Vox populi

Published March 22, 2023

OUR current, ostensibly democratic political dispensation seems in quite a hurry to metamorphose into a classical Third World dictatorship. With the PDM government closing ranks with the military over what appears to be a shared agenda to punish the PTI for its transgressions — some real, others completely imaginary — a dangerous precedent is about to be set.

It may poison Pakistani democracy for years to come. Just days after PML-N’s vice president Maryam Nawaz started dictating to the government that the country’s largest political party ought to be considered and treated as a terrorist outfit, Islamabad’s entire narrative machinery has been unable to talk about anything else.

The state, too, has appeared quite eager to oblige, sanctioning and launching a sweeping crackdown on the PTI’s workers and second-tier leadership, pulling them from their homes and workplaces and threatening them or booking them under charges as extreme as terrorism.

That this gradual dismantling of the edifice of our democracy is being overseen and cheered on by the father-daughter duo who, merely years ago, were clamouring for public support with the ‘Vote ko izzat do’ (respect the vote) slogan, is a grave and regrettable tragedy.

One expected Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz to show at least a perfunctory commitment to their professed principles once the PML-N returned to power; instead, the government in Islamabad seems to be borrowing even its vocabulary from a dictator’s playbook.

In no self-respecting democracy does a government talk about ‘purging’ the country of its rivals, or consider banning a political party by declaring it either a ‘terrorist’ outfit or a “gang of miscreants trained by banned organisations”, as the Monday meetings did. These are the fantasies of authoritarians and absolutists, not politicians selected to rule by vox populi.

We hear now that the military leadership and government have decided between themselves that elections to all assemblies ought to be held simultaneously. If the decision has been taken, then elections must be called immediately.

The Constitution explicitly calls for elections to the assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within 90 days of the dissolution of their respective assemblies. The Supreme Court, too, has only recently reiterated that prescription. If all elections are to be held together, they must be held within this timeline.

They should remember that no force will be enough to legitimise their actions if they are deemed to have conspired together to subvert the Constitution just to prevent the PTI from securing a mandate from the public. If the PML-N will not see reason, the other parties should reconsider their role in this ugly game.

History will not judge kindly those who throw the laws of this land in the bin in their blind desperation to keep just one man and one political party away from power.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2023

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