Note on the Disqualification Verdict of the Prime Minister

Source: Reuters/NDTV

And you thought that you would live to see the day when an elected head of government could complete their term.

More than anyone else, it was highly unlikely for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as much as he was the likeliest candidate to make it.

As much as his political party has been able to consistently win more two-third and clearer majorities than any other political party in the history of Pakistan.

As much as he was the perfect compromise for the people of Punjab between the bureaucratic establishment and a socially conservative and economically liberal tilt toward democratic values.

In many ways, it is an end of an era. Who knows? Just like in the 1990s, we might see Nawaz Sharif contesting the elections again. Though not likely after such a unanimous damning verdict, as absurd as it is. But Nawaz Sharif will remain to be the Prime Minister who initiated the Sunday as weekly holiday and constructed the motorway on his initiative.  And at least it offers a chance to Shahbaz Sharif to become Prime Minister.

One way or the other, the judicial coup of one of the most popularly backed elected government is complete. This is how Prime Minister will be dismissed in the post-military coup era.

Right after the farce of the JIT, which has essentially established the civil and military bureaucracy and intelligence as an extension of the judiciary, was put up by the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister was destined to be ousted.  The judges had already made up their minds. The only noteworthy and far from a substantial conclusion that the JIT had drawn, apart from a list of endless conjectures, was that the Sharif family was living way beyond their means.

In the end, the judgment by Supreme Court about the disqualification simply hinted that it was politically motivated. Even some of the most seasoned political commentators, publication editorials, and senior lawyers are analyzing it as such. There was a time under Iftikhar Chaudhary when you had the impression that the judges hear and judge cases after reading the papers. It seems those times have returned.

In other words, we have again had a mockery of democracy and our Constitution. Now at the hands of its guardians. What a shame.

However, there is little to expect from a Supreme Court that instead of safeguarding people’s right to the free internet, chose to uphold the YouTube ban. The bureaucratic institutions yet again let the people of Pakistan down by attacking democratic institutions and the mandate of the people’s vote.

What is worse though is that people who usually celebrate military coups are jubilant over the dismissal of the Prime Minister like they always are. Without realizing that the verdict has come against the mandate of the vote of the people, even though the grounds for qualification were clearly not of corruption. At least not in the least bit to warrant a lifetime disqualification.

Even though it is the day of thankfulness for the supporters of the PTI, I would neither be rejoicing nor be thankful if such a verdict came for an elected Prime Minister of that party. A part of me also wants Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister so that for once, they can be on the receiving end of this type of “justice.” Sadly, the party has been brainwashed to the degree of cynicism that some of them are even willing to see Imran Khan disqualified, being happy to see only the military rule.

But what do I know? Maybe I am missing the plot here. Maybe this is going to be really good for democracy after all.

Perhaps the judges have only lost their minds, or are being overly honest in their overzealousness of being “Sadik” and “Amin” instead of being malicious on purpose.

For once I hope that my friends on the other side are right and I am wrong.

In all seriousness, I would have no problems in conceding that I am at fault here.

 

But if only that were true.

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Bringing down the Sharifs

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

The Panama Leaks are the sort of story that was needed to shake the firm grasp of the Sharif family on the politics of Punjab.

Unlike the uproar in the media and warnings of a protest movement from PTI chairman Imran Khan, I am not convinced that the people of Pakistan are particularly bothered by the revelations in the Panama leaks. To some people, avoiding tax payment is a terrible sin, but let’s admit it, most people in Pakistan hardly believe in paying taxes or trusting the government with their money. Others consider smuggling fair trade. These views may outrage many liberals, but people are free to see the world that way.

Naturally, most businessmen and investors, particularly those who fear their assets would be frozen by a certain state for political reasons, would be attracted to offshore tax havens. Or perhaps they have a genuine desire of paying low taxes. In the past, the Swiss accounts of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari have been a matter of major controversy, and now the offshore assets of the Sharif family have surfaced.

To many people, the crime of the PML-N leaders lying about their offshore assets is far worse than the act of possible tax evasion. They would have to produce clean taxation and remittances records to eliminate the suspicion of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, such behavior seems more suited to businessmen than the leading political family in a developing nation.

However, what makes the leaders of the PML-N the hypocrites of the highest order is that they have gone to all lengths to demonize the PPP leadership for what they have been obviously doing themselves. 1999 actually taught them a lesson that heads of state not only need a haven for their financial assets but one for political asylum as well.

