My Pakistani Person of the Year 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

For reasons right and wrong, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is my Pakistani Person of the Year for 2013.

He has taken office after a massive victory in the May 2013 elections in which people, of the Punjab at least, have clearly voted for economy ahead of any other issue. And his party PML-N had heavily relied on promises of economic prosperity in its election campaign too. Since government is the sole provider of many utilities, it was just a change of subscription from the same source.

While his party, like every other party in Pakistan, believes in big government and big spending and has to offer its fair share of idiotic socialistic election stunts, it still happens to be the best hope for greater economic liberalization in Pakistan.

Perhaps, another hope is its conservative sister PML-Q, which may or may not vote to support many economic reforms out of political rivalry, while PPP and PTI could oppose based on their ideology. It is a shame that both parties have parted ways on anything but issues, and it is mostly Nawaz Sharif’s fault.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has inherited a financial wreck from the PPP led coalition government, which doubled the total debt in its term ending in 2012-13. So it is hardly a surprise that the PML-N government is desperate to finance the state any way it can and adding on further debt.

However, Pakistanis have grown sick of excuses and passing on the blame to the predecessor. The PML-N government will have to make tough decisions and it partially seems headed that way as well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government. But it could damage the economy to some extent in its own right by irresponsible spending.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif is far from perfect. He has a reputation of a democratically elected dictator, whose second term legacy is still crippling democracy in Pakistan. His party tolerates Islamic fundamentalism, though there is no other way to win an election in Punjab, and he almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen.

I can never forgive his 14th amendment and never will. But if you still look at him with hopeful eyes, it tells you of how bad things are. Perhaps he is the wrong choice, but I am not liberal, or idiotic, enough to think someone else would be a better choice at this point. I didn’t vote for his party, but would have voted for him had the Prime Ministerial ballot been there.

There is this fool’s hope of keeping your fingers crossed that he has learned something from the second term mistakes. And so far, he has not managed to offend my sensitivities.

Given the usual election cycles in Pakistan, most people are likely to vote for a more populist and pro-socialist government in 2018 in any case. While PML-N can compensate its loss of reputation with its trademark wasteful infrastructural and welfare stunts, even though it could either carry out those schemes or control inflation effectively without widening the deficit, it should at least do the needful about the economy on the larger scale in the mean time. Regardless of the cost.

If PML-N is able to privatize major departments currently administered or influenced by the government, especially PIA  and the Steel Mills, and partially at least, it would leave government with a productive legacy.

I would rather have much lesser government control in the oil and power market as well, though this is harder to achieve. The privatization is the easiest measure and would go a long way in the improvement of the economy and standard of living of Pakistanis.

But he has just rejected a recommendation of OGRA to increase oil prices. I don’t even mind the continuous subsidies if either the size of the government is drastically reduced or the income tax revenue is drastically increased. Failing to make one of the two unpopular decisions would mean continuing the same old disaster.

You cannot have big government without a lot of taxes and cannot expect government to look after every single aspect of the economy without paying taxes. Pakistani people do not seem to understand this.

Most Pakistanis are under the impression that a “good government” can solve all their problems. To them, a “good government” should be like a messiah that would come to their rescue. Can you blame them?

But this is why there is an excess supply of messiahs in Pakistani politics.

This is why you have MPs walking out of the legislature all the time, including PML-N, whenever oil and power prices are increased, so that the government can further subsidize these commodities.

This is why you have parties restoring laid off employees in ancient history with pay and benefits in retrospect at the taxpayer’s expense and call it a fulfilled promise.

And this is precisely why Nawaz Sharif is the best man to lead the country at the moment, until we can find someone better and less messianic. At the moment, only he is really able to bring about the changes that the Pakistani economy actually requires. He could fail, but his direction does not look too bad.

We can put off whatever political correctness we are missing right now to a later year.

My Pakistani person of the year for 2012 was Malala Yousafzai.

Happy New Year.

Changing the Rules

Source: Gary Cameron: Reuters - Business Insider

Source: Gary Cameron: Reuters – Business Insider

In response to the Republican filibuster of President Obama’s nominees for the DC circuit Court of Appeal judges, apart from record filibusters, the US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) used the simple majority to change the Senate rule requiring a filibustered nomination to be passed by 60 votes.

On November 21, 2013, the historic motion passed 52-48 simply majority votes in a 55 member Democrat-controlled Senate with 1 independent, ending an old rule that ensures protecting the minority party in this case.

3 Democrats went against party lines to vote against the call, including Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). I consider these three senators heroes and wise in their judgement indeed.

I am disappointed with the vote of the only independent senator joining the Democrats in this majoritarian ruling, who has actually participated in a filibusters before, and may know a thing or two about the ills of giving carte blanche to the majority party.

Of course, both parties blamed each other for going far enough to bring about this measure. But at the end of the day, it is the Democratic initiative that is the worse of the two, as it goes against the very spirit of the institution of the US Senate. The terrible part is people on both left and right are only advocating going much further than this, which makes you wonder how little regard they have for such measures that are meant to check absolute power.

Probably no one has described the rule change maneuver called “nuclear option” more clearly, comprehensively, passionately and articulately than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Here is what he had to say, and I second and endorse every single word.

It is appalling that some short sighted and authoritarian leaning commentators on the left are celebrating this measure as a political victory, because it really is a common, non-partisan loss for democracy.

Sadly, despite the excessive Republican filibusters and its alleged abuse, the Democratic party and President Barack Obama have only laid bare their authoritarian mindset by supporting this measure, which may appear to be democratic but is majoritarian and contrary to the spirit of the Senate and the function of the bicameral legislature. Particularly appalling because of the views of Democrat senators, including Barack Obama (D-IL), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Joe Biden (D-DE) against such an action in a Republican controlled Senate in 2005. Even though criticized by his own ranks, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared the more responsible of the two leaders, at least on this day.

While the constitution may provide for it, I would not hesitate to term this measure as leaning toward being undemocratic and authoritarian. And as John McCain put it, it was a sad day, for the system of government that makes America great. Especially for me, who looks up to democracy in America, living in a party leadership controlled dictatorship disguised as parliamentary democracy, with hideous provisions such as the 14th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution.

Why present an executive nomination in Senate for voting anyway, you would ask. It is merely an instrument of obstruction.

You just don’t change the rules when they do not fit your needs and call it fairness.