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The circus of democracy


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POLITICIANS invented democracy as a joke, and electorates have taken it seriously. One has only to follow the latest election campaign in Pakistan to be reminded that in politics, as in the theatre, comedy like tragedy is a very serious business.

Aldous Huxley once observed that while we look at comedy, in tragedy, we participate. For the past six weeks we as a nation have watched. On May 11, we will have an opportunity to participate.

Six weeks ago, at the outset of their campaigns, almost all the parties complained that the time available to them for electioneering was too short. Now, with polling day only two days away, already warring politicians have begun showing signs of exhaustion. Tired of exchanging blows, they have stooped to trading insults, more often than not aimed below the belt. Their flaccid tongues and weary arms flail aimlessly at targets no longer within reach.

No rules (the tut-tuts of the Election Commission notwithstanding) have governed this gladiatorial contest. It has been a fight to the finish, except that in this arena, the end will not be death in the sawdust or the liberty never to fight again. It will be the beginning of a different sort of servitude, a new five-year parliamentary term.

During this electoral campaign, leaders from all the major parties (with the exception of the PPP and the MQM) have crisscrossed constituencies across the country. They came. They saw. More importantly, they were seen. But only on polling day will they know whether or not they have conquered.

Modern electioneering has undergone a transformation. There is no room nowadays for gifted speechwriters like Ted Sorenson who articulated John F. Kennedy’s thoughts with such memorable brilliance. There is no place for gifted orators such as Harold Wilson or our own Quaid-i-Azam M.A. Jinnah. Technology has come between a candidate and his audience.

In an earlier age, daily newspapers brought politics to the breakfast table. Today’s television transmissions serve it like a 24-hour buffet, in which dishes are constantly refilled. They are not allowed to go cold or become stale. The servings may be bland, at times indigestible. They may be tasteless. What matters is only that they should be fresh.

Speeches in the field pass through a number of filtering screens — bullet-proof ones at public rallies, the monitors of news editors who mincemeat a continuous flow of harangues into sausage-sized sound-bites, and finally the television screen where the voter can, at the touch of a fingertip, decide which candidate to switch on or off.

In a sense, the electoral campaign for the next National Assembly 2013 began five years ago, in 2008, when the proceedings of the last Assembly were televised live. Over those five years, the public has been a spectator of the Pakistani equivalent of the Roman Circus Maximus. “When the politicians complain that TV turns their proceedings into a circus,” Ed Murrow (the doyen of American broadcasters) had once written, “it should be made plain that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers were well-trained.”

Will the next batch of MNAs be better trained than their predecessors? Will they perform better? Will they be younger and therefore more proactive? It would need a seer with 40:40 vision to predict what will be the composition of the next National Assembly, or who will form the next national government. What is clear, though, is that every party, not just the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, regardless of its ideology, will need to prepare for a change within itself, to make space for greener shoots.

Over the next five years, our television channels will continue to play a role as crucial as they have during the past six weeks. Until now, they have been projecting personalities and highlighting policies. Their future responsibility will be that of a watchdog with the added instincts of a bloodhound — to reveal, to expose, and whenever necessary, to help apprehend those elected representatives who fall short of national expectations. It is a heady responsibility, though, and not one to be taken casually.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better,” the former US president Theodore Roosevelt said in a speech at the Sorbonne in 1910. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

At this time in our political chronology, as we stumble awkwardly towards democratic maturity, we, the passive voters, “those cold and timid souls” who know neither personal victory nor defeat, should salute those thousands of candidates who will not be elected, those who will “fail while daring greatly”. In that defeat, they too will have served our national interest.

The writer is an author.

