Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri & a dharna

Published: May 11, 2014
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The writer used to host a show on Express TV and works as a consulting editor at The Friday Times

The writer used to host a show on Express TV and works as a consulting editor at The Friday Times

Pakistan’s electoral system is far from perfect. Like most other state functions, electoral laws and practices need to be reformed. In a democracy, this is to be undertaken by the legislature and through a multiparty consensus. The allegations of rigging since May 2013 are all too familiar. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which garnered 19 per cent of the total votes (and fewer seats in the National Assembly) has been crying foul of ‘massive rigging’. Now exactly after a year of elections, and quite cynically exercising power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the party is launching a protest through a sit-in in Islamabad. Concurrently, another self-styled reformer, Dr Tahirul Qadri, is also launching a protest against the ‘system’. We all have serious reservations about the ‘system’ but the alternative provided by Dr Qadri is vague as well as populist.

These two protests come in the wake of recent tensions between the civilians and the military. Given Pakistan’s history, the PTI’s protest and the return of Dr Qadri from the safe environs of Canada are termed being ‘sponsored’. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of this perception. However, the timing of these protests against the credibility of a parliament — of which the PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, are part of — is somewhat problematic. This time the responsibility of rigging is being termed a collusive project of the ruling PML-N, the judiciary and the largest television network, ie, Geo Tv.

The timing of PTI’s protests raises several questions. In the first place, why wait a year to challenge the election results? Why form a government in a province, become part of the assemblies, and then choose the street agitation route? Most importantly, despite the lapse of a year, substantive proposals were submitted in the National Assembly by the PTI to improve and fix the electoral system? It becomes even more intriguing that one agitated party is challenging the legitimacy of last year’s election results while the other, led by Dr Qadri, is questioning the rationale to have a parliamentary democracy itself.

Making matters more complicated, there is little or no interest by the PTI, as the second largest political party, to scrutinise the performance of the PML-N’s one year in office. Imran Khan and his party are also not offering any idea of how well they have performed in K-P compared to, say, the PML-N or the PPP. Take the case of local government elections, which according to the PTI’s manifesto, were supposed to take place within 90 days of assuming power. How has the PTI behaved any differently from the PPP or the PML-N by delaying these elections when it has used the rhetoric of local service delivery, justice at the doorstep and anti-corruption reform time and again?

These questions lead to the skepticism over the method and timing of the protests. While the PTI cadres are all excited about another show of force in Islamabad, others are worried what this political instability means for the country. The civil and military pillars of the power matrix don’t appear to be comfortable with each other. Media freedoms are under attack. Pakistan is inching towards a pariah state due to the growing cases of poliovirus and the alarming statements of the World Health Organisation that Pakistanis would need vaccination before travelling abroad. Terrorism has not vanished nor has the insecurity among the public.

This behaviour by the political elite is not too surprising either. We are quick to blame the military for its interventions in politics and for its perennial engineering of the political system. But should the politicians not answer for their apparent lack of interest in the democratic project? What has stopped the PML-N to open parleys with its foe — the PTI — and attempt a negotiated settlement? And why is Imran Khan not learning anything from our history where such confrontations create even more space for the ‘third force’ to intervene?

The PTI’s strategy to mount pressure on the courts is also a result of populism that has influenced the notion of ‘justice’ in Pakistan. The last few years have witnessed courts responding to, or engaging with, the media and taking up causes to placate the ‘public opinion’. A few judgments have also stated that expectations of the people are a factor in adjudication. This has created an opening and the PTI is only using that lever. Of course, this is not what the courts may wish to — and should not — deal with.

Hypothetically, the success of Dr Qadri’s mission would be the end of the current system of parliamentary democracy. Is that what Imran Khan wants? Definitely not. So this may be a calculated risk to augment pressure on the Nawaz government and in the process, endear the segments within the establishment that are annoyed with the government. As a short-term strategy it may work, but it is ultimately going to interrupt or even reverse the democratic transition that commenced in February 2008. Unlike Dr Qadri who has no real systemic stakes, the PTI must chart its course with caution. It should be focusing on the next election and push for electoral reforms and transparent methods of balloting rather than wasting its energies on populist, risky adventures. Neither a midterm election nor a coup d’état guarantees that the PTI will be in power anytime soon.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • Zulfikar Cheema
    May 11, 2014 - 2:19AM

    My Dear Raza, I respect you a lot (you are a brave young man) even though I do not agree with your point of view. The problem with your thesis is that its basic foundation; that we are a democracy, is flawed. My dear it is a kleptocracy. Here is the definition from wiki for those who refuse to heed.

