More than change

Published July 11, 2024 Updated July 11, 2024 08:30am
The writer is an author.
The writer is an author.

PRESIDENT Joe Biden insists that he is still running. He has not said in which direction. He needs to decide quickly before someone makes up his mind for him. Some expect the Democratic Party to push him over the edge. Others that his medical team will advise him against subjecting himself to the rigour of a gruelling election campaign. The only person he will listen to is his wife Jill Biden.

It will not be the first time that a spouse has had the last word. In November 1990, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, locked in a leadership contest within her Conservative Party, survived the first ballot. She would have ta­­ken the fight into a second ballot — ‘to fight on and fight to win’ — had her husband De­­nis Thatcher not persuaded her to quit. He gave her this pithy advice: “Don’t go on, love.”

In Great Britain’s recent general election, the British voters themselves, rather than a furtive cabal of Conservative bigwigs, were invited to decide on the future of PM Rishi Sunak and the party. The results — unequivocal but not unexpected — sent Rishi and the Conservative Party packing.

His successor as PM is Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer who won by a landslide. No one can predict how long he will last. It seems the only permanent resident of 10 Downing Street is the photogenic tabby cat which poses artfully on its doorstep.

Voters want to see not just change but discernible improvement.

In the UK, the transfer of power is like the passing of an Egyptian pharaoh, interred with meticulous ceremony and a treasure of memories.

In US politics, a presidential election is not a contest of ideologies. It is a clash of personalities: for example, the winsome John F. Kennedy vs Richard Nixon with a five o’clock shadow; the dynamic Bill Clinton vs Bob Dole; the underdog Barack Obama vs Mitt Romney; the brash Donald Trump vs Hilary Clinton, and then the corrective Joe Biden vs Donald Trump.

Should a US president retire prematurely through death (Franklin D. Roosevelt) or resignation (Nixon), the automatic replacement is the incumbent vice president. Harry Truman replaced Roosevelt; Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon. It is said that during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, though, the Secret Service had been instructed that if the president was ever in mortal danger, VP Dan Quayle should be shot first.

If Biden does stumble into premature retirement, his successor would be his Vice President Kamala Harris. She would by default become the US’s first female off-white president.

Kamala Harris, like Rishi Sunak, comes from immigrant stock. As did Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (chairwoman of the Conser­vative Party, 2010-12). Warsi, the first Muslim to serve as a cabinet minister, held two posts: minister of state for the foreign and commonwealth office and simultaneously for faith and communities. She resigned in August 2014, after disagreeing with PM David Cameron’s policy relating to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Ten years later, that Israeli-Gaza conflict is continuing, unresolved. However, her then lone voice has gathered strength. In the new UK parliament, there are 89 MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds, among them 26 Muslim MPs who have made their position on the Gaza conflict clear.

By comparison, in India’s current Lok Sabha, there are only 24 Muslim MPs. Con­g­­ress has seven; Modi’s ruling BJP none. Some BJP cynics have questioned how many true Muslims Pakistan has in its parliament.

Interestingly, in the UK and in India, future policies will be influenced less by ideologies than by changing demographics. The Rev Martin Luther King’s dream that humans should “not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” is being fulfilled gradually. Ask Ba­rack Obama. Ask Mi­­c­hael Jack­son. Ask Meg­han Markle. But in a rainbow wor­ld, colour will continue to matter.

This year 2024 will be known as that of general elections. One quarter of the world’s population across 97 countries is eligible to vote. They include eight of the most populous — Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indo­nesia, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and the US.

Their voters will inevitably have significant, differing expectations of their governments. Over the next four to five years, they want to see not just the change promised during the electoral hustings but a discernible improvement in governance, resource distribution, climate change, etc.

Governments might like to follow these five simplified commandments: Thou shalt not kill (the US); Thou shall not commit adultery (Donald Trump); Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s goods (Netanyahu); Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour (the Western media); and Thou shall not steal (Pakistani politicians).

But then leaders are neither saints nor miracle workers. To them, any accountability is best postponed until the time of the next general election or their political death, whichever comes first.

The writer is an author.

www.fsaijazuddin.pk

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Injustice undone
Updated 13 Jul, 2024

Injustice undone

The SC verdict is a stunning reversal of fortunes for a party that was, both before and after general elections, being treated as a defunct entity.
Looming flour shortage
13 Jul, 2024

Looming flour shortage

FOR once, it is hard to argue against the reason that compelled flour mills to call a nationwide strike from...
Same old script
13 Jul, 2024

Same old script

WHEN it comes to the troubling issue of enforced disappearances/ missing persons — either Baloch or belonging to...
Misery and despair
Updated 12 Jul, 2024

Misery and despair

Is a life lived happily and respectably too much to ask for from your country?
Temporary extension
12 Jul, 2024

Temporary extension

THE cabinet’s decision to allow ‘legal’ Afghan refugees — meaning those with Proof of Registration cards —...
Anti-smog strategy
12 Jul, 2024

Anti-smog strategy

BY acknowledging that smog is a year-round problem, and not just a winter issue, the Punjab government has taken the...