Climbing up unscrupulously

ByRao Tashfain

Banker with an interest in international affairs


July 19, 2023

Climbing Up Unscrupulously

Rao Tashfain mentions the traditional method of gaining influence and advantage

Climbing Up Unscrupulously – The age-old, not so secret, cynical formula, to be successful in politics, is to surround yourself with sycophantic supporters, have access to a lot of money, never show your real face to the voters, be good at making and breaking promises, and mudslinging. The primary objective remains to acquire power by any means. Swimming against the tide or challenging the existing state of affairs rarely earns rewards. Machiavelli correctly said that politics have no relations to morals.

It is no different in Pakistan, where once again, electability trumped all else in the selection criteria for candidates, to contest upcoming elections in Pakistan. Altruistic considerations like ideology, conviction, and merit didn’t enter much into the equation in the award of electoral tickets. Political parties believe they are in a no-win situation; they cannot realistically cobble together a majority to form the next government without the flighty electable candidates with a dubious past of changing loyalties. Ultimately, the parties decided that the end justifies the means in the furious pursuit of power.

Political deal making and intrigues have been going on in Pakistan for years now. However, the entire blame for the massive greed and corruption that society seems to have spawned at an alarming rate since the country’s creation can’t be placed entirely on politicians and democracy. Society itself isn’t blameless as it reveres power and greed, which make the environment fertile for elected leaders to choose unethical behaviour. In the prevailing situation, it is unrealistic to expect voters to swing a magic wand and rid the country of all political turncoats in one swoop.

Unfortunately, little can be done in the short-term to change the electoral landscape. At this stage, it seems that working with what is on offer is better than pointless hand wringing. Negativity only plays into the hands of those forces opposed to democracy altogether. Clearly, transforming an elite-controlled state into a broad-based democracy will require several election cycles and the active participation of voters. Removing status-quo oriented politicians and dynastic politics from the country’s political culture won’t happen overnight. That said, countries with a more assured future can survive political experiments but Pakistan doesn’t have the luxury for too many more failed trials at governance.

A positive trend is that two democratically elected governments in succession have now completed their terms in office, but economic decline and alleged corruption have overshadowed this achievement. Moreover, Pakistan is fortunate to have a vibrant and generally open media, despite experiencing bouts of external interference and self-censorship. The media can play a crucial role in the election process as it has the tools to see through economic and political reform agendas presented by various political parties. It can educate the electorate, by objectively examining the track record and policies of political parties and candidates. Hopefully, with this information, voters will be better equipped to make the right choices at the ballot box.

Despite the questionable democracy, though deeply flawed, is gradually taking hold. Undoubtedly, let down over and over again, voters are tired of political parties and leaders promising and not delivering. The political leaderships have much explaining to do especially their abysmal economic management and corruption. The PTI leaders, who were given power for the first time, failed to convince the voters that they can do better than the recent democratic incumbents. Based on political realities, it is hard to imagine a revolutionary challenge to the existing social, political, and economic order. However, free and fair elections do present an opportunity for voters to air their discontentment.

Nevertheless, social challenges cannot extinguish the pent-up desire among the populace to find transformative leadership. But finding leaders that can bring about change is not easy. Regrettably, pragmatic and centrist reformers don’t exist in the current party leadership. Corruption allegations have tainted PPP’s Zardari and PPMLN leader Nawaz and now PTI leadership.

Moreover, the primary issues have remained unchanged in successive elections. They are a struggling economy, corruption and the lack of basic services such as education, health, and jobs. Other issues include sectarianism and terrorism, institutional wrangling and foreign policy. The new government has to be up to the challenge of starting to pull the country out of its foreign, security and economic quagmire. It must also take steps to consolidate democratic institutionalisation, strengthen civilian control over the military, dismantle the national security state, forge consensus among coalition partners and push economic reforms against the opposition of the entrenched elite.

As an example, managing expectations, building consensus and communicating well can help in a democratic resolution of contentious issues such as the building of new dams to meet the impending water catastrophe. Any reform agenda must include the time-tested values of pluralism, education and open markets. The Weekender


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