While the PPP is no longer a factor in national politics, it still currently has enough seats to play the role of official Opposition.
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. Nawaz Sharif, forgetting this adage, lashed out at the judiciary and the military in a white-hot rage, and is now paying the price. Squeezed by these two powerful institutions, he now faces the very real possibility of seeing his younger brother becoming the next Prime Minister. This odd reversal of fortune goes to show how volatile our politics has become, and how weakened the executive now is compared with the military, the judiciary and the media. It was always subservient to the Generals and had surrendered to the clergy, but now other actors have taken centre stage.
The rise of Imran Khan — not long ago a figure of fun in national politics — underlines the shifting patterns that have become a feature on the country’s landscape. In the 1990s, the PPP and the PML took turns at being elected, only to be turfed out by the military, the president and a compliant judiciary. The first decade of the century was dominated by Musharraf.
Then flick!, the kaleidoscope is rotated, and the bright bits of glass create an entirely new design. Imran Khan and his PTI gain traction, while the PPP is relegated to provincial status. The MQM, too, is unexpectedly cut down to size, with several factions squabbling for pole position. Though this churning may be good for democracy, it is disastrous for any sense of continuity. All three major parties have widely differing agendas, and each says it won’t support any of the others.
In the US, the two parties that have vied for power for over a century are the Republicans and the Democrats, while in the UK, it is the Conservatives and Labour that confront each other at the hustings. Despite the rise and fall of the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party, it is the Tories and Labour who have consistently faced off against each other for nearly a century.
This consistency lends society and the economy a certain continuity and predictability that we have long lacked. As soon as one party is elected, it sets about dismantling the programmes and policies of its predecessor, even if they had been successful. Then, of course, there is the Sword of Damocles — otherwise known as accountability — that hangs over the heads of defeated politicians.
In such a situation, there is every incentive for the sitting government to hang on for as long as possible. Had there been no nasty stuff awaiting them by the exit, they might not need to rig the elections to cling to power.
Recently, the Chinese delegation to the CPEC talks raised this very point as they requested some stability in our politics. The Chinese are generally very polite, so we should interpret their request as a demand. When their President is forced to cancel a state visit because Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri are staging a sit-in outside Parliament, it is a sign that the Chinese are dealing with a banana republic.
While the PPP is no longer a factor in national politics, it still currently has enough seats to play the role of official Opposition. The MQM, once kingmaker, has splintered into four factions.
But the major electoral battle will be fought in the cities and plains of Punjab. Personally, I am caught in the usual quandary: who to vote for? For obvious reasons, I could never support a religious party, and I think Imran Khan would be a disaster, given his arrogance and stubbornness. Politics is about compromise, and give and take. Military-supported parties are out, too. The PML(N)? I have never voted for it, and I think it’s far too conservative for my taste.
So like it or not, that leaves the PPP. Having voted for it for years, I now find that the stench of corruption is too strong for people of conscience to vote for a party now led by Asif Zardari. Young Bilawal, although no doubt well-intentioned, has little clout despite his title of chairman.
And yet the party has some decent, dedicated members in its upper echelons. Raza Rabbani, Aitzaz Ahsan, Farhatullah Babar, and Sherry Rehman come to mind. But until they can rescue the soul of the PPP from Zardari, it is difficult to see how I could vote for a party I have long supported.
By arrangement with Dawn