Kurd, Zardari and other political puzzles —Ejaz Haider

“Electoralism” expressed through existing political structures may not promise change. This is why it is important to not only look at the nature of political parties but also linkages among various players

October 28 has come and gone. It was significant for two reasons, both diametrically opposed though.

One, Ali Ahmad Kurd, one of the leading lawyers calling for the reinstatement of sacked chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, won the election for the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) despite much effort by the government to make him lose.

Two, his victory comes at a time when it may not mean much beyond the normative and the symbolic. This does not bode well for Pakistan’s march towards finding a political balance underwritten by a legal-constitutional norm.

The vote arithmetic — the aggregate of cast and counted votes in five cities (2103) — between Kurd and his government-backed rival, Mohammad Zafar shows Kurd secured 1397 votes (66.43 percent) while Zafar got 706 votes (33.57 percent).

Given the government’s full backing of Zafar, it is a sizeable electoral victory for those lawyers who are still holding aloft the banner of independent judiciary even as judges have been returning to the Bench under a new oath that, for all practical purposes, endorses former General-President Pervez Musharraf’s November 3 actions. Yet, this victory is more tactical than strategic and falls way short of what was required and demanded.

Another November 3 is approaching. Musharraf is no more in the saddle. Pakistan is ruled by its largest political party. While Musharraf was around, he could not manage to break the spirit and resolve of the lawyers’ movement, as also civil society actors. That job has been done by the Pakistan People’s Party.

How can a party, ostensibly wedded to democratic-constitutional governance, finish the agenda of a supposed military dictator, even show itself to be better at it? It is not enough, as most people are today wont to say, that now-President Asif Zardari is responsible for this perfidy. That may be so but the question is: What kind of system (and I use the term loosely) would put Zardari where he is in order for him to make such mischief?

Clearly, this question takes the problem beyond the person of Zardari into larger domain. Given that Pakistan’s largest political party has allowed itself to be led by Zardari and also actively supported him in his bid to become president of this country, any inquiry must then begin to look at the nature and composition of political parties in Pakistan.

Such an inquiry, if it can determine that political parties are not evolved entities in any modern sense but work on the basis of organised patron-client relations at multiple levels, would then force us to rethink our current enthusiasm for “democracy” through existing political parties.

Let me add here that scepticism over the quality of democracy does not a priori mean its rejection or a call for dictatorship. It simply means that we may drastically lower our expectations about what democracy can beget us and, in certain cases, also accept that “democratic” actions may be no different from dictatorial policies.

But the inquiry cannot just focus on political parties, important though that is. It must also try to study society itself. What is it that makes people vote for such parties despite the crests and troughs of Pakistan’s politics. After all, people do vote for these parties. Is it because they have no choice or is there something atypical here, something peculiar to Pakistan?

The implication of this argument is that we may have to go right down to the constituency to see how politics unfolds there — what are the linkages between the voters and the candidates at one level and between the candidates and the parties they represent at another. What are the pressing issues for the voters? Can we use the same benchmark for all constituencies, or will we have to study them on the basis of urban-rural, regional and any other divides to see where preferences lie and how they might unfold?

Another course of inquiry can be linkages among various power players and their interests. It takes mere commonsense to realise that change is not just a function of desire to correct an imbalance but the ability to actually do so. That takes mobilisation, enough of it to mount a challenge to existing power structures and force them to concede to a demand.

In democratic dispensations, social movements play such a role. Charles Tilly in fact observed that democracies play a role in encouraging social movements though all social movements may not voice democratic demands.

Elections too play an important role. For instance, if we accept that Musharraf played ducks and drakes with the constitution and the judiciary and the political parties, opposed to Musharraf, were wedded to constitutionalism (in all its various manifestations), then the lawyers’ movement should have succeeded. But it hasn’t, not in the short term at least.

This, then, means that “electoralism” expressed through existing political structures may not promise change. This is why it is important to not only look at the nature of political parties but also linkages among various players. Such an inquiry, of necessity, must go beyond the rather simplistic shibboleth of civil-military imbalance to a deeper problem — one, where the political actors may be as much responsible for the current status quo as the military.

Equally, however, it is important to inquire whether the civil society (by this term I mean all actors other than the military and political parties) has the ability to mobilise effectively enough for the power players, civil and military, to concede. What will be the mode of such mobilisation and whether it will be entirely non-violent are moot questions.

There are too many puzzles here, and not many answers. One way to honour the lawyers’ movement, despite its many flaws, would be for scholars to get down to the task of solving these puzzles.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Source: Daily Times, 31/10/2008

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