    :Kleptocracy, alternatively cleptocracy or kleptarchy, (from Greek: κλέπτης – kleptēs, “thief”[1] and κράτος – kratos, “power, rule”,[2] hence “rule by thieves”) is a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often with pretense of honest service. This type of government corruption is often achieved by the embezzlement of state funds.”

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  • Arsalan
    May 11, 2014 - 2:43AM

    What a disappointing article. It reflect a lazy intelligentsia wishing for conditions to change without struggle. Mr. Rumi, had never expected you to be one of those ‘mitti pao tay agay challo types?’

    You ask why now after a year? The answer is simple. They have gone to every forum available – Election Commission, Special Tribunals, Supreme Court, the National Assembly, to get the issue of election rigging address. The result has been nothing.

    Intriguing that your pen comes into action against those protesting at election rigging, rather than those who perpetrated it. The real threat to democracy, Mr. Rumi, is not a protest at D Chowk, it is the manipulation of the electoral system by political parties who consider Pakistan to be their jageers.

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  • Ch. Allah Daad
    May 11, 2014 - 7:29AM

    Excellent article. Imran is being used by dark forces. These dark forces can go to any extent. I pray for the safety and security of innocent PTI supporters on this black day.

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  • Taimoor
    May 11, 2014 - 7:51AM

    I don’t know what the big deal is, so what if PTI is in KPK, they have used every single avenue available to them to contest the rigging that took place. Since they didn’t get any result from those places i.e. tribunals and such, then of course they are going to go to the streets. You are knowingly taking things out of context to fulfill your agenda. Their demand of checking 4 halqas is a legitimate one and can only strengthen democracy. After all what good is a democracy if your vote is treated like garbage.

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  • choptocut
    May 11, 2014 - 9:01AM

    Excellent piece Raza.
    I fully agree with you: Why Imran did not come out before? What alternative Qadri is offering? Why Geo TV is implicate by Imran in its latest wave of protesting?
    These are open questions and make the logic behind protests and intention under serious doubts

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  • Nikki
    May 11, 2014 - 9:04AM

    Well said, very logical piece you have produced .
    We all not happy with the present regime,but IK have captured seats in the Parliament, how many bills he has presented or how many times he protested at that forum?, this is nonsense to bring the people out in the name of REVOULUTION under religious sentiments, Qadri BABA who already has been ejected from politics wants TALIBAN to rule.
    Both persons will ruin this country those are expecting MIRACLEs from them would be disappointed soon.
    PML-N on the other side should have learnt from its past, but has failed,rather promots patrimonialism which is never acceptable in democratic system.
    Nut Shall: Politicians invite the military, military never invites the politicinas in Pakistan.

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  • Mirza
    May 11, 2014 - 9:15AM

    What a pragmatic Op Ed and a good advise for IK and PTI. However, IK and PTI know full well that they can never come into power via elections. They have no presence in Sindh and Baluchistan except among some new settlers. Punjab is dominated by Muslim league by one leader or the other and it is not going to change dramatically. In addition IK and PTI has no chance in the senate where each province has equal representation.
    Pakistani democracy is like all other things in the country and is far from perfect. We are corrupt to the core and it shows in all spheres of life not just democracy. However this is the beginning and it is only going to get better and liars would be sieved out in each elections.
    Some people do not believe in democracy like Qadri. His family is in the safety of Canada just like Great Khan. Hard working immigrants who come back to Pakistan and win elections are forced to vacate their seats as they cannot be faithful to Pakistan. Yet foreign citizens are free to create chaos and use undemocratic means against govt. As an educated person I do not like to see IK with JI, Qadri and Choudhry brothers.

