How About Leaving the People Alone?

Source: The Baltimore Sun

Source: The Baltimore Sun

There is a reason why the tradition of keeping your vote secret is often respected. Even if not so much anymore.

Nothing like this election year has brought up how political polarization divides people. Even in some cases end friendships and tear up families. Because people cannot help but taking politics personally.

Perhaps the rise of social media has something to do with the increased political polarization as people get more easily exposed to more extreme political views than those appearing on mainstream media.

But probably the most interesting part is when political commentators like Glenn Beck and Stephen Colbert, who have been blowing into this fire for years, coming on TV and wondering how we got here. Bill Maher just confessed that they should not have been so hard on Romney and McCain because their warnings are falling on deaf ears about Trump.

But it is not just the common people, comedians or fringe commentators who have been polarized so venomously.

All the judgments of the pundits and gurus on TV on why Hillary Clinton lost and why the hell America did it have been amusing, to say the least. It has been a whitelash, according to Van Jones. It is because the racist white America has reacted against the Obama Presidency because he is black. Because apparently, they were on a break during the Obama years. I thought only people like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh came up with such ideas.

Trump’s rise has clearly emboldened the Alt-Right, the white supremacists, and the neo-Nazis. Just like the victories of Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu have allowed the respective right wings to become more vocal and active. But is it fair to paint all of their voters with the same brushstroke?

But it is a great mystery indeed why so many voters opted for such an unconventional candidate, who has displayed such inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. And to some, even made a mockery of the democratic system in the United States and could continue to do so. Is Donald Trump scary? Yes, I agree. But I am also not surprised that he is backtracking on more of his extreme positions. We don’t even know if he really has any political ideology, to begin with, other than his love for self, money, and power.

There are, of course, sane liberal commentators out there who are trying to seriously figure out the causes of the Democratic loss. But even most of them have a blind spot for the smugness and overconfidence in the Democratic camp.

If someone voted for Trump, it does not automatically make them racist. Because apparently a lot of them voted for Obama for two straight terms in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania? Obviously, they made a right choice back then.

Similarly, if someone voted for Hillary Clinton, it does not make them for corporate greed, elitism or corruption.

Alright, but either way, it sure makes them sexist. Because that beats racist every time.

Figured if something else went wrong?

Why did Hillary Clinton fail to win so many counties that Obama won, who was clearly more radical of the two in 2008? Why did she lose the working class men? Why did she lose the independents so clearly? Why did she lose Susan Sarandon? Even if she won the popular vote.

Why more Democrats voted for Trump in those swing states than the Republicans voting for her?

Few people see it this way, but perhaps the election of Donald Trump is the part of the same madness of hope and change that got Obama elected. And the rest of the protest vote going to Sanders, Johnson and Jill Stein. But is that all?

What if the campaign the Democrats ran was absolutely lame, negative, and broken? And probably was so terrible that you could not beat Trump with all the disasters during his campaign. No more Daisy ads working anymore. But guess what? Trump emerged the victor out of all that mess.

Then, of course, it is always the fault of the poor third party voters who are trying to fight the two party system so many people are critical of. The Gary Johnson protesters and the Jill Stein protesters. As if they are not allowed to have their own crazy, kooky political views. While I believe that these two tickets would have been an even bigger disaster than Trump in 2016, they offer a plenty of interesting ideas.

Gary Johnson got more than 4 million votes. I can hardly think of another Libertarian candidate ever doing a better job in the national polls. It’s not a spoiler. People are making a statement.

Finally, it is always the fault of the people who have not voted. The most irresponsible of all citizens. Oh, and guess what, Colin Kaepernick has no right to make a political statement by kneeling down during the national anthem before his NFL games.

So how about forcing these 45 million people to vote and to get them to attend a polling station or send in a ballot? I say they have a right to not vote. Isn’t that a vote in itself?

Yes, each and every one of them has a right to make a political statement, no matter what, as long as they are doing so in a non-violent manner. Even by not voting. Criticize them all you will, but never think about forcing a political statement down their throats.

Our complaints about democracy would make sense when we give people the freedom who to vote for without bullying and pressuring them. Without turning them into social pariahs. Because in this case, it is very easy to become who you criticize.

So how about leaving people alone for a change?

They just might listen to your crap then.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Bureaucratic Excesses and the National Language Question

Today is Pakistan’s 68th independence day and we still have a lot of unresolved issues in our backyard.

Recently, Marvi Memon, a PML-N MP from a Punjab reserved seat, introduced a Constitutional Amendment bill into the National Assembly. The bill was about proposing to declare Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Hindko, Shina and Barahvi among others to be national languages as opposed to their current regional status.

