Time to see off elite democracy | By Riaz Missen 


Time to see off elite democracy

ANALYSTS are caught in a whirlpool of frustration when writing about politics. And this happens for very genuine reasons.

A few hundred privileged families have a tight control over the economy and, consequently, lead politics by nose.

They have a stake in both dictatorship and democracy. Politics, for them, is a game but they know the art to remain always on the winning side.

Sometimes it seems that politics is stuck in a dead end, political instability has reached its peak, economy doomed and public unrest looming.

But these feelings, or perceptions, prove to be momentary and we are back on the same old beaten track.

Though only once the world turned upside down — just recall the Fall of Dhaka — but that must be enough to remind us that things might also spiral out of our control and results could be dangerous, far beyond our calculations.

Pakistan’s problems are quite familiar and we have got established rules to address them. We raise interest rates to curb inflation, devalue currency to overcome trade deficit and borrow loans to build infrastructure.

When it comes to taxation, we make it sure that the privileged class is left out. This has been happening for a long time.

Are we following some doctrine or, in other words, our destination is predetermined? Deficit economy is not only a problem but the bureaucratic inertia as well. There is chaos in state affairs and a lack of vision on the part of the political leadership.

Good governance is not the issue but the goal is to maintain the balance of power. Oppression, snatching, corruption and nepotism are natural. Loyalty is more important than duty.

When elite politics reaches a dead end, someone from the same class comes forward with the slogan of change and the people follow it. A new drama begins with public gatherings, long marches and mob violence.

Once the new party enters the houses of power with its feet on the shoulders of the people, it closes the door behind it.

People start waiting for another liberator! It has been more than three years since the PTI came to power. With a questionable performance on the most important public issues, it’s shouting the slogan of change with top of voice.

Why is it not confessing that all the passion for the change was just to scale up the ladder of power corridor? After all, its predecessors have pulled themselves out of ideological phase and have become quite commercial enterprises. Perhaps, it will take time to adjust with new realities.

The PPP started with the slogan of socialism and ended up as the guardian of the feudal interests. PML-N was brought up in the lap of dictatorship and became the spokesperson of capitalists.

Tehreek-e-Insaf is doing everything that benefits the elite but insists not to give NRO to ex-ruling parties. This is what that has introduced the element of bitterness in politics and, consequently, made parliament dysfunctional.

Leave the people aside, politics is necessary for the sake of national survival and sovereignty. Whether it is the question of economic revival or ensuring socio-political stability to attract investment, the road passes through politics.

If we have to live with democracy and, simultaneously, assume the path of sustainable growth as well, we will have to give the people back their freedom stolen away from them during the colonial era by devolving power to the grassroots level.

Too, regional connectivity is must to boost purchasing power of the consumers and to claim relevance with the comity of nations.

The elite politics can be said to be successful, though at the cost of public interest. With their cunning excuses, 220 families dominating politics and the 33 ones controlling corporate business have held people hostage to their parochial agenda.

Belief in the balance of power is also paying to the extent that there is no danger of a major insurgency internally.

Contradictions are created but there is also an arrangement to keep them within limits. The eastern borders are fenced off, and the army is present to deal with the sectarian and ethnic insurgency on the western side.

The political parties went through whole electoral exercise just to negotiate loan agreements with international financial institutions and to blindly sign them to keep economy floating. What a sacrifice to preserve sectional interests!

Ironically, even thirteen years after the restoration of democracy, politics is not free from colonial mindset.

The same thinking reflects in regressive tax regime and the reluctance to change colonial-era criminal code of procedure.

The benefits of democracy don’ reach the men on the street despite the fact that the Constitution provides for politically, administratively and financially autonomous local governments.

Courts have only forced the federal units to fulfil their Constitutional responsibility only to the extent that only paralyzed structures have been put in place.

After dodging the public on regressive taxations, outdated criminal code and paralyzed local governments, the incumbent government has come with logic that the real problem of Pakistan is the electoral fraud. But the prescription for this chronic ailment will cost the national exchequer Rs 300 billion.

The Constitutional bill to this end has been hastily passed through a joint sitting of Parliament.

The opposition has vowed saying that it will not accept the election held through ‘evil machines’.

It simply means another thorn in the heart of politics and yet another source of worry for the analysts objectively looking for reconciliation on political front.

—The writer is politico-strategic analyst based in Islamabad.

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