When the present coalition government in Islamabad had barely completed its first two years in office, demands for early elections began to emerge from some opposition parties. The same parties, time and again, have continued to insist that fresh elections are required for pulling the country out of the present situation where it faces a poor economy, bad governance, violence and chronic power shortages.
We have seen in the past that while in opposition, opposition parties have always found enough political arsenal to attack the parties in power, even when those in power have done better than many preceding governments. It is true that the role of the opposition is to criticise the government — its policies, actions and even philosophy. At the same time, however, the opposition cannot escape its own responsibility to provide the people with an alternative vision, agenda and plans that must be practical and go beyond the usual political rhetoric that we see on display on a regular basis.
In any democracy — particularly in a parliamentary one — the opposition’s role is that of a government-in-waiting. Not that the major opposition parties — the PML-N and the PTI — don’t have any plans for the country, but they need to hone them in the light of the experience of the present government, and work out the alternatives in order to usher genuine reforms in the main areas of national life. I am not sure that they are doing their homework to the best of their abilities in the face of the many challenges that Pakistan faces today.
Besides creating a legitimate government, provide a mandate for reform to those who have been elected. This mandate does not provide them with the right to rule arbitrarily. Instead, it enables them with substantive support from the general public to implement their reforms. Another fallacy that has been spread by the political executive — both provincial and federal — is that they have been elected for five years. In parliamentary systems, the executive is formed and retains power for as long as it enjoys a majority in parliament. It can lose power when it loses this majority. Practically it might be difficult for it to lose its majority because the powers and resources that is at its disposal, helps it survive the worst of crises.
The present opposition doesn’t have the numbers to dislodge the coalition at the centre. The opposition’s position is weak when we look at its representation in provinces other than Punjab. In principle, the PML-N and the PTI can demand fresh elections, with some of their critique of the federal government quite justified.
However, there are two points that they must consider. Firstly, going into elections without a viable agenda of reform will produce the same results with very little gain. Secondly, the reality is that the present political fragmentation in the country may not give any party a simple majority. A lot may happen between now and whenever elections are held, but given the present political facts, we will see a coalition government coming into power after the next elections.
For this reason alone, political parties need to think collectively in order to address national issues that are structurally complex and may require hard decisions, sacrifices and good political conduct. The demand for fresh elections without offering practical solutions to issues like water and power shortage, corruption and bad governance, may perhaps change political faces, but not our fate.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2012.