It was rejected by the multipartisan National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice, 4-1. The bill sought to amend the Article 251 which declares Urdu the only national language.

A lot of people have a problem with this, but since it was voted out under due process, I do not. However, I do think such underdog bills deserve a chance for a broader voting in the House instead of the scrutiny from the Standing Committee.

Another disturbing aspect here was the interference from the bureaucracy during the debate on the bill. The Special Secretary of the Law Ministry, Justice (R) Muhammad Raza Khan, opposed the bill because as per him the bill was pointless under the light of Article 28, which guarantees the fundamental right of preserving a language and a script.

But perhaps, this bill is not about preserving these languages as Marvi Memon explained. Her point is to honor the languages by declaring their status as national. 

Source: Express Tribune

Marvi Memon – Source: Express Tribune

It just sounds like another piece of political correctness, unnecessary to some, but our constitution gets so much wrong in the textbook after all. So maybe it is important. Article 1 anyone?

He also opposed it because declaring another language, Bangla, as the national language, apparently caused the separation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Well, first of all, people should get their 1971 history right. But let’s not get into that.

What the honorable Secretary forgot is that the UN International Mother Language Day is inspired by killings in a protest against neglecting Bangla as the national language. And he also seems to ignore other constitutional and political differences that led to the 1971 war.

The argument about more than one national language threatening the union of the federation is also beyond me, since English and Urdu will remain to be the official languages and those who use Urdu to communicate to those with a different mother tongue would still continue to do so.

Not sure if there is any evidence to suggest that more than one languages weaken a federation. South Africa seems to have 11 official languages.

However, since the purpose is symbolism for people on both sides of the debate, the arguments from other side may or may not make any sense.

In any case, underdog bills should be given a chance of voting in the House and bureaucracy should stay away from the process of legislation and leave it to elected MPs. That’s the only way to see where the representatives of the people stand on this issue and to overcome federal authoritarianism. 

Some of the arguments against more than one national languages are really strange. But as long as the proposals are voted out democratically, I have no problems at all.

 Happy Independence Day.

 

Privatization, Authoritarianism and Democracy

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Nothing has aroused my curiosity about the Constitution of Pakistan as much as the plethora of executive decisions issued out of the Prime Minister House and the Federal Cabinet. Is that even democratic?

Whatever the answer, most people do not even bother about that.

There is no surprise that a parliament that unanimously voted to pass the 18th Amendment containing the Article 63 (A) would find excessive executive power the least of its problems. It goes without saying that most Pakistanis are not only happy with that, but many of them have no problems with authoritarianism in general.

There is no shortage of people approving excessive executive power all around the world, even in the United States, since things get done faster this way. Who wants to waste time in stupid voting procedures when the executive can get everything done with the stroke of a pen?

Well, there is a right way of doing the right thing, and then there is the wrong way. Which by the way, is what you think is the right way. It could really be a solution, or not.

This is why a lot of people think that a lot more things get done when dictators rule the country. Well, that is true, but their unchecked progress is also matched by unchecked tyranny and no accountability. This is why such authoritarian measures should have no place in a democracy.

Take privatization for an example. Consider the news report of the approval of the sale of 26% of shares of national airline PIA by the Privatization Commission Board and the relevant Cabinet Committee. Note how it reports that the decision of the Privatization Commission Board would be final. While it seems logical that experts are making the decision, it makes no sense politically.

Even if the Constitution allows for this channel of decision making, it would be largely flawed, in my opinion.

There is hardly any doubt that privatization is the need of the hour for Pakistan. I am all for it. Not only because of the burden of massive losses, but because the government is not supposed to and is unable to run corporations. Simply because these corporations are supposed to be managed like businesses and governments would not do that.

However, it matters how the process of privatization is carried out. It cannot simply be the decision of one man, or the Privatization Commission Board or ministry bureaucrats to convert ownership of the shares of an institution from public to private. The parliament must vote on the motion, in both the lower and upper houses.

As a matter of fact, the Constitution of Pakistan does provide that a Money bill should originate in the lower house, as per Article 71 (I), if I am not wrong. The sale of share of PIA or any other public entity could easily be considered a matter pertaining to money, as it would concern the change in capital, if not revenue, of the state at the federal level.

A lot of people would argue that referring the matter to the parliament would be another way of killing the issue at hand. That voting in the legislature encourages obstructionism. It may be so, but that is the right thing to do.

I am worried that Pakistani federal and provincial legislatures hardly ever vote for important issues, other than electing each other. Which makes me think they are not doing what they are hired to do.

And this, along with many recently introduced constitutional provisions, hint toward increasing trends of authoritarianism among democratic legislators in the country. Though it was never absent, arguably.

Allowing obstructionism is necessary for upholding democratic values.