Instead of freaking out by Panama Leaks, it does not hurt to be optimistic about their aftermath. Personally, I would not like to see the Prime Minister go as long as he ends up clarifying his position, as did Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain. However, if he fails to present a strong case and succumbs to the pressure of the opposition, good riddance.

Some people are also seeing the military intervening as the ultimate solution for accountability as always, but nothing would be more disastrous for the progress of democracy. At least, for the development of the economy and services to the people of Pakistan.

In any event, you cannot ignore the fact that the Sharif brothers have become a bit too comfortable in their almost absolute political power in Punjab. The landslide in the last election stunned the rest of the parties, but their continual abuse of power hardly goes unnoticed as well.

A strong opposition, and ideally alternate terms for different parties, is good for democracy. Historically, Punjab does vote to balance the power between two leading parties, but due to the popular emergence of PTI, the opposition vote has been divided between PTI and PPP.

The PML-N infrastructure projects particularly require continuation of terms, but regardless of whether the party is good for the country, or at least Punjab, they need to be challenged. The PTI and the PPP will probably not find a better opportunity to strike a dent in the formidable wall of the political support of the PML-N in Punjab. In terms of producing electoral results, both the political parties would have to set aside differences and form an alliance in Punjab.

While the metro bus projects have been much the needed mass transit in the urban areas in Punjab, at least the twin cities, they reflect on how executive power is exercised in Pakistan by political governments. PTI and other liberal critics also make sense when they make a case for the lack of government funds in the health sector while such mega projects are being developed.

Opposition parties sense instinctively that something is wrong with this spending pattern, but are not able to make an effective case for some reason.

Unfortunately, the idea of limiting the executive power is not popular in Pakistani politics. As a matter of fact, these very opposition parties, with the possible exception of PPP, would favor more executive power, so that they are able to exercise it when they are in power. After all, elections are about getting things done.

So while we need to address the problem of corruption and tax evasion, the procedures on government spending and the permitted abuse of executive power need to be taken into account as well.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Direct Election Reforms Needed in Local Government Polls

Source: dawn.com

Finally, the much-promised local government elections have been held all over Pakistan. The result of these elections is important for pointing out a clear discrepancy in the electoral system. Everyone has been looking at the party tally as in the case of the general elections, but it is at this level that the irony of this system reveals itself so strongly. The citizens of Pakistan cannot even elect their mayors directly, and it is up to their Union Councilors to elect the candidate nominated by their party.

While this form of election is based on the model of the British parliamentary system, direct election reforms for local government have been introduced even in Great Britain. It only makes sense that people have a say in at least the immediate leadership of their town, instead of a majority party decision enforced on them like an insult.

People do deserve a chance to directly elect the person responsible for making executive decisions governing their political jurisdiction. I would go on to argue that the same should be true for the election of legislative representatives and the head of provinces and the federal government. This is why the Presidential system makes more sense in terms of electoral rules and division of power to some people.

However, on the other hand, many people argue that the indirect election makes the election of more intellectual members possible. For a country where the majority of voters agree on establishing an Islamic Republic and would actively oppose a secular movement, this would seem like a good choice. However, indirect election of the mayor does not even make any sense in the current scenario and it is certainly not good for democracy.

The indirect election is primarily an instrument of establishing the authority and control of the party leadership, which almost always dictates votes in the legislature. This form of legislative election kills the freedom of the individual legislator, and in the case of executive election, it becomes an extension of the control of the party leadership in dispensing and spending local government funds.

It is important to understand that executive positions are very individual-oriented. It is probably not very different to evaluating a candidate for a job position. I would argue the same is true for the legislators, but probably those positions could be compromised for the banner of the party ideology on the ballot. This is why at least an exception should have been expected in the case of the election of the mayor.

The local government structure clearly requires further reform, and as pointed out by the MPs of the MQM, warrants more authority and funding as well. Until the local government structure is improved, you cannot expect democracy to flourish at the grassroots and for people to solve their own problems instead of waiting for bureaucratic machinery in a distant capital.

One of the fundamental ways to establish the credibility of the democratic system is to empower people with choices. We need to have faith in the people and have respect for their vote.

