Wither Ballot; enter cash bags – Pakistan Today

Horse-trading seems an acceptable way of politicking in Pakistan
As the Punjab assembly is done with the election of the Leader of the House, after much front and behind-the-scenes politicking in the provincial capital Lahore; the harsh reality of the political arena in Pakistan strongly suggests the increasing futility of success on the ballot for any individual, a movement, or a political party.
The events in the run up to the astounding success of the PTI in by elections held on July 17 and the commencing of the “special operations” by the PDM to frustrate the PTI bid for the control of Punjab point towards undesirable trends in society and polity. With the memories of 25 defections from the ruling coalition in the National Assembly during the much-trumpeted vote of no-confidence still fresh in memory, the recent stories of newly elected Punjab provincial assembly members, being sent to foreign destinations by the incumbent coalition can be termed as the reckless practice of horse-trading.
Floor crossing and horse-trading have long been considered undesirable political influences the world over. However, it has been accepted as a way of life in Pakistan. The situation can be gauged from the fact that the media, social media and the word of mouth do not hide the fact that the incumbent coalition is using all the armament in its stock to neutralize the upset accrued in the July 17 by-elections in Punjab. As per the information filtering out, one newly elected MPA is reportedly in Turkey and another in the United Arab Emirates on “financers’ expense”, probably supposed to turn up on voting day.
The events in April, the developments both in the incumbent camp as well as in the opposition camp manned by the ousted dispensation made one thing clear in the eyes of the common man that his vote still mattered. They had the belief that what they voted in the ballot had the power to seat or unseat Mr A, B or C. The cash bag intervention has in fact put a grim dampener on the empowerment of the ballot in Pakistan. Though by virtue of the numbers game, the PTI was all set to re-enter the Punjab Assembly in the capacity of the Leader of the House; but it is stalked by the fear that cash inflows frustrated what it felt to be its well-deserved trophy. That it lost because of old-fashioned politics was perhaps no consolation.
As things stand, the reaction of the PTI in Lahore at the start of the week does register a strong protest against reported bids of horse-trading in the Punjab Assembly. However, it is an ominous development and can severely dent the faith of the electorate in the system itself. It may be pointed out that Pakistan’s experience with the hybrid system, which has been unannounced and in force since the demise of General Zia ul Haq in 1988; has been instrumental in eroding much of the trust of the electorate in the system itself.
The external stakeholders have made it a point to meet the PM of the country and the COAS separately to emphasize the point, as to where the power lies. Likewise the domains of federation, foreign policy and defence have been totally out of bounds for the sitting prime ministers and have already created a much fractured belief in the system and civilian setup. For a common person; any relative picked up by the elite intelligence agency means that a civilian setup will not be able to help him out. That setup has not been built up in a few months; rather through the decades.The recent infusion of black money into the domination of that set up has taken away whatever semblance of restraint there was on the part of the bewildered Pakistani public.
Elaborating it further, the low-key hybrid arrangements put in place by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1988 remained in force until 1999, when the powers behind came out in full force. That earlier hybrid experiment was characterized by similar episodes as we observe today. Benazir Bhutto in the centre during her tenure between December 1988 to August 1990 had a hard time and was constantly put under pressure through the Nawaz Sharif-led PML/IJI. When the PML fell out with Ishaq, then it was PPP in April 1993 which lent its support to the caretaker setup and was again available for support when the Kakar formula was implemented 29 years ago in July 1993.
Predictably in October 1996, the PML(N) stood by the then President Farooq Leghari when the PPP government was sent home for the second time during the 1988 to 1999 “democratic hybrid interlude”. During all these presidential interventions; the president acted less as a symbol of federation and acted more in line with what the established order asked him to do.
Fast track to 2007, when the Musharraf setup was showing signs of cracks, the foreign powers were interested in getting Pakistan on board for its global designs by employing civilians instead of military. The imminent return of Benazir Bhutto to power in 2008 was unceremoniously cut short by mysterious assassination in December 2007. The Kerry Lugar Bill of 2009-10 was the first expression of that shift in the Pentagon too; working with the civilians while keeping a parallel line with the established order.
That cat and mouse game was evident throughout the PPP tenure during 2008-2013, when the established order criticized the Kerry-Lugar Bill, tried to shrug off its complicity in Osama bin Laden’s killing in Abbottabad in May 2011 and the pressure through the judiciary on the incumbent prime minister.
The then PM Yousaf Reza Gillani was the first political casualty of the new hybrid social contract; which took a complete shape in the 2018 established order/PTI working coalition. The same feat was repeated again during the PML(N) tenure between 2013 and 2018 when the Godsent Panama papers allowed the system to create an air of accusation; potent enough to disqualify the then incumbent PM Nawaz Sharif. In both cases; for PPP Raja Ashraf and for the pml(n) Shahid Khaqan aqBASI played the rest of the inning for their respective parties.
The experiment with THE PTI was also thought to follow the previous patterns; the reason the forces behind the thrones allowed the customary five-year tenures to both the parties, allowing Pakistanis to falsely bask in the feeling that Pakistan is a vibrant democracy. However, the experiment went berserk; the rest is a developing story.
The infusion of the cash inflows during the vote of no-confidence was itself an experience, which was faced with opposition from the common person throughout the country. It was no coincidence that the PTI was booted out of power not through the vote of the party dissidents offered cash bags; but by the parties in the coalition. The established order and the judiciary felt the rage of people and that was the reason, no one condoned the stances taken by the dissident MNAs.
The recent infusion and its publicity as a “special task “by the media; news of people sent outside the country and lodged in the hotels is a dampener for a decent voter; who feels cheated. Cheated on the count that his ballot can be neutralized, done away with and put in trash, just because the law of the land cannot stop cash infusion for the elite. Here it is ironic to note that while the country, its government, the central bank, the system as whole especially the military are publicly committed to their faith on FATF, the cash bags to the purchase worthy members of assemblies do not fall under the AML/money laundering classification, nor are classified as suspicious cash transactions. That only strengthens the belief that there are two Pakistans. This is the very reason that people during the last three months have rallied around the ousted PTI.
The condoning of yet another round of horse trading, wheeling and dealing by the established order and its civilian beneficiaries is pushing the common Pakistani towards a hard conclusion. An antibiotic from within the system will not cure the ills. The country might need a proverbial “khamini” (as pronounced on the street) to correct it.
Incidentally similar sentiments are also expressed by those close to Khan. It is the time to organize a Magna Carta for all concerned, failing which; it is public choice; Colombo 2022/Tehran 1979/ Paris 1783.

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