Voting By Candidate

Source: thekooza.com

Source: thekooza.com

I have grown up hearing that you should always vote for the party and the ideology. Well, it makes sense too because with more seats, the party would possibly gain a majority and the people who remotely share a fraction of your political world view could become decision makers. But does that mean you should turn a blind eye to the candidates?

But thanks to our parliamentary system, this voting approach has a severe drawback. Particularly for undecided voters and particularly for people who are not voting for ideology. I guess there would be a lot of educated voters in the upcoming 2013 general elections in this regard.

To most people, the general elections for National and Provincial Assembly representatives are a substitute for Presidential or Prime Ministerial elections. They vote for Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari, rather than considering the candidates. Probably it is the same for the rest of the parties too.

I am even told by many that they would vote for a pole if it runs for the party or the leader of their choice. Others would vote for fly-over bridges and construction and development projects, which is a somewhat better approach, But obviously hardly anyone concentrates on their legislative stance and ability.

A lot of people vote for the legislature candidates as if they were voting for a councilor or a mayor, and that is the value they get in the end. But probably it is not their fault. We have a terrible parliamentary system prevalent in this country which only lets people vote for their representatives, but not for their Senators, Governors, Chief Ministers, Presidents or even Prime Ministers.

Furthermore, the 5 year term of a government is ridiculously long. I can hardly think of any better system than the bicameral US Presidential system which has 2 year terms for the representatives, though a long term of 6 years for the senators. But it is an electoral system which allows the US people to elect all of their representatives and even mayors directly. The parliamentary system seems autocratic in comparison.

Now they have even worsened this terrible electoral system in the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution during the last term by introducing and unanimously voting for the Article 63 (A) about disqualificaiton on the grounds of defection. It is an article which requires every member of the legislature to vote according to the party lines or have their membership terminated.

How undemocratic is that. I actually find its passage hard to believe, and our politicians have the audacity of incessantly boasting about it. I can’t imagine a democracy without individual freedom and liberty.

How is this for treason to democratic values? At least it goes to show that there is no respect for individual freedom and individual opinion in Pakistan. Then why worry if the message is reflected at the grassroots?

This clearly goes to show that democracy has “not been able to work” in Pakistan because several provisions in the constitution are not democratic in the first place.

But when voting for a party is thrust upon you as a moral responsibility, you are hardly worried about factors such as these.

But when I look at a candidate, and I imagine whether I would want him or her to represent my constituency or not, I would really find myself responsible for the sake of spending public money the right way to assign the right person to the job. Well at least they must be able to read and understand the constitution, even if that means voting for a candidate who would get a total of 63 votes. I am mentioning that figure for a reason.

Malik Ibrar Campaigning - Source: Official facebook Page

PML (N) Candidate – Malik Ibrar Campaigning – Source: Official facebook Page

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning - Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning – Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning - Source Official facebook Page

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning – Source Official facebook Page

I need to vote in the NA-54 constituency where the major contenders are the incumbent Malik Ibrar Ahmed of PML-N, Zamurd Khan of PPP and Hina Manzoor of PTI, apart from other members from the JI, JUI (F), MQM, ANP and independent ones which are not expected to get much votes, like always. The candidates for the PP-10 Punjab Assembly constituency are much worse and picking the right canddiate would be an easier task there.

While I largely find myself undecided over the current constitutional and electoral mess, I would surely vote and I would try to vote by candidates. I am not saying there is anything wrong to vote by parties. Do so by all means. But I believe that evaluating the candidates is just as important.

While I am disechanted by the last parliament for unanimously voting for the controversial clause about Article 63 (A) in the 18th amendment, by the same rationale, I could just as well vote for just about any candidate not elected to the last parliament term.

But is that really the answer? Because provided our brilliant parliamentary system, any member you vote for would simply vote on party lines, regardless of what they want and how terrible the party stance is. Slavery could never have been abolished in the United States if they had such a constitutional provision. This largely destroys the purpose of voting for choosing the legislator for your constituency, because you are actually choosing no one, as rightly pointed out by some in my family.

I wish I could possibly not vote for gangs, because this is what political parties wearing the most civilized and democratic façade are acting like. And it is such a shame. Sadly, it is behavior like this that extremists and undemocratic forces like the Taliban would like to see, which in the end means that you have no choice but to stick to “lesser evils.”

That is why we need to criticize the autocratic legislation of our political parties loudly and clearly more than ever before if we are to ensure the establishment of true democratic values and principles in this country. But I know I must vote to send out a strong and clear message to those who do not want me and all of you to.

But it’s all really confusing and I would rather like to wait till May 11 to make up my mind.

Till then, I’d rather vote for the person I’d hire.