The constitutional provision for the direct election of the mayor could go a long way in this regard.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Politics of Perpetual Cynical Whining

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

The recent by-polls in the key Lahore constituency NA-122 that put the membership of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on the line have resulted in his reelection with a narrow margin. PTI campaigned aggressively targeting the constituency due to rigging elections and have effectively made their mark in the PML-N stronghold.

However, the people’s verdict at the polls is never enough for the PTI leadership. In Imran Khan’s own words, he was happy with the NA-122 elections because of the presence of the military in officiating it. But that statement, other than the fact that it was heavily scrutinized by the media, seemed too good to be true for an election held in Pakistan. Nobody was surprised that briefly after conceding defeat as a moral victory, the PTI leadership was having second thoughts about the transparency of these polls too.

Since apparently nothing is left to blame on the polling officials, the PTI has come up with some obscure PML-N rigging measures that they could not anticipate, and others hardly even understand. Somehow the PML-N managed to throw the PTI votes out “at the last minute.” Because apparently at the last minute, PML-N started handling voter lists instead of the Election Commission.

There is nothing surprising about these allegations, because elections would never be fair until the PTI candidates are elected from all constituencies in the country, even if the voting machines are installed.

PTI has effectively become a political party that thrives on conspiracy theories and paranoia. Just like our nationalistic and Islamic fundamentalists, they would invent weird scenarios as long as their firm beliefs hold true.

It seems that the politics of Imran Khan is now centered on one point alone: electoral rigging. We vaguely remember that it used to be about electoral reform.

Well, PTI is controlling a provincial government. We all know that it is not the case. But this is what we get to hear from the PTI leadership about 9 times out of every 10 appearances they make. This makes you wonder if they are in politics just to keep on campaigning for elections, because it is fun apparently, or to do any serious legislative business.

Nevertheless, citizens must always strive to prevent totalitarian influences in a democracy. Considering the scarce and provincial choices available to the people of Pakistan, especially Punjab, it is of utmost importance to keep the ruling PML-N on their toes by offering the PTI a chance every now and then. It is probably time to stop giving PML-N such sweeping majorities, which they had abused back in the 90s to amend the constitution for the worse. Though, not really sure if that matters much, because lately we have witnessed the trend of people not voting for the legislation they don’t agree with, instead of voting against.

However, the greatest hurdle to a greater PTI victory is the leadership of the party itself. While many of the young voters and the unconditional haters of PML-N have much greater tolerance for such nonsense, the independent voters in the swing constituencies in Punjab would only cringe at the cynicism and constant whining of the PTI leader, to say the least.

Citizens concerned about democracy would only find relief in the PTI giving PML-N a greater challenge, and even such PML-N supporters should not mind seeing defeat in many constituencies. It is important to keep a check on every political party, and the best way to prevent them from becoming complacent is not to get married to them at the ballot.

But the PTI leadership seriously needs to move ahead from its boo-hoo-hooing kindergarten politics and offer the people of Pakistan something serious to consider. That is the “status quo” that needs to change so that any serious reform could be brought about in the legislature. Until that time, they would keep on wondering why they end up losing elections by substantial margins while showing off such large crowd at rallies and events.

 

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Politics of Entertainment

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

It might sound a bit insulting, though it really should not be, but the politics of populism and perpetual revolution is very much the politics of entertainment. With or without the bloodshed.

Now that is what gets people going for an otherwise very boring and very repulsive subject matter. But it really is no laughing matter, is it? This really is about raising your voice against oppression.

A lot of people do that actually, in a very serious and effective manner. They even end up paying for it with their lives.

A great example has been the Arab Spring and the continuous protests in Egypt, the Ukrainian protests, the Venezuelan protests, the Bahrain protests and protests against the Shah. Another recent one has been the Iranian opposition protests, in which people were killed by the state police.

A seemingly similar campaign but nowhere near to the Iranian moderate protests has that been of the PTI protests against the results of the last elections. This is because the Iranians protested the oppressing regime of the Ruhollahs, who would rule with an iron fist regardless of elections, because a lot of people think Iran is a democracy.

However, in this case the PTI is protesting against their perceived primary oppressors, the PML-N federal government, while their main grievance of unfair elections in a few constituencies should actually be addressed to the Election Commission that it apparently just rejected.

