Parliament is sovereign but…

Dirty politics is to produce more dirt, more hate and more confrontation


Rasul Bakhsh Rais February 21, 2018
The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS, Lahore. His recent book is Imagining Pakistan: Modernism, State and the Politics of Islamic Revival (Lexington Books, 2017)

The Sharif family and their political allies within the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz are angry, saddened and annoyed over Panama case conviction on account of maintaining a residency status abroad as a prime minister of Pakistan. The decision of the Supreme Court to disqualify Nawaz Sharif from holding a public office sent shockwaves through the ruling party. While ostensibly ‘accepting’ the decision, they trained their political guns towards the judiciary as an institution. In between their rants and invectives, they have targeted some judges of the Supreme Court, questioned their legitimacy for having taken oath of office under the Provisional Constitutional Order of General Pervez Musharraf. Lately, Nawaz himself and his daughter Maryam have used threatening and condemning language against the chief justice of Pakistan.

It is abundantly clear that the PML-N has adopted a well-planned strategy to prevent the political dynasty from collapsing or withering away under the weight of the Iqama conviction of Nawaz. It has roughly three elements. First, they have not only been publicly questioning the constitutionality of the decision, but also characterising the Supreme Court as partisan, unfair, vindictive and revengeful. Never have they furnished any good reason to explain why the Supreme Court would be revengeful towards the Sharifs. The revenge theory, in my opinion, is as bogus and meant to fool the ordinary people. Insinuatingly, many a time, the political dynasties when in legal and political trouble mainly on account of corruption have found escape in the conspiracy hatched by the ‘enemies’ of democracy. In simple translation, the reference is to the security establishment — the intelligence agencies and the armed forces.

Second, the PML-N has decided to run the campaign for the next elections on grounds of ‘victimhood’. The narrative of innocence and victimisation of very ‘clean’ and ‘popular’, ‘democratic’ leader not once but three times during the past three decades by the combined forces of judiciary and the security establishment has some resonance within the PML-N constituency. It is true to the extent that an aggressive and frontal attack against the judiciary day and night from print to electronic media and from all forums — from seminars to parliament has created an image of Nawaz as a resilient fighter. The mantra of him being committed to an ‘ideology’, a political purpose and selfless pursuit of democratic rights of the people has generated a ray of hope and much-needed confidence within the party rank and file that Nawaz and his party can politically survive the third dismissal.

Third, the party has used the parliamentary majority to rewrite the electoral laws, amending provisions which disallowed a convict from leading a political party. There cannot be a worse use of a ‘sovereign’ parliament to make laws that would benefit a single person — and a convict. The reaction is not going to be different — if this law is struck down as unconstitutional, which is likely to happen. In democracy, conviction by any court would qualify a convict to lead a political party with the objective of seeking and acquiring power.

We know, politics can be ‘dirty’ and when that happens, it leaves no boundaries. We have got into a no-holds-barred political patch when targeting the judiciary for taking independent decisions, political opponents, their private lives, threats of violence, fake news and misuse of power to gain and stay in power have become a stronger norm of political culture. But it is a desperate, high-risk political game that can push the state and society into chaos. Dirty politics is to produce more dirt, more hate and more confrontation.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2018.

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COMMENTS (4)

Max | 3 years ago | Reply Not sure what to make of political developments in the country. Looks like everyone is trying to have a larger share of the pie without thinking disastrous outcomes for the country, and deinstitutionalization of the the political systems.
PrakashG | 3 years ago | Reply "In simple translation, the reference is to the security establishment" And why would NS be necessarily wrong about that?
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