Democracy sans Opposition

by Javed Ansari

It is a fact that Pakistan aspires to be a democracy, and peddles itself as such – of course, barring those years when it had been under military rule. The sad fact is that despite being a democracy, the country has never been able to build a real opposition – the element that is the lifeblood of any working democratic polity. In a democracy, the opposition continually questions the working of the party in power, comes up with its own solutions for the problems, demands constructive amendments and presents its own ideas when important bills are presented in the parliament. On another plane, the opposition also tackles issues of national interest and helps the government in resolving such issues.

It is unfortunate that almost 70 years have passed, but successive parliamentary setups in Pakistan have failed to create a real opposition that would be effective in the National Assembly or Senate, or even outside it. The era of Asif Zardari as President was unique in its own way. In a parliamentary system, wherein the prime minister should have enjoyed all the decision-making powers, it was President Zardari who was calling the shots instead of playing the ceremonial role laid down in the Constitution, while his prime ministers, first Yusuf Raza Gilani, and later Raja Pervez Ashraf, simply went along with what President Zardari decided.

The PML(N) was the main opposition in those days, but there was never an occasion when the opposition played a decisive role and it simply okayed whatever direction the government in power took. Perhaps this was one of the low-hanging fruits that the CoD offered after it was signed in London between the PPP and the PML(N).

The Zardari government completed its five-year term, after which, in came the PML(N) with Nawaz Sharif as the next Prime Minister. Ever since assuming power, Nawaz Sharif has ruled the roost, and again, as if by some agreement, the PPP or any other political party with enough presence in the parliament, has dared not go against the Nawaz Sharif diktat. It is also true that Nawaz Sharif and his cohorts in the government only concentrate their attention on Lahore, or at best, the central Punjab, and leave the other provinces to other parties and their own devices. Sindh is ruled by the PPP, under the express directions of Asif Zardari, who is mostly based in Dubai.

The current chief minister of Sindh, Murad Ali Shah, occasionally travels to receive orders from his boss, namely Asif Zardari, about affairs concerning the Sindh government and acts accordingly.

The chief minister makes tall promises about improvements in the affairs of Sindh, but in the end, it all comes to naught. The fortunes of the province and its urban centres continue to go from bad to worse, but no action has been taken, and how the funds for various projects are spent is anybody’s guess.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is run by the PTI, and despite its many tall promises, the party has not succeeded in bringing in much of the promised ‘change’ to the province. The PML(N) has some representation in Balochistan, but again, it seems the chief minister mostly controls the province. It was Abdul Malik Baloch who did the first stint of the five years allotted to the elected government, and now it is Sanaullah Zehri of the PML(N) doing the other half.

Balochistan continues to be more or less a fiefdom of whoever is ruling it from Quetta. The Pashtuns, the Baloch, the Hazaras and even, to some extent, the Punjabis, continue their in-fights, but the province just languishes as it has over the past many decades before and since partition.

The city of Karachi was run by the MQM until the time its London-based supremo, Altaf Hussain, held his tongue. He has now run afoul of the army establishment, as well as the PML(N) government, as a result of which the party has been torn into parts and does not hold sway over Karachi anymore. Other parties, like the PPP, PTI, PML(N) and ANP, have made efforts to move in and take advantage of the space left by the MQM or the perceived lack of decisiveness of its voters, but none seem to have mounted a serious effort.

In a recent statement, Imran Khan has even claimed that Karachi belongs to the PTI.  It is not clear what prompted him to make the claim but everyone saw how the PTI candidate fared in the NA-248 by-elections. The PTI is not seen to be anywhere in evidence in NA 248, or in any other part of Karachi, but the PTI Chairman still says that the city of Karachi belongs to the PTI. The pity is that their sole NA representative from the city, Dr. Arif Alvi, while usually missing from action in his constituency (NA-25) or the city in general, is never willing to accept the manner in which he ignores Karachi.

In this whole scenario, and particularly the role that Imran Khan has played in blunting the PML(N) armoury in the Panama Papers case, the PTI now claims that the other parties are either in the camp of the party in power or are mere ‘lip service’ opposition parties.

This is certainly a tall claim because Imran Khan is rarely seen in the National Assembly himself, and whatever representation PTI has in the House is only justified by the presence of only a few party persons. True they have the largest number of seats in the NA besides the PML(N), but what have they done in their role as the opposition?

Even in the KPK, where the PTI is in power, not much seems to have been done. Their police reforms and health card scheme may be exceptions, but that is probably as far as they go. Perhaps Imran Khan and Pervez Khattak should take out a leaf from Narendra Modi’s book. When he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he did wonders for the province, though his policies were primarily Hindu-oriented. Modi then transplanted the model of his success in Gujarat on a wider scale, implementing it on the whole of India, and is chugging along merrily.

In the midst of some kind of an understanding having been reached between the PML(N) and the PPP to scratch each other’s back, the current situation was as good an opportunity as any for the PTI to wear the mantle of a truly national opposition party.

If the PTI also professes to be a ‘Karachi-party’, this was the time when they could have stepped forward and done some good work for the people of Karachi. If repairing roads was beyond them and they could do nothing about corruption in the Sindh government, they could have at least stepped forward to remove the garbage from the city’s streets and mohallas.

But, for some odd reason, PTI did not do anything of the sort. They claim to be a part of the so-called democratic scenario in Pakistan, but the country continues to limber on sans a true opposition.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.