Why have elections?

If our politicians favour real democracy, why do they not hold transparent elections in their own parties?

After the recent charade of the senate elections and the election of the chairman and deputy chairman, one cannot be blamed for wondering if we really do deserve to have the kind of democracy which allows politicians to loot and plunder.
Of course, since Nawaz Sharif himself did his best to destabilise past PPP governments, he ought not to have been shocked at what has happened to him.
It has been obvious for a long time that we are not democratic by nature. The ten immediate years after partition saw politicians fighting among themselves, while prime ministers did not last long in those tumultuous days, with one, I I Chundrigar, resigning only a month into his tenure.
The people, therefore, actually welcomed General Ayub Khan with open arms, calling him the saviour of the country. Claiming that universal adult franchise (one man-one vote) is not suited to the temperament of our people, Ayub introduced the basic democracy system in which an electorate of only eighty thousand people, out of a total population of eighty million, voted to elect members of the national assembly.
These basic democrats elected Ayub Khan as president, rejecting the popular Miss Fatima Jinnah. Those elections were thought to be massively rigged, as she was the sister of the founder of the nation and was very popular among the masses. Ms. Jinnah also died under very suspicious circumstances, and it is widely believed that she was murdered during her sleep.
When Ayub Khan became unpopular, however, our people came out on the streets to throw him out. The people did not protest when he handed power over to another general, although his own constitution said that the national assembly speaker, an East Pakistani, should have taken over as president.
After the first supposedly free and fair elections in 1970, the winner Shaikh Mujeebur Rahman should have been allowed to form the government. Unfortunately, our so-called ‘democracy-loving’ politicians, led by Bhutto, and those who were in power at the time simply could not bear the thought of having an East Pakistani heading the government.
The country was dismembered, and we had to start anew, with Bhutto serving as the civilian martial law administrator and whose intransigence was the main reason for the country’s breakup.
Despite calling himself a committed democrat, Bhutto was highly autocratic, very much like Imran Khan, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. He humiliated and tortured many of his party stalwarts like JA Rahim and Mukhtar Rana, who had the courage to oppose him.
Bhutto’s tenure ended in 1977 when the people came out to protest against the massively rigged elections, and when General Zia seized power even though he held Bhutto in high esteem mere days before launching the coup. Then again, our politicians too have the knack of changing sides at the drop of a hat, as is being witnessed nowadays.
After the restoration of democracy, both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto connived with the establishment to dislodge each other’s governments. Even during the last PPP government, both Zardari and Nawaz were at each other’s throats. Zardari imposed governor’s rule in Punjab, while Nawaz sided with the establishment in the Memogate scandal.
If our politicians favour real democracy, why do they not hold transparent elections in their own parties? Shahbaz Sharif was elected unopposed as party chairman of the PML-N. Apparently no one else had the guts to oppose him.
The PPP, moreover, is a family business, with grey-haired and experienced veterans like Aitzaz Ahsan and Raza Rabbani forced to obey the orders of the virtually inexperienced Bilawal, while the PTI chief rejected his own election commission’s report about rigged elections and corruption within his party.
It has sadly been like this since the country’s independence, with history repeating itself every few years. Our leaders have always been embroiled in trying to retain or attain power, which gives an opportunity to the establishment to step in, much to the relief of the common man. Those who lose elections try their best to dislodge the winners, who in turn try desperately to remain in power and therefore cannot concentrate on good governance, which leads to the country suffering.
It has been said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Talk to the voter in our rural areas and you find that he is not at all bothered by corruption. He respects those who are wealthy and who live in their own palatial houses.
In fact, if our politicians were to suddenly adopt simple lifestyles like giving up their motorcades and getting their children educated in government schools, they would find themselves losing the confidence and respect of their voters. The common Pakistani thinks, “If this man is not wealthy, how can he solve our problems?” The average Pakistani peasant will either vote for his feudal landlord’s party or to someone who belongs to his own caste or tribe. Which is why the PPP will continue to win elections in the rural areas of Sindh.
One may well ask then, “Why have elections at all?” Why not simply appoint members of the feudal elite throughout the country to rule and supervise development in those areas which they control?
Look at our assemblies, dominated by feudal lords and the filthy rich. The nation has to incur massive expenditure on holding elections, which in any case tend to be rigged and tend to cause so much bitterness.
Even in the US, a man like Donald Trump became president, despite the fact that Hilary Clinton got three million more votes than he did. In our own country, we had a prime minister who has been elected three times, and who is the alleged owner of property worth millions.
Perhaps a few years without elections may be the solution to our ills. Plus, of course, having incorruptible leaders like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who will not hesitate to take strict action against those indulging in corruption.
The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, an industrialist, and has been associated with the petroleum, chemical industries for many years. He tweets @shakirlakhani
Published in Daily Times, May 16th 2018.