Comment: Malfunctioning Democracy

Aziz Ahmed Profile | Daily Narratives from Narratives Magazine
By Aziz Ahmed
The writer is a leading columnist

The past few days have seen frenzied activity on the Pakistan’s political front. To the bemused man-on-street struggling to meet daily expenses and trying to combat Coronavirus, it has all seemed a diversion from living in today’s fractured Pakistan.

There was plentiful hype fuelled by the media (mainstream, printed, and social) –  to the election of the notorious ex-Prime Minister to a Senate seat from Islamabad. It appeared that the future of the 220 million people of the country hinged on the result.

Well, apparently, that wasn’t the case. Let me set the scene:

Ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani was the candidate of the opposition alliance  the PDM –  against Abdul Hafeez Sheikh of the ruling party, PTI.

Let us have a look at their political Curriculum Vitae (CV):

Gilani was ousted from his premiership by the Supreme Court because he refused to write to the Swiss authorities to enquire about the USD 600 million, allegedly, in a bank account in Switzerland that belonged to his political guru and boss, Asif Ali Zardari. Time was running out on the Swiss Law on the Statuate of Limitations, and he was plainly filibustering to the point where Zardari could go scot-free from this case.

Yousuf Raza Gillani PM | Daily Narratives from Narratives Magazine
Dr. Hafeez Sheikh Finance Minister | Daily Narratives from Narratives Magazine

Ironically, the case was led against him by another ex-PM, Nawaz Sharif who had donned the lawyer’s black coat to go to the Supreme Court to plead the government’s case.

Once ousted, more cases of corruption came to the fore regarding Gilani, including stealing of a very expensive necklace given by Turkey for auction and for the proceeds to be put into the account for setting up for the benefit of the flood victims. He brazenly gifted that necklace to his wife who proudly donned it and appeared in public, wearing it. However, he had to give it back to the authorities, publicly, when it was pointed out that gifts given to the state should be deposited in the Toshakhana and not used as personal property.

Along with the necklace’s controversy, he is appearing in a NAB case in the Accountability Court which includes buying a bullet-proof Mercedes given to him for use as the PM.

Other tales of his corruption include a case in which his son was kidnapped and taken to the Tribal Areas. The alleged details pertain to Gilani taking a cash bribe of Rs25 crores from tribal elders to appoint a political agent of one of the erstwhile Tribal Areas of the tribe’s choice. Unfortunately for him, Gilani was ousted by the top court before he could do it but only after he had given the major share of the bribe to his political “boss”.

Even after being ousted, he kept on promising the tribal elders that he will honour his promise. Later on, he repaid them, his share of the money, but his “boss” refused to return any amount. The infuriated tribal elders kidnapped his son during an election rally and took him to the Tribal Areas from where he was taken and “sold” to another group operating out of Afghanistan.

This group increased the ransom amount to Rs75 crores. The final amount of the “settlement” after two years of his kidnapping, is shrouded in mystery.

I am sure there are many more tales of alleged corruption but the narration of the above three gives a fair picture.

Gilani appears to be a very polite and soft spoken person, but what a “respectable CV”.

Now, proceeding to Abdul Hafeez Sheikh. Sheikh is reputedly the choice of IMF for the position of Finance Minister as the IMF goes about implementing its agenda. Sheikh has never been a member of PTI but was given the Party ticket to fulfill the constitutional requirements to be a Member of Parliament within six months of his appointment as Minister. Previously, he was acting as Special Assistant to PM on Finance but the courts ruled that he could not preside over any forums related to finance without being in the Parliament.

Ironically, he had served as Senator on the ticket of the PPP when he was Finance Minister during their term in power, including a period under Gilani as the PM.

The PTI’s rank and file do not relate to Sheikh as one of their own but look at him as a choice imposed on Imran’s government by the IMF.

What a contest between two popular political leaders. Is Pakistan lacking in talent and people of honest intellectual calibre to have a choice between these two?

While the candidates never inspired the country, it witnessed shenanigans of the worst sort with the opposition allegedly bribing the voters who are members of the National Assembly and for other Senate-seats members of the Provincial Assemblies. This was referred to in a recorded speech to the PDM council by Zardari when he said that to oust Imran’s regime, the PDM should opt for a ‘jail bharo tehrik’ (‘Filling up the jails movement’) which apparently meant ‘Jaib bharo tehrik’ (Filling up the pockets movement’)

Sensing foul play, Imran’s regime went to the Supreme Court to get them to order, in favour of ‘open’ ballot instead of the ‘secret’ ballot  so as to make it difficult for their members to take bribes.

After numerous hearings, the Supreme Court gave its opinion, stating that doing away with secret ballotting is not possible as it is a constitutional requirement which only the Parliament can do away with. However, the opinion from the highest Court came only two days before the Senate elections in which it advised the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure ‘traceability’ of the ballots by using technology.

The ECP, instead of following the Court’s advise, stated that they will form a Committee to see how technology can be used for future Senate elections but decided to go the same way as practiced over the years.

This led to the spate of leaked video and audio tapes in which Gilani’s son is seen offering bribes to PTI members. This Gilani scion is not the one who was kidnapped. Shows how the entire clan is compromised.

Another leaked audio came out, in which a Sindh provincial minister – known for being very close to Zardari – is heard offering huge amounts to PTI’s legislators.

Come the eventful day of polling, Sheikh was defeated in the National Assembly by five votes. However, on the same ticket for women, the PTI’s candidate against PDM nominee won by over a dozen votes.

The PDM immediately called this result, a loss of confidence of the Assembly in Imran Khan as they were planning to launch a Vote of No-Confidence, which would have been conducted under secret ballotting.

To counter this and knowing that some of his legislators have been bought over by bribes, he called for an immediate Vote of Confidence. The rules in this regard, calls for open division of the House in which the recalcitrant PTI legislators would have to come out openly and risk the wrath of PTI and their voters.

So Imran Khan won  the Vote of Confidence yesterday by more votes than when he was elected in 2018 as the Prime Minister!

This also precluded the PDM from moving the No-Confidence move against him for the next six months.

Imran Khan has won a respite to sort out things within his party and the government. Moreover, he is expected to focus on pro-people policies, including and most importantly: handling the galloping inflation. In this period, his government is also faced with dealing with the IMF and overcoming the final roadblock of FATF in order to come out of its grey list. Possibility of falling into FATF’s black list has been successfully negotiated, professionally, in the past few months.

Quite a tall order which also includes trying to get Sheikh elected from a safe seat before his six-month period runs out to appease the IMF.

That does not mean that the PDM is going to sit back. They are in the process of organising their Long March to Islamabad on 26 March followed by a sit-in. Let’s see how successful this is as summer is approaching, and Ramadan starts in early April. Not a good recipe for street agitation, I must confess.

But, other fronts on the political side exist, including a No-Confidence move against the Speaker of the National Assembly, by using the already bought-legislators and moving the battle to the Punjab Provincial Assembly in order to unseat the PTI’s government over there.

Thus, there lies the current state of Pakistan’s (mal) functioning democracy which is being keenly watched from the sidelines by the “powers-that-be” who might just come in to wrap up the system to launch a new one – to overcome the apparent dysfunction of the present one.

The bemused and hapless people are in a trance, watching all this as it is enacted no less than a political “soap opera”! Apparently this is not The End as the show goes on…

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