Oh, and speaking of oppression, I never saw people bothering to leave their homes to protest against the military and civil bureaucracy who have been effectively oppressing them for six decades. But sorry for the mandatory red herring…

However, as Imran Khan very aptly put it and it really explains it all pretty perfectly. He and the youth were getting bored by the break in the revolutionary movement. A complete year after the elections. It was exciting to see them back in action.

And the protest rally disbursed after demanding the formation of a new election commission, which is an indirect way of saying that they don’t really accept the results of the previous one, but still accept the results and keep the seats.

However, while the formation of a new election commission would only be encouraging, but doesn’t that happen every time?

And don’t even get me started on the “neutral” caretaker administrations.

But there is some progress after the protest, alright. But who cares in the end anyway.

The people were not out there to protest against oppression.

The people wanted a good night out, which they cannot otherwise get in a dull town.

The people wanted, well, entertainment.

The Mandate of Your Vote, for “Change”

Source: voteforchange.com

Source: voteforchange.com

It is May 9 and the general elections are hopefully just a couple of days away. May 11 is the date. With Imran Khan falling off a makeshift elevator, forklift or whatever it was, getting severely bruised and injured, and explosions rattling the country from Peshawar to Karachi and several candidates losing their lives, campaigns are still going on. You can only hope that the elections day will pass safely.

More than ever in the 2013 elections, the emphasis is on voting for “change”. While like President Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign, it is a great slogan, (though I am not sure what change he was talking about, perhaps social reforms) I am not really sure if my vote or that of any other Pakistani citizen for that matter, carries that mandate. I mean the mandate for change. However, it does feel good to imagine things, but that is the way it is. Inconvenient, I guess.

The last time I checked, I was only able to elect two officials to two positions in national and provincial legislature. In other words, my vote means that it is my responsibility to use my ballot to determine what kind of people will be using public money for these two positions for the course of next five years. So as it is, and at least to me, the process of the general elections is nothing more than electing and more appropriately hiring two public officials.

This means that all “change” that I am responsible for, or even capable of, is just trying to remotely influence what kind of people make it to the legislature from my constituency. And to that extent, yes, your vote can be a catalyst to change. But that’s all you can do. And that if you are deliberately voting for candidates which would ensure reelection, you are deliberately wasting public money and that you apparently are an idiot of the highest electoral order. But that’s alright.

You don’t have to apologize for your vote.

So while ideology is important, the candidate for the legislature seat is even more so, and especially his or her stance on various political, social and economic issues. To me, this forms a much greater and stronger basis for voting instead of what party they belong to or what ideology they claim to be proponents of.

Considering the prevalent extent of democratic values in the country and the restrictive and suppressive constitution and norms of the land, I can hardly imagine if any ideologies are at work on ground except for those allowed by the state. Still, I would not be cynical enough to suggest that there is no use in voting for ideology, no. Vote by ideology, vote for ideology by all means.

However, in our land of the pure, another high claim of the adherents of a higher than other faiths, ideology is often synonymous with individual leaders. Due to the absence of direct electorate for the positions of the Prime Minister and the President, the people are forced to imagine, like many of their inherent faiths, that the general elections are actually being held to allow them to choose their head of state. What a fallacy.

With the atrocious 14th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan and its criminal ratification in the otherwise celebrated 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, you can hardly call this system of governance democracy anymore. If you ever could, that is. And you are forced to observe that the Parliamentary System is designed to block any change whatsoever lest it suits the vested interest of the politicians.

So the change you are looking for is sort of a far fetched idea. Because apparently your selected legislators would not be able to make their decisions independently. We are at the mercy of organized gangs.

I hope you do get the change you are looking for, I mean I am tired of the more than 12 hours of black outs in Pakistan myself, thanks to the current moronic and almost demonic interim “caretaker” government, with apologies to Lord Satan and his high accomplices.

I just hope I’m wrong.

But to be on the safe side, I am voting for the best possible legislators, party or independent.

Humiliating for a Living

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that human beings, as a species (for the sake of emphasis), take great pleasure in humiliating their fellow beings. Evidence so overwhelming that it hardly needs a demonstation for a proof, as it almost defines our lifestyle.

There is no greater dimension of social life to demonstrate this fact than politics. While there is no culture in the world, from the United States to India, where people would not have bitter resentment for their political rivals to the point of seeing them grovel, but in Pakistan, we have invented new fabulous ways for it which were never heard of before.

