Et tu?

Published March 19, 2022

WE may now know which way the political winds will blow, but in the well-traversed corridors of power, the more the players change, the more they stay the same. Visuals of a large number of dissident PTI MPs holed up in Sindh House, Islamabad, beamed nationwide late Thursday afternoon, may have given Prime Minister Imran Khan’s detractors cause for glee; however, they have also stirred the citizenry’s simmering distrust of Pakistan’s democratic order.

This latest return of ‘lotacracy’, marked by a spectacle worthy of a reality TV show, is a depressing reminder of how little regard our elected representatives have for the offices people elect them to. To be clear, refusing to vote based on anything other than the dictates of one’s conscience on a matter of national import is a commendable and principled position.

Indeed, it is exactly what one would expect from a parliamentarian tasked with the solemn responsibility of representing the will of the people. Article 63A of the Constitution places no bar on voting against the party line, even if it does prescribe disqualification for doing so. But while a few of the Sindh House dissidents may have developed ideological differences with Mr Khan and may simply want to vote according to their will, the same cannot be said of the entire lot.

Read more: Can Article 63-A be invoked before no-trust vote?

Since the late 1980s, outright coercion or incentives, monetary and otherwise, have worked quite well whenever the powers that be have wanted to ‘channel’ democracy in an expedient direction. No party can claim to have remained immune to the temptation of bolstering its numbers with an MP (or dozen) whose seat can be bought or bartered rather than earned through the election process.

Mr Khan himself is no exception, even though he once said he would never stand for the ‘Changa Manga ki siasat’ of the 1990s. Yet, he had no qualms when, soon after the 2018 elections, jet upon jet of independents were flown to his doorstep in questionable circumstances. Likewise, just last year, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, backed by the PTI, was miraculously re-elected to his chair in an opposition-dominated House. He had earlier survived a vote of no-confidence in 2019 under very similar circumstances.

The prime minister may be feeling quite stung by his decision to abandon principles for power after seeing his own party members milling about Sindh House. However, his critics would do well not to gloat over this Machiavellian victory. They, too, may find themselves in a similar spot when the wind decides to blow the other way.

Lest anyone forget, there is only one faction that feeds off the steady erosion of the citizenry’s faith in the ability of democracy to deliver. It is immaterial to it which party occupies Islamabad as long as the politicians remember not to stray too far from the lines it sets.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2022

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