The long-awaited day is just around the corner; we are a few weeks away from election day. To citizens of a democracy, election day is meaningful for its ability to elicit hope in all corners of the country. In some circles, there is talk of idealistic, revolutionary change. In others, there are calls for an old guard to lead the way with renewed focus. Knowing us Pakistanis, virtually everyone is bound to have an opinion on the results of the May 11 elections. While these opinions will soon hit a fever pitch, none of them matter if we fail to exercise our most basic right: that of the vote. For all Pakistani voters, the takeaway from this reading is quite simple. Please vote.
But, this piece is not directed at you and I. It is not meant for the voter. Instead, it is an attempt to highlight what is bound to be the greatest challenge for our elected representatives over the next five years.
Yes, competence has been the most disconcerting feature of our democracy for the last five years. We have often shaken our heads in disbelief at decisions that have resulted in a suffering economy and repeated breaches of internal and external security. But, as an electorate, we are surely going to recognise that and vote accordingly when completing our ballots.
Of more concern is the very real prospect of a coalition government. Elections in Pakistan are never a done deal until results are announced but any astute observer will tell you that given our political system and the respective popularities of the various political parties of the country, a divided mandate is most likely.
Historically, coalition governments have spelled doom for progress in a country. Look at the example of Turkey, a country that rightfully features regularly in the Pakistani imagination. Before the ascent of the Justice and Development Party in the 2002 election, Turkey’s economy and social structures were tattered by divisive coalition governments that repeatedly failed to take action in the face of imminent trouble.
Turkey is not the only example. Repeated coalition governments landed Ireland in the mess it found itself in following the global financial crisis. The common thread is that coalition governments lead to a paralysis in decision-making at the highest level. In Pakistan, such a paralysis is the polar opposite of what the country needs.
Thus, if the most likely scenario — that of a coalition government — is realised following May 11, political maturity will be the need of the hour. Political parties will have to forget pre-election rhetoric and move to post-election implementation. This will require the single-largest party to work with other national and regional parties. It will require cooperation.
Unfortunately, such political maturity has rarely been demonstrated in mainstream Pakistani politics. Expectations are obviously low, but I am hopeful that our elected representatives will acknowledge the trust the country has placed in democracy. The stakes are high as the economy cries for better management and the country pleads for more security. None of the patchwork that lies ahead on the road to progress will be easy to implement for anybody involved. But, those we elect to complete the required patchwork will have something to look forward to. For when expectations are low, it is easiest to exceed them.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2013.
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