal citizenship to the Pakhtuns of Fata, wiping out a long-running colonial legacy which the people had been agitating against since the country’s inception.

The draconian and patently unjust Frontier Crimes Regulation will now be replaced by the law of the land, opening up recourse to appeals in the high courts and the Supreme Court that is available to the rest of the country. Up until now, the enforcement of the law (FCR) was very opaque, whimsical and discriminatory.

Credit must be given to parliament for pushing through the constitutional amendment with just days to go before the end of its term. However, one must also be open and acknowledge ‘outside’ (read military) pressure for the amendment to go through as the presence of Imran Khan in the National Assembly appeared to show.

Over the next eight weeks, it will be up to the political parties and the candidates to establish beyond doubt Pakistan’s status as a democratic entity.

One can perhaps easily count the number of times he has been inside the Assembly on the fingertips of one hand. Who else could have persuaded him to attend the session? The attendance record of the other democrat, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is equally unenviable.

That the many contours of this landmark amendment will emerge over time and that its ramifications will need to be addressed in great painstaking detail is apparent. But what is also clear is that a legal framework has been created; one that will be fleshed out over time.

With elections in about eight weeks’ time, such a consensus amendment must renew the electorate’s faith in the electoral process and serve as a slap in the face of those who have been advocating, for their own ulterior motives, a long (unconstitutional) stint for an unelected caretaker setup.

It is equally significant to understand that over the next eight weeks it will be up to the parties and candidates in the fray to establish beyond doubt Pakistan’s status as a democratic entity which cannot function in any other way. And a lot of responsibility rests on their shoulders. Their conduct will have to improve rather dramatically. Through these columns one has been trying hard to push for a code of conduct. That is beyond what is mandated by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

First, it was (mainly) the PML-N’s nasty and unacceptable attacks on women’s participation, particularly in PTI public meetings and rallies. The latter party may have been a little behind the PML-N in this senseless race but was catching up nonetheless.

Now with the Naeemul Haq and Daniyal Aziz incident, an unsavoury atmosphere has been created. For those who are not aware, the two leaders belonging to the PTI and the PML-N respectively were participating in a talk show on television.

After a heated verbal exchange, where the two called each other and their leaders all sorts of names such as ‘chor’ (thief), Imran Khan’s top aide swung a slap Daniyal Aziz’s way. When it connected with his cheek, Aziz was visibly and understandably stunned.

Whatever occurred (even if it happened in the heat of the moment), the fact that a number of PTI leaders endorsed this outrageous act was simply appalling. If Naeemul Haq is to be believed, his party leader and long-time friend Imran Khan also endorsed this assault on a fellow politician.

If there was one thing that was missing it was contrition. The macho Naeemul Haq may not have what it takes to understand that such violence can be initiated but never controlled or stopped by anyone. If he has anger-management issues he should stay away from heated debates.

One fears to think what would have happened had Aziz responded in kind. The whole issue would have descended to a level where a violent and turbulent election campaign would have been on the cards.

That is why all contenders should agree to the basic minimum. If their leaders can’t restrain themselves during animated discussions, how will the workers keep themselves in check during a heated campaign — particularly in these scorching summer months?

Such restraint is everyone’s responsibility. If it is abandoned, believe me, all political parties will be the losers in the end, the PTI and PML-N included — the latter two because they are supposed to be leading the pack in opinion surveys, no matter how rudimentary they are, as we speak.

Yes, both must be the leading contenders in Punjab at least if not elsewhere too — despite many suggestions that Nawaz Sharif’s statement to this newspaper about non-state actors had effectively halted his electoral march.

Pollsters using scientific tools would have been another thing but armchair pundits claiming that the PML-N leader’s career had crashed as a consequence of one statement made by him seemed a bit too sweeping for me to accept without a pinch of salt.

There may be much political engineering happening; there may be a concerted media campaign in order to tilt the balance to one side or the other. But, in the end, it is the voter who is supreme. And very few of us have actually tried to get a window to the voters’ mind.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2018