Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One Party to Rule Us All

What is an ideal outcome in the upcoming elections?

Everyone has their own definition of ideal. In a society so diverse and a political system so complex, can one expect anything less? Diversity and pluralism breed a range of political interests. What adds to this complexity is that most of these interests stand in direct opposition to each other.

Come election day, some will vote based on ethnicity while others on religion. Some will vote based on loyalty to a political family or to individuals like Pervez Musharraf or Pir Pagara. Some political interests are urban like those that support the MQM while others are rural like the PPP's. Some operate at the national level like PTI's while others are provincial like Punjab's PML-N. The presence of so many political interests represents a splitting of political power within society.

However, one possible election outcome could be the very opposite: a concentration of power in a single party government.

In a way, such an outcome runs counter to the very fabric of Pakistani politics. Over the past 5 years, the ruling PPP has taken the art of building and maintaining a coalition to another level.  This has strengthened the perception that coalition governments are the new Pakistani norm. Such a perception is aided by Pakistan's ethnic diversity which allows the creation of an endless variety of parties around ethnic interests. To make matters worse, there is no shortage of opportunistic politicians who have no ideology but have supporters. The many faces of the PML - N / F / Q - are one of the best examples of this. Such politicians will never allow their voices to be contained by a larger party. Instead, they represent an endless supply of coalition partners that refuse to become a permanent part of the largest party. In this way, they ensure that coalitions thrive and single-party governments remain impossible.

If forming a one-party government is so unnatural in Pakistani politics, why should it be pursued at all? For the simple reason that having a single party controlling the government increases the efficiency, effectiveness and stability of government action. And Pakistan is severely lacking on all three counts. It would mean less time spent on consensus building and more time spent actually implementing policies and laws. The policies need to be well planned and the laws need to be just. But, at the very least, there will be some sense of government attempting to govern.

A legitimate concern is that a one-party government may be unjust against smaller parties. However, elections are always available to vote the party out. Democracy should never be just about consensus-building. It should also be about the government feeling a sense of urgency in delivering upon its mandate and being voted out if it doesn't deliver. Besides elections, there is also the presence of the judiciary to hold the government accountable as well as the media.

What, however, are the chances of a one-party government forming? At least one of two events needs to occur.

Firstly, individuals need to stop identifying themselves and others on the basis of religious sects or ethnicities. This would stop the endless formation of political parties and unite people around a smaller number of parties. However, the chances of this happening in the near future are very remote. Such social change occurs across multiple generations and there is a strong possibility that it may never occur in a country as conservative as Pakistan where people identify themselves less by individual identity and more by the social group they belong to.

The second event that needs to occur is that the largest and most established parties take the initiative and transform themselves from serving a narrow section of the population to representing the concerns of the wider public. It is possible for such unifying parties and leaders to emerge even in a population that is riven by sectarianism. Such a scenario acknowledges the presence of deep divisions within society but seeks to overcome them by promoting a unifying political vision.

It remains to be seen whether such a unifying party can emerge.

The PPP has the advantage of being the largest party in power. It would seem they are the most capable of forming a one-party government. However, their brand of politics has largely consisted of building coalitions to hold onto power. The economic mismanagement that has occurred across Pakistan over the past 5 years as well as the deteriorating security situation has virtually ensured that the PPP won't have the same popular support it commanded following Benazir's death. Far from increasing its share of seats, there is a good chance they will lose power. Besides, the PPP doesn't have any semblance of an ideology that can go beyond Bhutto worship and the rural population of Sindh and Punjab.

The PML-N is the largest party after the PPP and has spent most of the past 5 years in opposition. Ideologically, it is empty and centered around the Sharif family. In terms of a national presence, it doesn't have one and its focus doesn't extend beyond urban Punjab. It has even less of a chance of forming a one-party government.

The only party that stands out in any way is PTI for it has campaigned on the basis of a truly unifying ideology. The ability of this ideology to cut across many segments of society lies in its nationalistic character. PTI's framing of US drone attacks as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty is one of the best examples of this nationalism. And while it is true that nationalism can be a reactionary force, it is just as true that nationalism can be used to unite people divided by ethnicity. The PTI's brand of nationalism which attempts to use the philosophy of Iqbal is a far cry from the reactionary nationalism of the religious parties.

Regardless of which party forms a one-party government, it is clear that doing so would be a positive step for Pakistan's politics. It would increase the possibility of strong, and capable government. It would mean the presence of a unifying party that can cut across multiple social classes. And it may finally put an end to the ceaseless coalition building that has weakened and paralyzed so many past Pakistani governments.

No comments:

Post a Comment