Accountability or compromise?

The necessary, bold and must-to-do decisions in national interest are not possible when elites are corrupt

Rasul Bakhsh Rais October 31, 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)

True, democracy cannot function without compromise, following a path of conciliation and reaching collective decisions. That is briefly the essence of democratic order. Keeping in view the conventions, experience and political norms of mature democratic nations, we can raise this question; which are the issues where conciliation can be the right course and where it doesn’t? In democracies, we take collective decisions to solve national problems through deliberative policies. On critical national issues, and we have so many piled up in a big heap, we need to create consensus. Reaching agreements on how to solve problems depends on the political atmosphere, the chemistry between the ruling party and the opposition parties, and the agenda of the government. In Pakistan, pursuing consensual politics has always been difficult because of personalised nature of politics, and a destabilising tradition of opposition-for-the-sake opposition. However, it is the moral and political responsibility of the party in power to reach out to the opposition parties.

In the past, we have seen the national political parties working out solution of national issues together — 18th Amendment, and restoring the parliamentary character of the constitution. The scope of the general political settlements between the governing parties and the opposition has been very narrow, tangential and infrequent. The reason? Political opportunism displayed again and again by all sides of the power politics. The elected governments have hesitated to enact laws and undertake reforms — knowing they were necessary for national wellbeing—fearing that opposition would exploit grievances of the affected sections to its favour. Accountability and privatisation of public entities causing enormous loss to the nation are some of those problems. This is not the spirit of democracy, which must function for public good, disregarding political outcomes.

The necessary, bold and must-to-do decisions in national interest are not possible when elites are corrupt. For them, staying in power by all means necessary, and while in opposition, to retain a collective bargaining influence, becomes strategic tools to hold off any measure to conduct accountability. We have seen this game being played repeatedly in the past.

The widespread corruption in every layer of the power structure and high-risk politics of going after the corrupt in powerful position has compromised every rule, every law and every institution. Emanating from this politics, the social values, norms, culture and attitudes become disoriented. Overlooking corruption or compromising on accountability tears the moral fabric of society, as it has happened in Pakistani society. An ordered state of corrupt power structure produces a morally corrupt society, where the evil, the wicked, the bad guys become respectful, powerful, and even graduate to leadership position of enormous influence.

Corruption in high places has seeped into every middle and low place in society. The state and society reinforcing negative attitudes have touched the lowest point. The challenge before the government with change-agenda is, how to reverse the politics expediency. We see the intents and declarations from the opposition and the government becoming clearly clashing, as the familiar political figures from the two major political parties face accountability. As usual, the opposition is ganging up against accountability and the Kaptaan wants to go ahead with it at any cost. This is inevitable, has to be so. What comes out of this clash, will determine the future of Pakistan. The choice is between the rule of law and lawless elite politics, the later protecting the corrupt.

In the present conditions of Pakistan, accountability of the corrupt, whosoever he is, is not choice, it is a necessity for true democracy, development, justice and social stability. Sooner it is done, the better.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2018.

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Max | 5 years ago | Reply Agree with Professor Rais. We need to have consensus on national matters. To develop a consensual environment we have to take several "U-turns," think of national issues above horizontal and vertical cleavages. This requires a lot of effort, a certain level of maturity, and thinking of issues above personal egos. Good job Professor Rais, keep it up.
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