Tragically, the two most important political parties of Sindh — the PPP and the MQM — that also happen to be the second and fourth largest party, respectively, in the country, are in a state of deep disarray. Broadly, leaders of both parties are more focused on prolonging their hold rather than serving the masses. This attitude persists despite pressure from the military establishment to reform. What does this predicament mean for Sindh, democracy and the country itself?
MQM’s Chairman-for-life Altaf Hussain controls the party from abroad and is fearful that he may be dragged into courts by the military if he were to return. Nonetheless, he retains a tight grip and is impervious and authoritarian.
Asif Ali Zardari also spends considerable time abroad and tries to retain a tight grip over the party. There are short- and long-term consequences of providing this type of leadership, where governance and democratic development take a back seat.
The establishment is challenging Altaf Hussain’s policy of controlling the party from London by blocking his transmissions and preventing cadres from keeping links with him. In addition, scores of legal cases are hanging like a sword of Damocles on the party’s top leadership in England and Pakistan, further sapping its energy. The MQM is in deep disarray and in the bull’s eye of the security establishment. In these circumstances is it prepared to reform or will it continue playing the victimhood card as usual?
In the case of the PPP and the MQM, the establishment is sending a clear message that the parties must learn to survive without their top leadership. By promoting the personality cult with little to show on performance, both parties have polluted the country’s politics and yielded considerable space to the military in matters of policy and governance.
One of the major reasons for the decay in political parties is that there is no specific term for a party leader and the system of accountability is practically non-existent. A more appropriate period for a party leader should be a maximum of two terms spanning eight years. In Pakistan, party leaders have become permanent fixtures. Their hold is so pervasive and absolute that it destroys the very concept of democracy and prevents the development of an alternative leadership and the injection of new ideas.
Appointing a president or party chairman for life robs the party of its future leaders and breeds stagnation. Progressive and forward-looking political parties groom young leadership and create conditions that facilitate the smooth transition of power.
The leaders of Sindh’s political parties have to ask themselves what they have done to improve the destiny of their people. What is the level of interest or contribution of these leaders in improving the economy and providing services for the province or contributing to the lives of the people?
The establishment, by focusing solely on the performance of the MQM and the PPP, further accentuates their martyr syndrome. It creates the impression that they are being discriminated against and the establishment looks the other way when it comes to Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Sindh government, however, cannot use this as a cover to hide their failures in governance and indifference towards corruption. Sindh’s economic governance remains very weak and has given rise to great disillusionment among the masses in general and the youth in particular.
With its current leadership, the PPP is highly unlikely to improve its governance or take bold measures towards reducing corruption. It has become common practise to hike the prices of contracts or purchases and use that for buying the loyalty of key figures in the system.
The MQM seems entirely focused on saving Altaf Hussain from prosecution and his pending cases in the court. Considering his health condition and preoccupation with serious court cases in the UK and Pakistan, it was expected he would in his own lifetime arrange a smooth democratic transition to a younger generation of leadership. On the contrary, there are no signs of his leaving office and he continues to use political and street power to protect himself with scant regard for its adverse impact on the party and the province.
It is sad; because the MQM’s contribution could have been significant considering that the party cadres are comparatively better educated, highly dedicated and are from the grass roots. Moreover, the MQM needs to live up to its commitment of transforming from an ethnic to a national political party. There is nothing to show this on ground. In fact, with its current policies it is becoming more isolationist and too parochial. It is still not clear whether it has taken a firm decision to disband its militant wing, as this is incompatible with democratic principles.
Similarly, Asif Ali Zardari is unwilling to pass the mantle to anyone else while the party melts. Even if he were to retain the leadership for a while, he should allow the top tier of his party to play an effective role in rejuvenating it. Whereas Qaim Ali Shah may be doing the best he can at his age, it is unfair to deprive the younger leadership of assuming the reins of power in the province. Retaining the old order gives an impression that it is being perpetuated to protect personal rather than the people’s interest. Such acts only serve to strengthen the establishment’s hold on Sindh.
The MQM’s adversarial relations with the PPP, coupled with poor overall performance by the Sindh government, has cost both the parties and necessitated that the establishment dig its heels in Karachi and Sindh.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2016.
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