The politics of losing gracefully

Democracy is not always civil.Sometimes you can only exhibit grace by being uncivil,so be loud, noisy, messy and fight

Osama Siddiqui May 14, 2013
A new talking point is emerging in post-election Pakistan, which goes something like this: Do not mention or say anything about vote-rigging because even to imply such a thing means one is being “ungracious” in defeat.

As reports of voter fraud and rigging started to emerge, self-appointed champions of democracy rushed to social media to say that it was best to forget about it and lose gracefully.

One former high-ranked PPP official pointed out that in 2008, his party had overlooked similar voting controversies in the name of “reconciliation.”

Another official expressed wonderment at why there was so much fuss over one seat. After all, one seat would hardly make a difference, would it?

Their points are well-taken. One or two seats will not have an effect on this election’s outcome. The voters have given Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) a strong mandate, and nothing will change that.

But, here is why vote-rigging does matter- democracy is not just about having an election.  Even Saddam’s Iraq had elections. Even Stalin’s Soviet Russia had elections.

Instead, democracy is about a shared feeling between citizens. For it to work, we all have to believe it works. Voters need to have confidence in the democratic process. They need to know that the process was fair and legitimate. Without this shared confidence, you don’t have democracy. You just have a silly ritual where people are putting their thumbprints on pieces of paper.

To quote Tom Stoppard,
“It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting.”

So, even if a lone polling station in a single constituency was compromised, it needs to be investigated thoroughly. In the interests of a democratic Pakistan, all parties should be working to alleviate the concerns of voters who feel cheated, rather than dismissing them as “sore losers”.

This brings me to a second all-too-common talking point, which is the constant exhortation to be “civil”. Anybody who expresses any legitimate anger over an unjust situation is promptly told to be civil.

Here’s a secret, democracies are not always civil. The democratic public sphere, by nature, is loud, noisy and messy and, yes, at times, downright rude. That is how it should be. When the diverse citizens of a multicultural nation all clamour to raise their voices at once, there is bound to be incivility.

There’s nothing graceful about remaining silent or stoic in the face of injustice. Telling people to be ‘civil’ is often a way to exclude them for not adhering to elite or middle class norms of sociability. It’s a way to say,
“I don’t want to acknowledge your anger.”

But, anger can sometimes be useful and productive, even necessary. As Arundhati Roy put it in a response to those who tell her to tone down her rhetoric,
 “[They say] Shhhh…you’ll wake the neighbours! Well, I want to wake the neighbours. That’s my whole point.”

Indeed, sometimes you have to be loud enough to wake the neighbours. Sometimes, you can only exhibit grace by being uncivil. This might be one of those times.
Osama Siddiqui A doctoral candidate at Cornell University where he works on the history of the British Empire in South Asia. He has previously lived and worked in Britain and Canada.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Abid P. Khan | 10 years ago | Reply @observer: "Is voting a right for women too? Specially the women of KPK? And, does the usurpation of this right by the menfolk constitute rigging? If yes, will PTI demand a recast in KPK? And, will they also ensure the ANP supporters get to vote too?" . Time for women not just from Dir, but all other places in the world, to realise, anywhere from California to Pakistan, with fatherhood of their children claimed or unclaimed, what future would look like under the PTT+PTI rule. . Women, go back to the kitchen and make dinner for the maalik of the household.
Sana | 10 years ago | Reply I really wish people would stop being so divided over this issue. Everyone has an opinion and a side they are on but WHY do we forget that first and foremost this is all about Pakistan and its democraxy? The PTI supporters have every right to protest against what they think is unjust, they are going to the ECP and the higher courts, they are taking every measure they can take to make sure justice is served, but I don't understand why the supporters of the winning party feel the need to degrade our efforts. what we want is justice and not a victory served to us on a platter. People need to just chill out and stop criticizing the other party. This is the fault of the system that we are all just trying to fix, so pointing fingers at one another and demeaning someones cause is just ridiculous. If one party wants to protest against rigging its their right and no one should criticize it, anyone who does obviously doesn't know the D of Democracy. and hey on the other hand if someone wants to protest and say everything was just and fair they can protest against the i have any takers? I sincerely doubt anyone will tell me that they think this whole election process was a 100% fair. People who have a problem are dealing with it, and people who have won should just sit back and enjoy their win since they are a 100% sure they won fair and square.
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