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An election, please

Published Jun 02, 2012 10:02pm

THERE. They’ve done it now.

They’ve got their five budgets. They’ve elected both halves of the Senate. They’ve fended off the boys and the robes.

They’ve flashed wide grins and V-signs. They’ve talked about the sacrifices they’ve made. And they’ve talked about democracy. Boy, have they talked about democracy!

Now they can do us all a favour and go home. Call that election. Air out the democracy they love so much. Give the rest of us a chance to avoid suffocation. Do the right thing.

Give democracy a chance. We all know we’ve got to give it a chance. There’s no alternative.

On the practical plane, the army doesn’t have the answers and to chuck out a uniformed would-be saviour takes longer and more effort.

On the philosophical plane, better to choose our leaders regularly than they select themselves to rule over us periodically. So yes, democracy, however imperfect, is better than the boys and their sidekicks. But sometimes democracy needs to be saved from the democrats too.

Call that early election.

The people are chomping at the bit. Fight it out with the PML-N and the PTI at the ballot box.

An election is a cathartic event. If everyone thinks the PPP is corrupt and incompetent and yet the party grabs the most seats in parliament, the critics will have to recalibrate, or find new guns.

And if everyone thinks the PPP is corrupt and incompetent and the party is chucked out of power — then the faint outlines of a govern-or-be-punished electoral system will become apparent.

Either way, we’ll get something new.

New criticisms, new strategies to try and make the government perform as the horror sinks in of a possible 10-year stretch for these folks or a new set of politicians pretending to salvage the mess created by the last set.

Ah, but what’s in it for the PPP?

Their base is narrow, their ambitions moderate, they can ride out the storm, feed at the trough for a full five years and return for another five if they play their cards right.

So why listen to the baying but impotent crowd outside the fortress?

And never mind what’s good for democracy, that’s just a slogan to be deployed when out collecting votes or fending off the undemocratic boys and robes.

To get the early election the country needs, the PPP will either have to be convinced that an early election is unavoidable or decide that an early election is in the party’s interests.

For all the huffing and puffing, neither the PML-N nor the PTI have the means to oust the government. They can petition the court, turn out thousands at rallies, protest till their voices go hoarse, but they don’t have a legal or constitutional route to trigger an early election against the government’s will.

Which leaves the PPP somehow deciding that an early election is in the party’s interests.

Oddly enough, the fact that the PPP wants a second term helps build the case for an early election.

Before it became clear that the one-point agenda of completing this government’s tenure had an addendum — win re-election — some had advised Zardari & Co to think about taking a break after this term.

The thinking being, since the PPP was never going to be able to fix any of the country’s problems, they could pad their nests this time round and stock up for the future; take the hit from an angry electorate at the next election and somehow hang on to 30 or 40 seats; play the role of a noisy opposition in the next parliament; and when the PML-N inevitably screwed up in government too (the PTI wasn’t a factor back then), the PPP could return to power at the following election.

But the PPP got greedy. It wanted consecutive terms.

Which is why it should think about early elections now. The PML-N and the PTI can’t force the government out but they sure can make life miserable for the government.

The PML-N and the PTI are out there, creating a ruckus over everything: loadshedding, inflation, jobs, economic mismanagement, gas shortages, corruption, law and order, crime, prime ministerial convictions, and the immorality of the defences of the Speaker and the PM.

Some of the mud being thrown will stick, if only because there’s truth to many of the accusations. The electorate here, like any electorate in the world, is susceptible to a sustained negative campaign. And Zardari and his ribald bunch of misfits aren’t the most likeable of characters to begin with.

Imagine if the government tried to stick around till next March and circumstances forced it to go to the IMF before then.

The PML-N and the PTI wouldn’t even have to try very hard at that point to convince voters that the government has screwed up — the PPP has itself over the years helped instil in the public an awareness of what an IMF programme means.

But the thing is, the PML-N and the PTI aren’t there yet. They’ve kicked up a fuss over the government’s sundry shenanigans but it’s still too new to have gained traction far and wide. The narrative for the next election hasn’t been definitively set yet.

Then again, with the PTI out of the blocks since October and the PML-N playing catch up since early this year, the longer the PPP takes to pull the trigger on an election, the more its rivals will have a head start on shaping the narrative of the next election.

Put another way, the PPP wouldn’t have to suffer a year and more of pummelling from its opponents before going to the polls if it pulled the trigger on an election now.

So early elections could be in the PPP’s self-interest now.

It’s also the right thing to do. The democratic project, already fraying, does not deserve the cuts and rents that another nine months of this mess will bring.

C’mon PPP, do the right thing — for all of us.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm