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The recent political Iftar dinner had it all: it looked like a formal debut of the new genre of political dynasties of Pakistan’s political parties, pillars of Pakistani’s parliamentary system. Maryam Nawaz replaced Mian Nawaz Sharif. Hamza Shahbaz took over from his father, Shahbaz Sharif. Bilawal Bhutto and Aimal Wali were crowned by their fathers, Asif Zardari and Asfandyar Wali, respectively. Maulana Fazalur Rahman and Aftab Sherpao have already anointed their sons to prominent positions in their respective parties.
This transition is predicated on the premise that voters (me and you) are slaves who will have no choose but to vote these new leaders created on the back of inherent money, power, social linage, media management capability, and private limited companies, (read, political parties), like their previous generation.
The taking over by the younger generation of these dynasties is thus complete further proving the parliamentary democracy of Pakistan nothing more then authoritarian kleptocracy. At the core of duality of our system is unelected dynasties in control of political parties, they capture the parliament. This is why present form of political system is mischaracterisation of genuinely representative democracy. Hence we need to recalibrate kleptocracy and the cost the country has paid for to sustain it.
The “royal democratic” experience of the last ten years has culminated in the loss of a decade of growth and economic takeoff as result Pakistan has failed in catching up the Asian boom ushered in by the average 8% growth of China, 6/7 % rate of India and 5/6 % of Bangladesh, who started the journey of higher growth at least two decades ago.
Conversely, the experience has also excluded the common people to develop a stake in democratic project of Pakistan. And worse, dynastic rule has been equated with democracy; no elections within the parties and elite capture of the political control and power has effectively disenfranchised party workers and voters in developing a “say” in the decision making of the statecraft controlled by these dynasties.
The question is If democracy of Pakistani origin evolved in its present form, were such a great success story, why ordinary middle classes could not make it to the top unless they have the levers: money, social networks and grass-root-blackmail means to manipulate local bureaucracy.
Since families control parties, they have to deal with all the things (i.e., statecraft, election of candidates and leadership), in a manner to keep hold onto party levers. Therefore, no vision is offered: in case of statecraft, only window dressing reforms, cronies in place to run institutions and “yes” men/women promoted to the higher echelons of bureaucracy, for example.
While talent, experiences and expertises are anathema, only skills appreciated are of candidates who are capable at constituencies’ manipulation and can sell seats to party chiefs in return for ministries. They have no experience in running the country. The net result is failed governance.
These selected dynasties are also hurdle in de-radicalisation and mainstreaming of violent extremist groups as political parties acting as private limited companies, feel threatened by ingress of any competition and do not concede space for theses groups to vent out positive catharsis through inclusive participation.
Poor political and economic governance has translated not only into the loss of economic decade with peers but also diminished the clout of country’s foreign policy reflecting in an increased powered differential in favour of India, and relative and absolute decline with other regional and international powers.
What choices we have for re-engineering of the politicalorder and the agency (ies) that could deliver?
First, in a normal country, political parties lead and act as an agent of change and reform. But in Pakistan, you cannot expect political parties (beholden to dynasties) to bring in reforms on their own as it will ultimately usher in their own demise in present form if people empowered through progressive measures and policy interventions.
Second, wait for evolution but be ready to preside over a painful decline and slow death as a nation given the fast pace of the world. Hence we cannot choose this option.
Third, like in the West, why not put pressure on these parties through media and public opinion to reform? But it is not possible in Pakistan as most media houses bribed through lucrative adverts, happily act as media cells for parties and amplify their false narratives. Thus it is no go area.
Fourth, that we switch this illiterate, tribal, Wadera, traders’ cartel-dominated system, we call Parliamentary democracy, to a Presidential form, is the most viable option. Contrary to public parlance and the propaganda narrative of political elite, it is not the second version of military dictatorships of the past; the country flirted with, dressed as “presidential system”.
The election of President will allow more robust checks and balances as seen in democratic countries like the US and France; President will be allowed to pick his/her own cabinet comprising men/women of merit and expertise—who can be potentially drawn from middle classes as well; taking away executive powers from Prime Minister will render elections the least lucrative option opted by billionaires to invest money on; Parliamentarians will be only for legislative business; robust accountability will be built in; incentive and interests of citizens and voters will not be influenced, or coopted by, to serve the interests of authoritarian dynasties. Other contours can be debated given various models of presidential form around the world.
Who should rewrite the rules of the game?
- The rules of the game should only be changed by an institution which does not directly benefit from political rule vs political dynasties, and which has a stake in its net outcomes, i.e., the Army Establishment.
- Another reason is the duality of geo-economics and geo-politics has disappeared creating a new dynamic for countries—convergence of security, economy and politics. But for Pakistan even more important is (that) security, economy and politics must be put on the same side of the ledger.
- The narrative of dynastic politicians, “the strict separation of politics, security and economy” is dangerous: impotent Parliament has been a side-show when it comes to walking the country through various crises; the strategy to keep vested interests and political base happy led to myopic economic decisions of PML-N government putting Pakistan almost on the trajectory of former Soviet Union; whereas, businesses, banks and companies are faced with a daunting task to fight back against foreign-sponsored currency speculators, attempts to cause “run on banks” and cyber attacks— sharing a job previously thought to fall within the domain of men/women in uniform.
- The lead rule can be entrusted with Imran Khan who has experienced firsthand how much the current system is crippled and hindering him to implement his vision.
- Realpolitik compulsions of the past Establishments to support a rotten system and corrupt politics for the sake of stability will also wither away cutting the umbilical cord once and for all.
No vision within present political system mean, the reactionary, regressive elitist politics underpinned by dynasties, will only result in failed governance, and lack of first generation reforms.
Obviously, a scary enough scenario has a emerged: empty coffers, decayed system’s luxuries and niceties nibbling away at vitals of society and the state, war drum beatings in the South— between the US and Iran—and another prospective five years of the Modi government in the East. And in between is Pakistan sandwiched.
Time is running out and fast from the Establishment’s hands to rescue the county from the clutches of political mafia and ruins of the structure. The choice is to preside over a system failing the nation and indulging in niceties of processes instead of end product, or else facilitate a new form of democracy to help unlock ambitious reforms, empower the dispossessed middle classes, the youth and women synergising the country’s domestic potential with its rightful place in the region and the world.
More authoritarian, dynastic Kleptocracy or merit based Presidential system—Are you listening?