Seeking a fresh mandate

Published: April 17, 2012

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

When the present coalition government in Islamabad had barely completed its first two years in office, demands for early elections began to emerge from some opposition parties. The same parties, time and again, have continued to insist that fresh elections are required for pulling the country out of the present situation where it faces a poor economy, bad governance, violence and chronic power shortages.

We have seen in the past that while in opposition, opposition parties have always found enough political arsenal to attack the parties in power, even when those in power have done better than many preceding governments. It is true that the role of the opposition is to criticise the government — its policies, actions and even philosophy. At the same time, however, the opposition cannot escape its own responsibility to provide the people with an alternative vision, agenda and plans that must be practical and go beyond the usual political rhetoric that we see on display on a regular basis.

In any democracy — particularly in a parliamentary one — the opposition’s role is that of a government-in-waiting. Not that the major opposition parties — the PML-N and the PTI — don’t have any plans for the country, but they need to hone them in the light of the experience of the present government, and work out the alternatives in order to usher genuine reforms in the main areas of national life. I am not sure that they are doing their homework to the best of their abilities in the face of the many challenges that Pakistan faces today.

Besides creating a legitimate government, provide a mandate for reform to those who have been elected. This mandate does not provide them with the right to rule arbitrarily. Instead, it enables them with substantive support from the general public to implement their reforms. Another fallacy that has been spread by the political executive — both provincial and federal — is that they have been elected for five years. In parliamentary systems, the executive is formed and retains power for as long as it enjoys a majority in parliament. It can lose power when it loses this majority. Practically it might be difficult for it to lose its majority because the powers and resources that is at its disposal, helps it survive the worst of crises.

The present opposition doesn’t have the numbers to dislodge the coalition at the centre. The opposition’s position is weak when we look at its representation in provinces other than Punjab. In principle, the PML-N and the PTI can demand fresh elections, with some of their critique of the federal government quite justified.

However, there are two points that they must consider. Firstly, going into elections without a viable agenda of reform will produce the same results with very little gain. Secondly, the reality is that the present political fragmentation in the country may not give any party a simple majority. A lot may happen between now and whenever elections are held, but given the present political facts, we will see a coalition government coming into power after the next elections.

For this reason alone, political parties need to think collectively in order to address national issues that are structurally complex and may require hard decisions, sacrifices and good political conduct. The demand for fresh elections without offering practical solutions to issues like water and power shortage, corruption and bad governance, may perhaps change political faces, but not our fate.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2012.

Reader Comments (15)

  • Max
    Apr 17, 2012 - 1:19AM

    Pakistan wants everything fast and quick be it garama garam halwa or power elites. Democracy needs patience, institutionalization, periodic elections, and empowerment of people. These are the things that Pakistan lacks. As far opposition or the political leadership as whole, they all are self-centered, self-serving, parochial, and strongly believe in themselves than the institutions. I wish things may change but I do not any indication in that direction.

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  • Balochzada
    Apr 17, 2012 - 1:34AM

    Every chronic issue is addressed adequately by the opposition parties before every general elections in order to gain maximum electoral gains. However, in the past, this exercise has not produced substantive results; it has proved to be just rhetoric. Pakisatnis are again pessimistic about their future, but this time they are linking their fate to the winds of change and to an overthrow of the traditional politics. What else a common citizen in this country can do!!

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  • Mirza
    Apr 17, 2012 - 1:40AM

    Very pragmatic and balanced Op Ed. Of course the next govt is also going to be a coalition govt because no pary excpt PPP is a national party. Every party has its strength in different areas of the country from North to South and in between. We have to provide representation to each and every province and major parties. I agree with you that the next election results are not going to be much different from the last. PTI would emerge as a force at the expense of PML-N and PML-Q mostly.

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  • Pakistani first
    Apr 17, 2012 - 7:17AM

    @Mirza:
    Our people might be illiterate but they are not sheep. Everybody knows that this is the worst government in the history of Pakistan and it will only get worse if re-elected. Nobody is going to vote for looters and liars. Have faith.

