Sultan M Hali
DEMOCRACY is still a fledgling in Pakistan, which is most visible from the behaviour of losers in general elections. One should learn from established democracies where the losers accept the polls’ results gracefully, congratulate the victor and move on. Despite democracy being in a nascent stage in Pakistan, by now some sense of maturity should have prevailed. Unfortunately, the third general elections in a row saw a higher level of awareness on the part of the voters but the politicians failed to accept the results in a dignified manner. The heartening development is that maturity of voters compelled them to reject the corrupt and inefficient. It is this feeling of genuine rejection which has not sunk in yet for losing candidates, who fail to swallow bitter truth that perhaps after decades, some of them will even get a seat in Parliament. Most of these political leaders are now crying foul.
Nobody likes to lose. But the process of democracy produces winners and losers all the time — in elections, judicial rulings and legislative debates. The side that loses should not be seen as a vanquished foe forced to surrender (as long as that side plays by the rules and does not resort to violence). But, as President Lincoln pointed out at the start of the Civil War, it is essential for the losing side to accept the outcome when it is the result of a legitimate process. Over the past two weeks, we have been reminded why losing gracefully is essential to democracy — and why it is dangerous when those who don’t get their way baselessly question the integrity of the system.
In a democracy, political outcomes are “tentative and reversible,” as noted by Louis Fisher of the Congressional Research Service. If you lose an election, you can try again next time. If you lose a court decision, you can (in most cases) seek legislative change (in the rare cases where that is not possible, other avenues are available, including the constitutional amendment process and reversal by a future court). If a law passes that you do not like, you can seek its repeal. If you are unable to pass a law that you support, you can try again in the future. What you cannot do is reject the process itself by refusing to accept the legitimacy of an outcome produced by a democratic process.
During the elections of 2018 in Pakistan, the process was monitored by international observers, while law and order was maintained by Pakistan Army. The Common Wealth team submitted their report highlighting that: Despite the wave of terrorism and attacks on politicians of different parties, the observer group commended on voters of Pakistan, the ECP, Polling staff, Political parties candidates their agents, the security forces and all others for their respective roles during this peaceful electoral process. Yet the losers, failing to digest their defeat, are not only rejecting the results but have resorted to vociferous protest rallies.
Peaceful protests are the right of every citizen and dissent is the essence of democracy. The united opposition found out the hard way that they are isolated in their protests. Their rallies have been devoid of any political leader of repute while the gathering completely failed to attract any public response. The heads of opposition parties like Shahbaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto, Asfandyar Wali chose to remain absent. It was in effect an overall failed attempt displaying rejection of their narrative by the general public of Pakistan. This should be an eye opener for the rejected leaders. The unfortunate part of the protest rallies is that behaving like a bear with a sore head, leaders of the ilk of Maulana Fazal ur Rehman, in sheer desperation, are crossing red lines by casting aspersions on reputable institutions like the Armed Forces of Pakistan. It is true that Pakistan Army had usurped power on different occasions in the past but now for more than a decade, it has stuck to its constitutional role. Being engaged in the war on terror, defeating a faceless enemy as well defending the geographical boundaries of Pakistan has taken a huge toll of lives.
The caretaker government, following constitutional guidelines, tasked the Pakistan Army to maintain law and order in general election 2018 because of the threat from terrorists, who had already eliminated three major political leaders during the election campaign. The fact that the polls were conducted smoothly and peacefully apart from an attack on a polling station in Quetta is testimony to the Army’s professional conduct. Yet to express anger on their humiliating defeat, some politicians are besmirching the Army’s good name and accusing it of rigging the elections. This is unfair and unfounded. If anyone has even an iota of evidence to support the allegation, the courts are open to entertain a legal suite. The single achievement of democracies is that their publics accept the result, even – especially – when it goes against them. People should be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. It’s not the winning; it’s the taking part that is more important.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.