Lame duck regimes

28 Jan 2020


The writer is a senior fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.
The writer is a senior fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

REGIMES become lame duck near the end of their terms as their successors get elected. They then do not get support from others for major initiatives and only achieve limited results via administrative orders.

Pakistani regimes become lame duck more circuitously much before polls. Ineptitude contributes to this outcome. This happens with not only civilian regimes, but also dictators who test the patience of even senior colleagues by staying on for too long; and deep state intrigues play a more key role. These intrigues signal that the regime would not be allowed to last for long or win polls as favoured successors are projected. It then fails to get internal or external support for major initiatives and rules via administrative orders. The PML-N saw this after the Panama leaks, the PPP after ‘memogate’ and even Musharraf after lawyers rebelled. These regimes all became leaking balloons.

The PPP and PML-N became lame duck in their fourth years. But the PTI looks so just within 18 months given its misrule, paralysis and coalition cracks. Its only key outcome has been a major fall in external deficits. Even that reflects its lame duck status as it did so via administrative orders. State Bank governors and finance ministers can just sit in their offices and devalue currency, raise interest rates, hike indirect taxes and cut development outlays without having to gain others’ support. All this brings the economy to a screeching halt, thus reducing external deficits.

Astute minds call the regime the rule of the least suitable.

It also creates huge public misery via high inflation and job losses. These are stale global IMF recipes and reflect no creativity or hard work on the PTI’s part.

To achieve durable economic and political major change, regimes must have more solid capacity than merely being IMF order takers. They must devise creative policies and mobilise support to implement them. Here, the current government has done worse than others. Few sensible analysts expect it to suddenly unfurl such capacity now. The PPP and PML-N became lame duck as they were inept but also as they were not establishment favourites though they tried timidly to wrest some policy freedom. But this outcome is odd for a regime which many say won due to poll manipulation and has since got huge support from its alleged patrons desperately trying to pump life into it and somehow keep it standing on its feet. The current setup keeps saying it is on the same page as its patrons, but looks no more than a footnote on that page. Thus, unlike with the PPP and PML-N, the PTI’s lame duck status is only due to its own ineptitude. Astute minds call the regime the rule of the least suitable, ie kakistocracy. Naughty minds quietly add an ‘h’ after the first ‘k’ to hint subtly that its rule is actually the covert rule of others.

How could a party carrying on its shoulders the hopes for quick massive change of our most educated citizens and most key institution sour their hopes so hugely so quickly? Clearly, this is not a competent team suddenly losing form, but one that was always inept. But how could educated citizens and key institutions so badly misjudge its worth? The simple blunt answer: because so many among them largely engage in voodoo political analysis.

Based on dodgy TV and social media chatter, they concluded that Asif Zardari’s and Nawaz Sharif’s sleaze is huge and the main cause of all our ills. But serious analysis reveals no proof the duo’s sleaze is more than rounding off errors to our cumulative GDP amounts across their eras. The real causes are ineptitude of rulers and establishment policies.

Globally, too, other traits seem more critical and the honesty of top honchos largely irrelevant for governing huge states. But with the tunnel-vision focus on sleaze, the lack of knowledge, experience, suitable ideology, management skills and apt policies of the leader and his team were ignored. The simplistic solution to our ills became the honesty of the top leadership, as if we are filling a home guard’s position, and bringing him to power by hook or crook. Such corruption mania may harm us more than corruption itself. Honesty was seen as such a strong force that it would fill the other major gaps. So we got a top honcho more honest but a team more inept than the PML-N’s.

These narrow pluses failed miserably to deliver on the tough job of ruling a complex state since the honesty gave little, but the ineptitude cost much. The political experiment to hoist good governance artificially on society failed, as that can only emerge organically. So, one makes an impassioned plea to end political experiments and allow free democracy. But it is likely to fall on deaf ears.

The writer is a senior fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

Twitter: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2020