In a way this article is an extension of my last column tilted “Change, What Change?” published in this newspaper on March 8. The theme of that piece was Pakistan’s slow-changing or not-changing political landscape. Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), were mentioned in the context of the claims that the party constantly makes about turning the tables on traditional power structures. Some readers wrongly thought this to mean projection of the PTI as a real change maker. They are entitled to their opinion, but that was not the intent and the focus of my argument. To analyse is not to endorse or even reject; it is to explain.
But let us focus more deliberately on Imran Khan’s aspirations to further the debate about the immediate possibility of this country breaking free of the dead hand of a dysfunctional system, whose core value and purpose seem to be to perpetuate personal power of the few at the expense of a toiling and an increasingly despairing majority. Imran Khan’s promise to change the tectonic plates of our national politics has recently been jolted by the elections of Senate chairman and deputy chairman — both die hard PPP loyalists. The Opposition did not contest the election for even symbolic reasons. This exemplified solidification of the existing political interests, which otherwise on talk shows come across as bitterly divided, whose representatives cannot wait to punch the other in the face, sometimes quite literally.
This way, the election of Senate chairman and deputy chairman demonstrate the flexibility that sworn enemies — in this case the PPP and the PML-N — can show under the exigencies of circumstances. The two along with the others joined hands and made the result of the election a resounding success.
As a professed prophet of revolution whose followers are already bugling their arrival on the shores of success, Imran Khan has to have an answer to this coming-together of the traditional power elite to preserve their jurisdiction. This coming-together of the established parties has already blocked one avenue for Mr Khan — the Senate. This is a structural impediment to changing the course of national politics as Imran Khan claims he would. The Senate would remain the same, at least for some years, regardless of what happens in the elections for the national and provincial assemblies, which may be called by the end of this year. Even if we were to assume that the PTI, for whatever reason, is set to sweep the next elections, the Senate would remain a no go area, dominated and run by the existing set of parties. No legislative agenda would pass through without conceding to their demands and accepting their centrality in the system. So much for the idea of change.
But even the dreamy-eyed prospects of PTI doing exceptionally well at the polls for the national and provincial assemblies look extraordinarily difficult. The system and the process under which these elections are to be held is now decided through the Twentieth Amendment. Barring a few procedural objections here and there, the pitch for the coming polls is prepared by President Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif. This pitch has not been made to support PTI’s in-dippers. The wicket would be made to support what largely seems like a match fixed for the existing players to win.
On top of these odds is PTI’s persistent problems of party organisation. PTI has a ‘work in progress’ board hanging outside its offices. The influx of heavy weights has not, yet, translated into the momentum to cause the apocalyptic tsunami that Imran Khan always talks about. For all these reasons, the national political scene is shaping up to look like ‘more of the same’.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2012.
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