Pakistan is fast slipping into an abyss. Political, economic and institutional governance in the last four years has been the worst in our history. The economy is stuck in a trap of low growth, high inflation and rising unemployment and poverty. The federal and provincial governments are broke, collect too little taxes, spend unwisely and are excessively under debt. Because of politicisation of transfers and promotions, the already weak civil institutions are close to becoming dysfunctional. Pakistan is facing acute energy shortages, made worse by this government’s ineptness. Important state-owned enterprises have been run into the ground because of appointments of jiyalas to their boards and management. The next government will inherit a Pakistan that will have run out of soft options and there will be no quick or easy solutions to fix its problems; it will be in a deep hole, where the federating units will be at each other’s throats for resources and turf.
Most citizens are disenchanted with the present ‘status quo’ political system, due to its inability to address key challenges facing Pakistan. The mainstream parties have contributed to derailing Pakistan from the track of a stable and functioning democracy.
Getting out of this deep hole would require a paradigm shift in the following drivers of national transformation; leadership, governance, policies and institutions. Good performance on these four factors was the driver of change in the dozen or so developing countries which have dramatically reduced poverty, significantly improved people’s quality of life and have had sustained high growth. Most citizens are finally recognising that the mainstream political parties have repeatedly been tried and tested and have failed miserably.
There is widespread sentiment that the PTI is the only party on the political landscape that can bring about transformation in the quality of leadership, governance and institutions. Imran Khan’s message of hope and change has captured the imagination and passion of millions, especially the youth. People see Khan as having the will and conviction to establish rule of law, a merit-based government and as being the only leader who can curb corruption in high offices and stop the rot at the top which has had a destructive effect on the economy and institutions.
While the PTI cannot immediately change some harsh realities on the ground, Khan can galvanise public opinion to bear the sacrifices necessary to bring about transformation. By setting a personal example of being an honest taxpayer and starting a crusade against wasteful expenditures, Imran Khan should be able to mobilise public opinion for raising taxes. This would not only provide much needed resources for development, but also reduce the shameful ‘begging bowl’ syndrome and excessive dependence on foreign assistance that other parties have been pursuing for decades. Unlike other leaders, totally beholden to outside powers to protect their ill-gotten overseas assets and resident visa status, Imran Khan will be better able to protect Pakistan’s interests.
A majority of the polls indicate a strong desire in people to support the PTI, but their ability to vote for change is hamstrung by the current election process and the rules which are fundamentally flawed and ‘intentionally designed’ to ensure that the corrupt and ‘vested interest captured’ parties and politicians get elected over and over again. If the present mainstream parties are back in government again, Pakistan will remain stuck in this deep economic malaise. Therefore, in order to get out of the deep hole, it is incumbent on the Supreme Court to urgently mandate changes in election rules to enable citizens to vote for change and minimise repeated capture of democracy by crooks and criminals.
Many recent political revolutions — the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Tulip in Kyrgyzstan, the Rose in Georgia, Arab Spring in the Middle East and ‘Yes We Can’ in the US — have ended in disappointment. The PTI’s tsunami will also face daunting roadblocks. Provided it stays the course on its core values, it is the only party that can to stop the haemorrhage and give Pakistan the chance of climbing out of the deep hole through the ballot.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2012.
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