Tug of war

Secret ballot has spurred both camps into activity, which may not necessarily stay within the limits of legitimacy

March 11, 2021

The tug of war between the government and the opposition is getting more and more intense. And it’s not at all a healthy contest — for either side, or for democracy, or the country and its people. Foul play is rife — evident in both the Daska bye-election on February 19 and the March 3 Senate vote. Standards of political morality have fallen further. Departure from democratic norms is no big deal. Blame-game is pretty customary. Principles are only being followed so long as they make political sense. Legitimacy? Who cares! Victory at all costs is the motto. What matters is the end result. Means are meaningless.

The government has to avenge the March 3 shock. And the combined opposition, i.e. the PDM, is aiming to pile on the agony so as to weaken the government further. Senate is the battleground yet again, and the event is the election of chairman, scheduled for March 12. The opposition has once again fielded the tried and tested Yousaf Raza Gillani in its bid to dethrone the incumbent, Sadiq Sanjrani. The joint opposition enjoys a three-member edge over the government and its allies in the 100-strong upper house. If all the members vote on the party line, Gillani should remove Sanjrani from the helm. The equation is as simple as that. But mind you it’s going to be a secret ballot. Who knows it’s time for the PDM to take the shock!

Secret ballot has spurred both camps into activity, which may not necessarily stay within the limits of legitimacy and legality. Acrimony has already breached the bounds of decency. Intense debates are tolerable — perhaps verbal salvos too. But the political duel has turned physical. Only recently, a couple of senior PML-N leaders, allegedly attacked by dozens of PTI supporters, had to test their physical strength too, even though democracy is all about numerical strength. And these fights for pure political gains are sold to the voters as holy encounters — between good and bad, vices and virtues, the pious and the sinner. Allegations and counter-allegations have confused the masses, in which the reality has gone missing like a needle in a haystack.

Coming back to the approaching Senate chairman election, the result is bound to add to the hostility — and thus the political chaos in the country. No side will accept the other’s victory as legitimate. All efforts will be made to turn it controversial. And then there will be re-polling in Daska bye-election, on March 18, in the same charged-up environment. All this forms the build-up to PDM’s “long march” against the government scheduled to start from March 26. That the country cannot afford such hostility cannot be over-emphasised. The government and the opposition should come to the dialogue table and start off with working on a package of electoral reforms, besides making practical contribution towards its implementation in order to ensure supremacy of the vote in line with the Constitution. Given that the government has a bigger stake in the system, the PM should take the initiative and offer dialogue to the opposition.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2021.

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