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PM or change?

September 02, 2018

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SO many rabbits to chase after, so much to bite into, but the muzzle and the leash prevail for now, so on to lesser things. It’s transparently obvious but in this age of pretence, let’s start with a bit of pretence:

What if — just what if — Imran wanted to be PM more than he wanted to fix things?

The shenanigans of the week are easy enough to explain. Imran doesn’t give a rat’s behind about what TV says or social media obsesses over: knowing how to use the media cultivates a healthy contempt for it.

The helicopter stuff is already fading — as it always would. It isn’t so much that Imran tried to ingratiate himself with the hoi polloi with fake talk about simplicity and related silliness, but that Imran will only engage the people, the media — everyone — on his terms.

Even in an age of pretence, Imran will only be able to hide so long that he wants to be PM more than he wants to fix things.

The helicopter faux pas is defiance after a minor transgression when the stakes are minimal — it’s not like someone’s going to take away his prime ministership, or even his heli rides, for being preachy and insincere.

But the stakes were somewhat higher in another recent incident and Imran showed the same defiance and contemptuous disregard. Just weeks before the election, Imran was caught in a media maelstrom for jetting off abroad with a friend who may or may not have had his paperwork in order.

The fierce pounding he took then made no sense to suffer without some quick damage control. There was an election to be fought and won and even if Imran knew he’d be helped across the finish line, the pounding he was taking on TV and in social media was an unnecessary distraction.

But the same contempt shone through. No apology, no comment, no reversal.

You can guess some of the reasons why. As a principal beneficiary of the manufactured realities of TV, Imran may believe that everything he sees, reads or hears in the media is driven by an agenda. He may not even be that wrong.

So if everything is manufactured and fake, you may as well ride it out. Media outrage will burn itself out quickly enough and if it doesn’t, the problem and the sponsors lie elsewhere and that requires different handling.

The other thing may be a little more hidden.

A policeman suffering humiliation and a nobody CM taking a few hits in the media is par for the course — neither can really object because it comes with the territory. But that isn’t really the story.

At a minimum, the gent’s ego has been bruised. Family and honour require some rectification and recompense. But it rarely stops at that. What has really been signalled is access: manage the gent’s idiosyncrasies and ego because a satisfied gent is a man who can get work done for you.

The pounding that is being taken by some now is a down payment on favours that may be called in later. Nothing surprising in any of it, but only if you want to and know where to look.

So back to the original question: what if, just what if, Imran wants to be PM more than he wants to fix things?

That they had done zero preparation is obvious enough. The only real skill on display so far has been the chap who has jetted around to bring on board allies and independents. Beyond that it’s just been uncertainty and unsteadiness, in naming a cabinet, in making provincial picks, in setting an agenda.

But is any of it a surprise?

Imran is one of the more transparent politicians we’ve ever had. He’s given more interviews and made himself more available to the media than any other first-tier pol around today, all of them having lengthier political careers than Imran.

Heck, we — allegedly — know more about his personal life than the lives of many of our friends and relatives. Good or bad, tawdry or sensational, there’s more out there about Imran, in story, legend and rumour, than most folk need or would like to know.

But that hyper visibility is also instructive.

The populist rhetoric is fine. Simplifying politics, good versus evil, everything a question of will and belief, a great future awaits if only the right leadership has control — that’s the stuff of insurgents, outside politics.

But sift through even a bit of the mountain of public statements and opinions and comments that Imran has made over the decades and try and find two things: an interest in how things work and an appetite for any level of detail.

You probably don’t need to do much sifting. The answer is obvious.

But that doesn’t have to be an insurmountable problem: pick the right people and you’re halfway to being a saviour. Move on, then, to sifting through the people Imran has surrounded himself with over the years, especially in more recent times.

Broadly, there’s two kinds: the extremely wealthy and those steeped in power politics. No agents of change there. Put all of that together and it’s no surprise it’s been a rough start so far.

There will be calmer patches ahead: Imran is bestride a system that manifestly favours him and opposes his rivals. But even in an age of pretence, Imran will only be able to hide so long that he wants to be PM more than he wants to fix things.

Imran can make some tweaks and adjustments now. Or he can leave us to suffer everything amped up to 10 for the next five years.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2018