FeaturedNationalVolume 13 Issue # 05

A deepening crisis

The deepening political crisis in the country is showing no signs of being resolved anytime soon. Ever since his ouster from the seat of prime minister, Nawaz Sharif has been on the warpath, openly accusing “invisible forces” of masterminding the whole show. He has also charged the judiciary with bias against him. Some of his vociferous supporters have gone to the extent of terming the apex court verdict in the Panama case a judicial coup

As pointed out by long time observers of the political scene, Nawaz Sharif has been raring to precipitate an institutional clash in the country from which he hopes to emerge as a martyr, paving the way for his return to power. Towards his goal, he took a big step last week by getting himself elected president of his faction of the Muslim League through a controversial amendment which is a travesty of all constitutional norms and democratic values. The government bulldozed the bill through parliament with a divided and neglectful opposition failing to block it despite its majority in the Senate.

The PML-N government has been using devious means to accord political legitimacy to the disgraced former prime minister who is facing indictment on a litany of corruption charges. For all practical purposes, as PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif  is back in the saddle running the ruling party in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling. The move is not only meant to maintain a façade of unity within the party ranks but also to prevent the possibility of the leadership passing to the other branch of the political dynasty headed by Shahbaz Sharif

There is a consensus of opinion in the country that the person-specific amendment in the law and the manner in which it was steamrollered through parliament has made a mockery of democracy.  In effect, as a result of the latest amendment in the Electoral Law, anyone condemned by a court of law can form and lead a political party and run the government through proxies.

A more sinister motive behind this hasty passage of the amendment is to bring the courts under pressure. The Sharif family is facing a slew of corruption cases in the accountability court and its only defence is now to mount political pressure and intimidate the judiciary. The way the rank and file of the party has welcomed the return of the disgraced former prime minister as party chief  also exposes the absence of a democratic culture within the PML-N which is, in reality,  a family fiefdom and a tool for the protection of its interests and those of its cronies.

Over the years, politics in Pakistan has become increasingly criminalized, as notoriously corrupt people have come to occupy important positions in the government. An example is that of finance minister Ishaq Dar who has been indicted for money laundering but remains in charge of the country’s economy and finances. Despite repeated calls by the opposition parties for him to step aside until he is cleared, he has refused to budge from his lucrative perch. PM Khaqan Abbasi himself is allegedly involved in the  big-time LNG  scandal.

Needless to say, a finance minister facing criminal charges in the court cannot be expected to fulfil his responsibilities effectively in running an economy beset with numerous ills. Foreign exchange reserves are depleting fast, while exports and remittances are sliding downwards continuously. The balance-of-payment deficit has touched record levels and the fiscal gap is wider than ever before. The country is under a back breaking debt burden. All the signs are pointing towards an economic collapse.

On the other hand, the new PM, Khaqan Abbasi, has failed to make any impact and undermines his own position by saying repeatedly that  he is a dummy and Nawaz Sharif remains the prime minister, wielding power from behind the scenes. No wonder, the government preoccupied with the political rehabilitation of the former prime minister, looks like a rudderless ship.

In his latest address at the PML-N workers convention recently,  Nawaz Sharif again took up his call for a grand national dialogue among political parties. There is no doubt a need for the main political parties to work together to strengthen the democratic process in the country. But the call for a dialogue, apparently motivated by personal interests, has come too late in the day, at a time when he has been disqualified and faces the toughest test in his 40-year political career. That has made  the other political parties suspicious who have said that it is a new ploy designed to bail Nawaz Sharif out of his present predicament.

Since his ouster, Nawaz Sharif has constantly harped on the need to strengthen democratic values and uphold the sanctity of the vote. But his past record does not match his present rhetoric. Over the last four years Nawaz Sharif did next to nothing to strengthen the institutionalised democratic process in the country.  He totally ignored parliament and rendered it powerless. By appointing incompetent cronies to important posts, he weakened  and corrupted all civilian institutions. He ruled like a king and established a personalised system of governance  with the help of close family members. He seldom went to the National Assembly and did not hold cabinet meetings regularly.  For four years he failed to appoint a foreign minster due to which foreign affairs suffered badly.

In short, he did not act as a true democratic leader and treated the government as his personal fiefdom.  His current confrontational approach towards the judiciary also runs against the spirit of constitutional democracy. For, democracy draws its strength from the rule of law and not from defying it. For the democratic system to work effectively at the national level, it is also important that there is democracy in the ranks of the political parties. But the PML-N is a one-man show. Nawaz Sharif is the master beyond reproach and all party men are there to do his bidding.

The impending clash among institutions has darkened the political landscape. Democracy is not limited to winning an election; it also means the rule of law and democratic accountability. During his long political career, Nawaz Sharif never understood this. However, it is not yet too late for him to retrace his steps from the collision course which may result in the derailment of the whole system.