Cracking jokes at a funeral wouldn’t go down well. It’s misjudging the audience entirely. It seems that the PPP has been doing just that recently, unable to gauge the mood of Pakistan.
The PPP’s grand narrative has always been that it’s a victim of a non-representative establishment, that its sacrifices can be measured in its blood spilled. There is, of course, a lot of truth to this. It also partly explains why it is such a good party when it sits in the opposition benches; it fits perfectly into the persuasive argument that it has been victimised because it champions the voiceless.
This falls apart when it is in government, especially this time around. The PPP is given to making noises about being the victim, even now as it’s a powerful entity with a pacified army and an ineffectual but needling Supreme Court. It rings hollow when one has a majority in parliament and the vast dispensation of the government at its disposal.
Of course, one of the reasons it chooses to keep parroting the victim line is to preempt moves by the army and the judiciary. In so far as that is concerned, it’s a valid strategy given their partisanship. But the line the party pushes to the electorate to shore support against the possible moves of those two organs of state is not easily delineated from its poor record of governance, which in fact aggravates voters.
To the lower and middle classes, it becomes a case of heightened cognitive dissonance when the most powerful element of society in government claims to be the underdog. It’s putting the elites in the verbal garb of the working classes — but the language is weak and skimpy, revealing too much.
While the army and the Supreme Court continue to pick their battles with the government, the fact is that they are relatively circumspect in playing an absolute endgame and this is an advantage for the PPP. The two institutions seem to know that the era for explicitly bringing down the dispensation of democracy is over at least for now, if not forever.
While the PPP battles moves against it by the forces and the judiciary, this should be no excuse for its appallingly poor record of governance and of running the country. In its interactions with the media or the public, the PPP comes across as addicts to ad hocism, bereft of any real strategy. Their two main articulations, ‘democracy is the best revenge’ and ‘reconciliation’, are not indicative of any grand vision. In fact, reconciliation remains the more widely abused term of the two. The PPP has used it to justify the wide berth and low standards expected of their legislators and coalition partners.
While the party remains true to form as a progressive party not given to the emotional mumbo jumbo of the nationalists, it is in government at a time when there have been atrocious incidents against minorities and continuing bouts of sectarian violence. The PPP is not moving decisively partly because it does not want to anger the army, somewhat pacified by extensions. The PPP is not abducting the Baloch, but it is watching it happen and doing nothing to stop it.
Because of the preeminence of the victimhood doctrine, the Peoples Party has been poor in championing successes it has had. In its extraordinarily difficult first two years of its current term, which would have crippled any other government, there has been a relative stabilisation in security and the economy, or at the very least, the seemingly breakneck downward spiral has slowed. Whether this stabilisation can be attributed solely to the party being at the helm is another question altogether.
In the media, the PPP does enjoy one luxury and that is support in some quarters largely because the other option — doing away with democracy — is untenable. That said, the victimhood doctrine preempts the necessary evaluation that could be posed by a legitimate critique of poor performance which is sidetracked by questioning the motives of those making the criticism.
Despite all of this, at this stage it looks like the PPP will be assured another term thanks to a perfect storm of variables in its favour. One, the PTI and the PML-N are more focused against each other than the incumbents and two, the PPP is likely to use this budget as a populist tool. A last push to appease voters through better governance doesn’t seem to be on the cards, and if the PPP is voted in the next time round it won’t bode well because to its leadership, this will appear as if incompetence has been rewarded. Be it railways, electricity, law and order, the list is endless.
The fact is, the PPP needs to lose this election. First for the country, they need to get their act together and the only spur to that would be voters expressing disenchantment. Second, it needs to survive as a party because of its comparatively national nature. Compelling as the idea may be to its leadership, the steam engine of government does not run on empty rhetoric. The unprecedented rise in poverty can only be stemmed with a strong government that has vision, not one that thinks printing money is a solution.
Rather than listening to the blunderbuss that is Rehman Malik and others, the party could do well to pay heed to Bashir Bilour, who said at a cabinet meeting, “Forget about the next elections if you keep providing people an excuse to burn effigies of politicians in protest against 16-18 hours of power cuts.” Exactly.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2012.