Pakistan National Assembly has recently completed its 5-year term for the second time since 2008. A neutral interim government has assumed control to hold the general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018 to elect a new parliament. Media headlines about Pakistan are not good but the key trend-lines are definitely positive as the country continues its journey slowly but surely toward better democracy. While the party nomination processes for electoral candidates continue to be arbitrary, the protests erupting over party tickets are an indication of the rank and file members' yearning for internal democracy. These complaints and protests will hopefully lead to internal reform in these parties and break the strangle-hold of their undemocratic, self-serving leaders and the "electables" who represent the status quo.
Who are the Electables?
Electioneering in Pakistan is rarely about debating issues and offering solutions; it's more about personalities, families and identities. Political parties and politicians are rarely judged based on their capabilities, ideas and performance. The focus is on recruiting "electable" candidates with a known vote bank of their ethnicity and "biradri" (clan).
Pakistan's mainstream political parties continue to rely on the "electables" to win general elections. "Electables" are powerful, resourceful and wealthy, often land-owning individuals from certain families who have a greater chance of winning enough votes to get elected regardless of the party. Major political parties recruit them to run on their "tickets" as their nominees. Winning more seats in the parliament helps parties form governments to gain control of the state's resources for the benefit of their leaders and their cronies. It is a good investment for the electables to be aligned with the party in power.
The preference for "electables" perpetuates the status quo and preserves the power of the privileged few. It denies the opportunity for new aspiring entrants to bring about any positive change. It depresses new voter turnout and discourages wider participation in the political process.
Accountability and Transparency:
Pakistan Elections Act 2017 passed by the National Assembly removed the requirements for key disclosures relating to the ownership of assets, income taxes paid or owed, bank loan defaults, foreign residency (iqama) and educational qualifications of the candidates for national and provincial legislatures in the upcoming elections. This came in October 2017 after several members of the national parliament were caught lying and subsequently disqualified by the courts under Articles 62 and 63 of Pakistan's constitution. Those disqualified include top politicians like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PMLN party and PTI leader and parliamentarian Jahangir Tareen.
The changes reducing disclosures were challenged in the courts and the Supreme Court ruled that all candidates have to file sworn financial declarations along with their nomination papers for the general elections in 2018.
Headlines vs Trend-lines:
The worst 1% of the Pakistan story gets 99% of the media coverage, says Lahore-based Pakistani entrepreneur Monis Rahman. In the same vein, former US President Bill Clinton has said this about the media coverage of the continent of Africa: "Follow the trend lines, not the headlines".
As the Pakistani and the global mainstream media continue to headline Pakistan's multiple challenges and dire forecasts, the trend-lines in the country continue to be positive.
Pakistan's difficult march toward better democracy is making steady progress. The country's National Assembly has recently completed its 5-year term for the second time since 2008. A neutral interim government has assumed control to hold the general elections scheduled for July 25 2018 to elect a new parliament.
Resilient people of Pakistan are overcoming multiple challenges stemming from the continuing war in Afghanistan and India's abiding hostility. Pakistanis are defying all the prophecies of doom and gloom and thriving against all odds. Pakistan's trillion dollar economy is among the top 25 largest in the world. Rising disposable incomes are reflected in Pakistan being the world's fastest growing retail market. The increasing share of income of the bottom 20% of households puts Pakistan among the less unequal countries in the world. Pakistan is indeed rising.
Major political parties in Pakistan are controlled by individuals and families at the helm. These individuals and families make all important decisions in an arbitrary manner. The way these parties nominate their candidates for national and provincial assembly elections is symptomatic of the lack of democracy within these parties.
In more developed democracies like the United States, the party candidates for elections are chosen by rank and file voters belonging to each party, not the party leaders. Hillary Clinton had to win the votes of the Democratic Party's registered voters to become her party candidate for the senate seat in New York and later to become a presidential candidate in general elections. Similarly George W. Bush in Year 2000 and his brother Jeb Bush in Year 2016 had to contest primary elections for their nomination as Republican candidates. George W. Bush succeeded in 2000 primaries and general elections while his brother Jeb failed to win the party nomination in 2016.
Loud protests within Pakistan's political parties show lack of satisfaction of the rank and file members with the way the parties are being run by their leaders. These complaints and protests will hopefully lead to reform within these parties and break the strangle-hold of the "electables" who represent the status quo.
Pakistani parliament has recently completed its 5-year term for the second time since 2008. A caretaker government has assumed control to hold the general elections scheduled for July 25 2018 to elect a new parliament. Headlines are not always good but the key trend-lines are definitely positive as the country continues its journey slowly but surely toward a better democracy. While the party nomination processes for electoral candidates continue to be arbitrary, the protests erupting within parties are an indication of their rank and file members' yearning for democracy within the political parties. These complaints and protests will hopefully lead to internal reform in these parties and break the strangle-hold of the self-serving leaders and "electables" who represent the status quo.
Here's a discussion on the subject of democracy in Pakistan: