THE fall has been steep. Not that we had a very competent leadership in the past but the PTI government’s rush to what is termed as a ‘kakistocracy’ is alarming. It is not so much about the absence of government as a government by the least suitable.
Theatrical performances by cabinet ministers have become the stuff of satire. Slander and using abusive language against opponents are not unusual features of the Pakistani political culture, but the PTI has taken the practice to new heights. Self-righteousness has never before been witnessed in such abundance, often being used to cover up one’s own ineptitude. It is one government that has done more harm to itself than what the opposition could do to it. Irresponsible statements from the ministers raise questions about the party’s commitment to the democratic process.
No wonder, six months into power the PTI government is still groping in the dark. The working of the National Assembly as a legislative body has been virtually paralysed because of the unending controversy over Shahbaz Sharif’s chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee. One thought the issue had been settled, but not really. It remains a contentious issue, keeping ministers engaged in frivolous polemics.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is shy of coming to parliament because he does not want to confront a noisy opposition. How does he expect the opposition to behave when his ministers hurl slanderous remarks at the opponents? Being in government, he should have the confidence to face criticism. The responsibility of maintaining decorum in the house lies more with the treasury benches.
It will be difficult for the government to achieve its objectives in an atmosphere of political confrontation.
The prime minister’s absence from the house appears as more of a case of contempt for parliament than misconduct on the part of the opposition. The proceedings in parliament are always raucous with the presence of a strong opposition. The real test for any leader is to be able to deal with the situation.
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A government that is facing daunting challenges is expected to focus more on economic revival and governance than engage in confrontation with the opposition. The offensive language used against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and making light of his illness are unbecoming of a government that claims it believes in a pluralistic democratic culture. Economic stability and good governance require political sanity.
Finally, the government is close to reaching an agreement with the IMF on a bailout package. It is a bitter pill the government has to swallow given the serious current account crisis. One may or may not agree with the government’s approach to dealing with the problem, but the IMF programme will give the administration much-needed space and allow it to carry out long-delayed structural reform.
It will be extremely difficult for the government to achieve its objectives in an atmosphere of political confrontation. But there is no indication yet of the government making any effort to defuse political tensions. What the prime minister needs to understand is that sooner or later the government that enjoys a wafer-thin majority will require the opposition’s support for legislation and the smooth functioning of democratic institutions. It certainly does not mean any unprincipled compromises. It is also not in the interest of the opposition to subvert the democratic order.
This state of political confrontation also seems to have diverted the government’s attention from the more important issues of governance. This much is apparent. Some federal cabinet ministers do not even understand the issues they are supposed to deal with. Their frequent gaffes make them a target of ridicule. The recent comments made by the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Gandapur regarding Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav having been ‘freed’ by Nawaz Sharif was the height of inanity. He is surely not the only one showing himself in a negative light. There are other ‘jewels’ in Imran Khan’s ‘crown’.
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It should be worrying for the PTI that the prime minister’s handpicked chief minister of Punjab, whom he hails as ‘Wasim Akram plus’, has yet to blossom. Even many senior PTI leaders lament the setback caused by the selection of Usman Buzdar to head the government in the most important and powerful province of the country. The recent handling of the Sahiwal extrajudicial killing incident and the frequent reshuffling of bureaucracy have exposed the fault lines in the provincial administration.
The arrest of senior minister Aleem Khan by NAB has dealt another serious blow to the Punjab government. He was considered a potential choice for the coveted job if Khan ever decided to dispense with Buzdar. It is never easy to run a province like Punjab through remote control as the prime minister is trying to do. The future of the PTI government depends on whether the Punjab provincial administration is able to deliver. It does not seem good given the ineptness of the Buzdar-led government.
A major governance problem is the breakdown of civil bureaucracy in the face of alleged harassment by NAB. Senior officials are not willing to take any critical decision because of the fear of being apprehended by the anti-corruption body that is exercising unbridled powers. Prime Minister Khan claiming the ownership of NAB’s actions has not helped to calm things down. The prime minister’s assurance of service protection to top civil servants has failed to alleviate the latter’s concerns. The frequent transfer of officials for disputing the government’s decisions is contrary to Khan’s pledge to strengthen government institutions and make them free from political pressure.
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Its latest move to create a media regulatory body has also raised concerns regarding the government’s intentions to curb media freedom. Such a measure will not only be a serious attack on the freedom of expression but also shrink the democratic space. The crackdown on rights activists and civil society is ominous. There is already an unannounced censorship on the media and any draconian law would deal a serious blow to the democratic process.
It is not just the danger of kakistrocracy taking hold but also the fear of the administration getting more vindictive and repressive that is troubling. The PTI government must put its act together and focus on the real issues and strengthen democratic institutions before it is too late.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2019