Comments (18) Closed

tariq k sami May 10, 2013 01:36am
Like your take on this subject.
NASAH (USA) May 10, 2013 01:37am
Didn't know Einstein is overrated!
shabbir May 10, 2013 09:33am
Please correct the link of at the bottom of this article, it takes to " Mail bomb plot exposes security, say experts"..... an old Dawn news items some years back. Thanks.
Keti Zilgish May 10, 2013 01:56am
Voting is a preparation for the corruption to follow.
An Indi May 09, 2013 08:08pm
Yea, a little. India doesn't have that much blood-bath in it's elections. No-one can say Indian elections are completely fair - no, it's not but loss of lives, it's too much in Pakistan.
AAmir Khan May 09, 2013 07:41pm
Viva democracy! There is no other system that is better.
Steppenwolf May 09, 2013 01:22pm
Democracy is very much over rated like Elvis, Beatles, Coke or Einstein.
naseem May 09, 2013 02:43pm
Is Pakistan different than any other 3rd World country, including a matured country like India
Javaid Bashir May 09, 2013 04:46pm
Very well written "Circus Of Politics". WE are indeed witnessing this circus of politics rather we have become part of this high tension drama. All the players are trying to perform their bits and parts according to the script. Some actors have rehearsed well, while others are not able to deliver their lines properly. Ehey need to hone their skills. Untill recently the orators and speakers used to do well in the elections. Since they were more articulate than teir opponents. This skills were acquired and necessary to win the elections, but now even the novices with crackling voices can lead the democracy on. Not very opportune thing for the contest . Candodates used to win by a small margin if they could deliver a great speech. The politician used to hire speech writers and benefit from these techniques. seen the snag and all the festivities have been eclipsed . The blood bath has taken over the entire process. But we seems to have lost jester asnd jokers some where in the labyrinths of circus. Lae us revive all that for yhe sake of fun. The electioneering this time have . We have been at the receiving end , and we see no light at the end of the tunnel. rather tunnel vision has ended the pleasure of all this macabre existence. As if we are watching the horror movie. It has become so scary to step out of the quite and peace of the home that people are preferring to stay at home on election day. The voters will have to be dragged to the pollin booths. The actors in the circus have left everything to the stunt man or woman. the extras are playing the lead role. Everything has turned topsy turfy.Be the part of the circus. Javaid Bashir Lahore
sraz45 May 10, 2013 05:22am
India is over rated, sure they are a mature nation, but most things happen in India as they do in Pakistan, except the violence of the Taliban in Pakistan. That is the biggest issue facing Pakistan. India's biggest issue is corruption at mass scale.
vjaiswal35 May 10, 2013 07:31am
Sir, India is over rated not for nothing but for the results achieved over a period of more than 60 years. In past years we have successfully tackled many problems and yes you are right, today our biggest issue is corruption at mass scale. However, the golden lining is that our society, judiciary and government accepts this fact open heartily. Look at the massive pressure building up and heads of high and mighty ministers, industrialists, highest government rolling down. We the people of India are on winning track because we do not put under carpet the problems like communal ism or corruption. Regards.
Nauman May 10, 2013 08:44am
I agree with you. The place is chaotic and hell. The infrastructure is crumbling and poverty is devastatingly depressing.
Pankaj May 10, 2013 01:03pm
Overrated considering AQ Khan
Zee May 10, 2013 04:35pm
How dare you call Coke overrated?
sraz45 May 10, 2013 05:28pm
Great achievements no doubt, great leadership, education, low expectations are the key reasons India made great strides. However the leap forward was made possible by the vision of one man in the past 20 years Dr. Manmohan Singh, he singlehandedly steered India to its present state. That is the kind of visionary is needed in Pakistan. Pakistan is poised to take off also, it has all the ingredients, plus peace with India, issues resolved would be an added bonus. Lets hope all that is in the making. Pakistanis have no ill towards India, pay a visit and you will immediately experience that.
Masood Hussain May 10, 2013 05:33pm
We in Pakistan suffer from some mysterious blood disease and to survive we have to do Blood Letting
miramshah May 10, 2013 05:39pm
Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi??????Self aggrandizement....Best exotic marigold hotel.
miramshah May 10, 2013 05:42pm
You said it right. To the detractors of this statement, democracy is absolute, final and an end to human imagination. Plato disregarded democracy at a time when the rest of his country was deeply seeped into its origins. Speaks volumes doesn't it.