THE speaker of the National Assembly has ordered a probe into the unfortunate incident outside the parliament building in which a crowd of PTI supporters harassed and manhandled senior leaders of the PML-N. The probe is not likely to produce an outcome. Since the incident most senior PTI leaders have either ignored the incident or blamed the opposition for holding the press conference at a venue where a PTI crowd had gathered. This amounts to blaming the victim. It is an illustration of the depths of partisan politicking we have fallen into that seemingly reasonable men and women of the government are ready and willing to justify the manhandling of their senior parliamentary colleagues — albeit from the other side of the aisle — to avoid blaming their own supporters. Such apathy and deliberate callousness is fast pushing our politics towards moral bankruptcy, and thereby chipping away at the legitimacy that politicians must retain in order to keep the representative system afloat.

This legitimacy also got a battering by the electoral manipulation that happened in the NA-75 Daska by-election under the direct supervision of the PTI’s Punjab government. It got further degraded by the shenanigans Pakistanis witnessed before and during the Senate elections. Leaked videos of vote buying, allegations of horse-trading and the government’s failed attempts to force through a change in the mode of voting for narrow political interests are events that together have delivered a body blow to the legitimacy of the system in its present shape and form.

Nothing could be more unfortunate. After decades of struggling for constitutional democracy and a representative system of governance in which all parties are critical stakeholders, today’s political outfits are reversing themselves — and the system — into an unpleasant past. Loathing is all pervasive. This hate is beyond the stage where rivals can construct a functional relationship for the sake of the system. The incident outside parliament has shown that those in government are unwilling, or unable, to dilute their virulent partisanship at any cost. The genesis of this virulence lies, to a great extent, in the unwillingness of Prime Minister Imran Khan to accept the PML-N and PPP leaders as genuine parliamentary rivals. He considers them corrupt thieves who should be in jail, not in the assemblies. His rank and file have internalised this narrative and therefore it is not surprising that partisanship has acquired the colours of personal enmity and collective loathing. It was this loathing that drove PTI supporters to attack senior leaders, including a woman, of the PML-N, and it is this loathing that disallows PTI leaders to condemn the incident without any conditions attached. Pakistani politics is hurtling down a worrisome path and few appear to recognise the threat, or care too much about it. Someone needs to usher in sanity and restraint before we hearken back to the demons of the past.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2021

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