The newest innovation in this regard has been the qualification check or “scrutiny” from the election commission’s returning officers receiving the nomination papers based on the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

While in another country, they would be asking the candidates about their understanding of the law and the constitution, the Pakistani returning officer is interested in everything about the married life of the candidate to his or her knowledge of the religous rituals, funeral rites and of Islam. I wounder if they have asked them about their circumcised penises as well.

Basically, the idea is that these officials are verifying if the morality of the candidates is in line with the religious, traditional and conservative values of the culture. As a matter of fact, the eloquent PML-N MP Ayaz Amir was recently declared disqualified, only later to be declared qualified, on the basis of his column questioning the ideology of Pakistan. So much for freedom of speech.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

But one thing is for sure. These returning officers seem to be biased in favor of religious parties because if these questions are asked to their candidates, they would, or are supposed to have answers memorized like the back of their hands.

But obviously, this piece of news was a great source of entertainment for the Pakistani media, because incidentally a lot of candidates failed to dodge the loaded questions of the returning officers. Questions which ranged from the demand of recital of the funeral prayer to enquiring about the reason for marrying a second time.

Here I am not implying that any such idiocy be banned, which many often conclude when you voice such criticism. But nevertheless, it is an embarrassing state of affairs. Even the Lahore High Court, known for its youtube moralism, was embarrassed and condemned it.

Musarrat Shaheen - Source: journalismpakistan.com

Mussarat Shaheen – Source: journalismpakistan.com

But come on, it did put up a great show. Entertained the nation for a week or two.

For example, the sheer delight of Mussarat Shaheen, a Dera Ismail Khan dancer-actress turned politician candidate who I publicly and shamelessly support by the way (the more women in the parliament, the better for their own good. Besides she kicks Maulana’s ass), reciting Ayat-ul-Kursi or Verse of the Chair or Throne (2:255) from the second chapter of the Koran. (A Koranic mantra usually chanted to ward off evil spirits)

And the ecstasy of watching an older-than-middle-age woman shedding tears on the TV screen for being unable to recall some nonsense from Islamic or Pakistan Studies teachings.

Not long ago, the media came up with a clip which showed Senator Rehman Malik being unable to fluently recite in Arabic, which is by no maens his first language, the Sura-e-Ikhlaas  or the 114th chapter of the Koran, which is certainly a matter to be laughed at.

As if being able to recite the Koranic verses is imperative to qualify you not only for public office, but for public respect. And vice versa.

Source: CNBC Pakistan

Source: CNBC Pakistan

But apparently it is. And despite Rehman Malik’s apologies to the nation for the failure of the parliament to remove Articles 62 and 63 from the constitution, it was his party and none else who laid the foundation for that fanatic madness.

Though I consider his statement about Sadiqs and Ameens pretty heroic and very wise in the end. He said that only people named Sadiq and Ameen are the ones who are Sadiq and Ameen in Pakistan, clarifying the actual status of these Arab adjective-names taken for holy characteristics of the ideal Muslim. A lot of people mock him for his stupidity, but they would not have half the courage to utter this undeniable fact.

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

This rather reminds me of my days in the International Islamic University Islamabad, where you could not earn the degree without reciting one of the verses from the last 40 chapters of the Koran, whichever asked.

I, despite putting up with this ridiculous regulation, was openly against it. However, my classmates, without any exceptions whatsoever, all of them devout and pious Sunni and Shia Muslims, saw nothing wrong with it. They were pretty cheerful about it actually, making me doubt my motives as I was pretty bad at it.

Of course, what could possibly be more charming than being able to recite the good Word of God at a minute’s notice. Sadly, many a fanatic Muslims destroy and abuse the childhood years of their offspring who guarantee paradise for their seven ancestors through this glorious virtue.

What more could you possibly ask for?

But coming back to the most necessary provision of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and why criticizing which does not amount to treason, I fail to comprehend.

However, these provisions simply send out a message to the Christians, Hinuds, Sikhs, Parsis and other religious minorities of Pakistan that they do not have any business living and flourishing in this country.

Oh wait, I got it wrong. They have their rights as provided by the constitution.

It actually suggests that any one who is non-religious and supports secularism has no business living in this country, let alone take part in the public affairs.

As for the humiliation part, why complain?

That is probably all that our species derives its entertainment from.

Why not make a living out of it?