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  • Falcon
    Apr 17, 2012 - 7:41AM

    Although Mr. Raees Bakhsh is correct in pointing out that opposition needs to do more leg work to be ready for govt, it would have been good to see his thoughts on some positive initiatives that are already in progress and have been published such as PTI energy program, devolution and rural development program, and bottom up party elections (for the first time in any big democratic party other than JI). Furthermore, initiatives such as education program, law and order program, and fiscal management programs of PTI are in the pipeline as well.

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  • Rao
    Apr 17, 2012 - 8:54AM

    Power hunger ruling class and opposition, neither now nor in the future, can bring fair agenda,cannot bring progress at grass root level,will never sacrifice,however will remain self-centred as usual, there is no good hope for the good future of Pakistan, during the last 4 years all ahve been exposed, politicians, security forces etc.

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  • riaz
    Apr 17, 2012 - 10:27AM

    poor economy,bad governance, violence, and power shortage is well known situation of our country Mr,Rais has pointed out,being an expert he must sujest solution to pull out country form present solution,only delay in election is not the solution, I think main cause of the situation is corruption, overall the cause of effect is selfishness, the reforms needed are that how to transform selfish people to selfless/ honest.

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  • Qasim
    Apr 17, 2012 - 11:11AM

    Deamand for fresh elections/selection is not so much for “problem resolution” but to grab power at any cost. The rulers (past and present) on the other hand want to prolong their stay as much as possible to continue expliotation at the cost of miserable souls.

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  • Mirza
    Apr 17, 2012 - 11:15AM

    @Rao:
    Sir, the whole fabric of the society is rotten to the core. Unless people change nothing would. The rulers are representing the people, they are not aliens, they are all the same.
    I can appreciate your frustration let us hope and work for the betterment.
    Regards,
    Mirza

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  • Zoaib
    Apr 17, 2012 - 12:04PM

    I think a lot WILL happen before the elections and which could provide the necessary WAVE for a party like PTI to manage a clear majority without the need for coalitions. But as with everything, time will tell…

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  • Rao
    Apr 17, 2012 - 1:58PM

    @ MIRZA

    Every body has the freedom of expression.
    reality seems to you a FRUSTRATION, strange.
    Go and visit the small towns, cities and villages, you will be more bitter.
    From top to bottom nothing except mess, so people’s revolution only can clean up this mess

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  • Usmani
    Apr 17, 2012 - 4:01PM

    Pakistan is caught in the horn lock.Illiterate and uneducated people not suits to democracy.A honest and selfless political class could only be pushed forward where there is educated population. Once a sincere political class emerge then the question arises what kind of viable agenda they possesses.
    Unless we educate our people and give them enough sensibility and vision, they would be unable to elect a clean and visionary leadership.Till that time pakistan will remain muddle around for a foreseeable future.

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  • Falcon
    Apr 17, 2012 - 6:12PM

    @Rao:
    I think you misunderstood Mirza Sahib. All he is saying that a ruling class of every nation is a subset of the population and therefore is similar to them in characteristics. Most of us Pakistanis blame govt. for everything without realizing how we ourselves are contributing to the problem and most importantly, how can we make things better. Once sincere people get out of drawing room discussions and come on the streets to change Pakistan (in whatever way possible), we will certainly see a difference. So let’s do all we can do for our country and things will get better.

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  • jamal
    Apr 17, 2012 - 6:15PM

    theory that illitrate pakistanis are not worthy a democratic system boils my blood.as if in india, they did a litracy census in 1947 and decided that india is ripe for democracy but pakistan will have to wait for another 1000 years.

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  • Bilal
    Apr 23, 2012 - 9:41AM

    At the moment the only viable solution for Pakistan seems be to have pti in power and that would only come if they form some sort of a loose coalition with the pml-n instead of scavanging each other’s vote bank and letting ppp with it’s current leadership win. Otherwise we see little progress. Pti will hv to come to terms with the reality of usefulness of parternring to achieve a higher purpose. Later if the views dnt conform, pti could exit or gain from the experience from the coalition. The best bet would be pti sitting in opposition for a while.

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