Saturday, April 6, 2013

Alliances of Convenience

In the run-up to the general elections, electoral alliances are occurring at a staggering rate.

They're taking place between the ruling PPP and its largest coalition partner, the PML (Q). The PML (N) has joined hands with a host of smaller opposition parties. Even parties with no representation in parliament - such as PTI - have joined in

Electoral alliances don't necessarily remain once elections are over. Nothing prevents a party from backing out of a ruling coalition. After the 2008 elections, the PML (N) did just that when it backed out of the government. However, it never gave up parliament. Instead, it managed to remain in opposition and continue to have its voice heard - albeit, in a less direct way. The main purpose of its electoral alliance, then, was not to form a government with the PPP and implement any sort of joint government policy. Rather, it was to grab as many parliamentary seats as possible.

It is with this view that one should analyze Pakistan's ongoing electoral alliances. They're not examples of parties wishing to implement joint policies. What use for joint policies when politics is based on individuals and not policies? Nor are such alliances examples of ideological consensus. What use for ideological consensus where there is no ideology?

In Pakistan's current political culture, electoral alliances are simply a convenient means of grabbing seats in parliament.

Is this such a bad thing? After all, a party should strive to ensure that the voices of those that it claims to represent are heard. And the parliament is one avenue for this.

The problem is that Pakistan's current batch of parliamentarians do not garner votes on the basis of any clear principles or ideology. In such a system, the only possible electoral alliance is one that is narrow and short-term.

Pakistani politics lends itself well to alliances and consensus building. There are a range of national issues that can only be solved via legitimate political consensus. One example is the issue of how to share Balouchistan's natural resources. This requires consensus between Balouchi political leadership and the rest of the country. Another example is the issue of the rights to the Indus River. What is required here is an alliance between stakeholders in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Punjab. 

Nor is there a lack of issues requiring electoral consensus at the provincial level. The Sindh People's Local Government Ordinance revealed the tensions that exist between rural and urban Sindh regarding the distribution of administrative power in Sindh. In Punjab, the push for a Seraiki province revealed the difference in living standards between South Punjab and the rest of Punjab and the need for consensus on the distribution of Punjab's provincial resources.

The lack of progress on these issues exposes the refusal of politicians to arrive at any meaningful long-term consensus. Certainly, there are other factors that affect the success or failure of these difficult political issues. The communalism and sectarianism of Pakistani society doesn't help. Nonetheless, it is the job of political leadership to forge a consensus despite such hurdles. This responsibility becomes even more heightened when one considers the rampant illiteracy in Pakistan and the prevalence of uninformed voters. In such an environment, responsibility shifts towards the better informed in society and those with authority and resources.

Instead, the public is confronted with the ruling PPP and the PML (Q) meeting to discuss "seat adjustment". This political tactic amounts to little more than haggling and bargaining over a particular constituency and trading and swapping one constituency for another. This tradition has continued for far too long and political power is far too addictive for political parties to stop engaging in this act on their own.

As such, the responsibility falls on voters to hold their leaders accountable. Such responsibility is made easier by growing media coverage and an increasingly independent judiciary that have allowed the public to become more informed about political events. The voter is now in a better position to judge their political representative.

Ultimately, it is the average person on the street who suffers from alliances of convenience that produce no long-term social gain. When the only consensus that political parties arrive at is which constituencies they can use to gain power, such parties have already shot themselves in the foot. Voters and loyal party followers will inevitably realize the true nature of such alliances when they fail to produce long-term solutions that directly improve their lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment