FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 14

Pakistan’s crisis of democracy

Pakistan’s democracy is in a state of crisis. From the beginning it has been a rocky ride. Forget about the derailment of democracy under Ayub Khan. But ZA Bhutto’s democratic experiment ended in a political deadlock followed by Zia’s martial Law. Later in the 90s the country went through a political game of musical chairs followed by Musharraf’s coup.

The revival of democracy in 2008 saw two stints in power by the PPP and the PML-N and both were dogged by serious allegations of corruption and other malpractices. In 2018, the PTI rode to power on a plank of fighting corruption and then started a new phase of political confrontation which some have likened to the Pakistan version of game of thrones.

The endless saga of confrontation between the ruling party and the Opposition over the last two and a half years has turned our democratic system into a farce. The parliament has been reduced to an arena for shouting matches between stalwarts on both sides of the political divide. Allegations and counter-allegations of wrongdoing fly thick and fast while serious legislative business remains in limbo.

Over the past four months, 11 Opposition parties have aligned together under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement which is embarked on a relentless campaign to topple the PTI government with a series of nationwide rallies and threats of resignations from the assemblies and a march on Islamabad. No wonder, there is an atmosphere of tension in the country and the government is spending most of its time deflecting the barbs from the Opposition instead of concentrating on solving the problems of the country.

The prevailing state of affairs is best illustrated by what happened during the recent by-polls held in four constituencies of the country, two of them National Assembly seats and two provincial assembly seats. All of them were marked by exchanges of abusive language, violence and incidents of firing.

A fire broke out at a polling station in Tharparkar’s Chachro tehsil during the by-polls for the district’s NA-221 seat, causing panic among the voters. According to Tharparkar SSP Hassan Sardar Niazi, the fire erupted at polling station no. 126, causing damage to ballot papers and other material. Addressing a press conference in Chachro, GDA MPA Abdul Razzak Rahimoo and PTI MNA Jai Prakash Lohana alleged that the PPP had defeated Shah Mehmood Qureshi through rigging in the 2013 elections and were doing the same this time. They added that the PPP had used government machinery, including the police, for rigging. On the other hand, the PPP lodged a written complaint to the ECP, alleging that the fire had been started at the polling station by the opponent group. The letter added that “female voters were attacked and harassed.”

There was a major problem in the NA-75 constituency of Daska, where by-polls were marred by clashes between voters and the police at various places, including polling stations. PML-N leaders and supporters accused local authorities of preventing voters from casting their ballots. Two persons were killed and three others injured in a firing incident at a polling station. One of the victims was reportedly a member of the ruling PTI while the other belonged to the PML-N. PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz hurled allegations of rigging at the government, while PTI spokesmen charged the PML-N with trying to snatch the elections by force.

Weeks ago, in keeping with the trend of unruly behavior by politicians and their supporters in the field, another session of the parliament ended in chaos. Opposition MNAs surrounded the dais of the Speaker and compelled him to adjourn proceedings. Another protest ensued when the debate turned to inflation, and the Speaker invited Minister for Power Omar Ayub to take the floor, even though leading opposition MNAs had not finished speaking.

This is all politics of the absurdity and a mockery of democracy. The government is not giving the Opposition any space, while the latter is bent on toppling the ruling party. As a result the system has become dysfunctional with the common people being the main sufferers. Due to non-cooperation by the Opposition, all legislative business has come to a standstill.

The situation is unsustainable. It is time the leadership on both sides of the political divide acted with wisdom and maturity to find a way to break the present gridlock. At least, they should agree to develop a working relationship to ensure the smooth running of the affairs of the state in the larger interests of the people.