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An election, please

Published Jun 02, 2012 10:02pm


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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.

Twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (20) Closed

Tauheed Ahmed Jun 03, 2012 03:37pm
While I have always found Mr. Almeida's articles to be on the mark, I have to agree that nine months isnt going to make a difference. It is much better to start thinking about how to 1. make sure the elections are held in time (PPP will no doubt find every excuse to put off elections even nine months from now!!). 2. they are held in an honest manner using tried and tested techniques from countries with a good record of honest elections.
Agha Ata (USA) Jun 03, 2012 01:03pm
Nine months is long time. It can give birth to anything. Who knows!
Cyrus Howell Jun 03, 2012 01:15pm
"the PPP is never going to be able to fix any of the country’s problems." That's true. Pakistan deserves better government. You owe it to yourselves.
Cyrus Howell Jun 03, 2012 01:23pm
Pakistan's youth are waiting to fly, waiting for something they can believe in. Waiting to make a difference. Whoever can bring them that can be in charge of government for a long time..
samina Jun 03, 2012 01:33pm
If PPP couldn't destroy this country in last four years we will survive the remaining 9 months. If they have destroyed us beyond hope another 9 months wouldn't let them complete their term.
Tahir Jun 03, 2012 03:04pm
God help us. What a motley crew to choose from.
ahmed waseem Jun 04, 2012 12:15pm
Most important question is ,"will ppp let fair election held(pre and post) while still in power " i dont think so.
shankar Jun 03, 2012 11:03am
Can't agree! Nine more months are not going to make PPP's chances at the election any worse! Lasting another 9 months will make this government the first democratic government to last the distance and that definitely is a boost to democracy! I am afraid, the parties in opposition , when in power, are going to push the country into a more radical and dangerous direction. If that is inevitable, why hasten it?
ali Jun 03, 2012 06:25am
I second this notion.
@waseemabbasi007 Jun 03, 2012 06:40am
Can't agree more with you. Atleast someone in Dawn talking sense and feeling what the rest of 200 million feel. But it seems like for PPP democracy is really best revenge:-)
a friend Jun 03, 2012 07:24am
Most sensible article! Let there be elections every five years. Accept the verdict of the people. Then, the elected government, the defeated opposition and the people work hard for five years. No Mudslinging by opposition through media (criticism). Opposition should improve their image by positive service. If the elected government fails to deliver, they can be thrown out in the next election by the well behaved opposition. This may be a dream - but hopefully it will be a reality
alveena Jun 03, 2012 07:59am
sir u r biterly anti ppp alws in all artiles..plz assess other parties aswell in their performance.... i wil wait
@akhtartak Jun 03, 2012 08:21am
politicians understand people's psyche better than desk journalists doesn't mr Almeida know that election is only a few months away and anybody wishing to replace the government should be organising their election campaigns and not to bring the government down by strikes and by involving obliging courts
Shafi Jun 03, 2012 08:45am
Power leads to corruption but absolute power leads to absolute corruption. Pakistani democrats wield 'absolute power' hence PPP would continue foe another 9 months.
Imran Jun 03, 2012 10:23am
You are urging the PPP to do the sensible thing......? Can't you see the contradiction in terms, my friend?
Farhan Jun 03, 2012 09:21am
Forget it. They want to milk the cow to the last drop before it drops dead. They have curried enough favours to their voters in 4 years and will do a bit more in next year to ensure that their vote base remains strong. Why to relinquish power once odds of returning may rather get better in one year (by passing more favours like jobs, high crop price etc to their village voters). You are naive Cyril
Akram Jun 03, 2012 10:25am
Maybe thats because the PPP has had its hand in the treasury for the last few years while the others haven't. How can anyone comment on the other parties when they are not even in government? So you keep waiting and watch this space.
G.Nabi Jun 03, 2012 10:35am
Cyril : Excellent as always. About time AAZ & his coharts stopped playing same tune over & over, democracy, sacrifices of ZAB & BB etc. They have flaunted long enough as if they were the only ones saving democracy.
NASAH (USA) Jun 03, 2012 08:34pm
9 months may not be a make or break issue -- nor we are expecting a miracle child to be born to the PPP at the end of the period -- but certainly for a first time record of completing full five year term in the entire history pf Pakistan's interrupted civilian governance it is a good idea to let the PPP complete its full 5 ears tenure. If the PPP is geared for success or defeat at the polls -- 9 months may not make a big difference -- if anything may make it harder to win -- for an utterly paralyzed party. But again the way the opposition is squandering their resources, time and personnel on rabble rousing on the street instead of lining up their rural and urban ducks to fight the mother of all elections -- the spineless PPP may come back to haunt the country for another 5 tiring years of indecisions do-nothings and outsourcing of policies to other institutions.
Assad Mirza Jun 04, 2012 03:27am
What a poised article for all the stakeholders covering all the corners. When will our political mandarins learn lesson - be it in power or in opposition or the spectators?