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  • Umar Farooq
    May 11, 2014 - 10:18AM

    I agree with Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s reforms agenda to overhaul this corrupt political system.

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  • Ricky
    May 11, 2014 - 10:28AM

    @choptocut: I agree with you that why IK did not come out before? In my humble opinion he came out now because there is a power tussle going on between establishment and media. Media has exposed the establishment on one murder attempt after another and yet another with nobody ever caught. IK first came out gun blazing against freedom of press and in favor of establishment. Then the eternal partners of dictators and terrorists joined hands with IK. Now PTI and IK are with Qadri, JI, and the likes of Choudhry brothers. Yet IK is real progressive, they claim!

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  • kaku
    May 11, 2014 - 11:01AM

    Why wait for a year?
    To exhaust all legal venues available. If they had started protesting right after elections, that would be derailment of democracy.

    Why local body elections not held in KPK as promised?
    Because of PTI wanted to hold it through bio metric system. Which ECP is either intentionally or unintentionally not being able to arrange it and hence the delay.

    Does PTI want mid-term elections? If not, then what does it want?
    It categorically denies any kind of demand for mid terms. The objective is only: 1) to detect what went wrong in the elections, if anything 2) hold accountable people who were involved 3) implement a system to prevent this in future

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  • Nikki
    May 11, 2014 - 11:44AM

    @Mirza:

    Both are rejected, and rejection is no accpted, normally.
    Ik has his kids in UK, emotionally he has no stakes in Pakistan, Qadri, is just refreshing his market.If he won’tt he would not survive among his Mureed.

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  • Khalid Aziz
    May 11, 2014 - 12:25PM

    Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s movement for political reforms in pro-people he is talking about implementation of those articles of constitution which are related to Rights of Public.
    i also like the idea of Decentralization of power by making 35 provinces and having high courts in each province.

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  • Umar Farooq
    May 11, 2014 - 1:09PM

    Rumi sahab i think you have not watched or read Dr Qadri’s Interviews,the success of Dr Qadri’s mission would be the end of the current system of parliamentary democracy and it will be replaced with Presidential form of Goverment.where the leaders will be elected directly by the Public !

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  • Farah Kanwal
    May 11, 2014 - 2:39PM

    I agree with Dr Qadri. Until the corrupt system is not tackled, Pakistan will have no future! Revolution is the only way to save the state.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    May 11, 2014 - 2:56PM

    @Zulfikar Cheema:

    Notwithstanding your opinion about the quality of the article, democracy Sir assures the people a system which they deserve and suits them. It has to be appreciated, cared for and nurtured so that it developes for the benefit of the people.

    Rex Minor

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  • Nikki
    May 11, 2014 - 3:49PM

    @Umar Farooq:

    Presidentional system suits to America, France only , and Canada may be.Ayubs system ( 1962) was presidentioanl, someone to study Ayub’s era. Was there no corruption?

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  • Parvez
    May 11, 2014 - 4:26PM

    For democracy to work it has to have an enabling infrastructure……….in Pakistan we don’t even have the foundations ( they exist only in name ) of that infrastructure. As such democracy is just a slogan to keep the 1% in power and riding the gravy train. It is democracy by the few for the few, in the name of the many……….and that is no democracy it’s just a sham. Unless the system is not corrected, we will continue to fail.

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  • Rehan
    May 11, 2014 - 4:53PM

    Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s agenda is the agenda of the deprived nation of #Pakistan.

    He is a man who speaks from the constitution of #Pakistan. There is no leader who can intellectually challenge the stance of #Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri.

    All those corrupt practices which he highlighted before elections and demanded electoral reforms were not considered because the corrupt politicians could see they will have to give up there political dictatorship.

    However after elections anchors, politicians particularly Imran Khan sb said number of times that Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri was right. A true leader is the one who can judge through circumstantial evidence the future circumstances which Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri judged with precision.

    For those who had hope of change or still have hope of change through this corrupt system are protesting today and will be deprived of all the rights which are due to them.

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  • Zahra
    May 11, 2014 - 5:00PM

    I agree with changing the system as a whole, which in return will bring a positive change to the nation as corruption stems out from this system. It would be interesting to hear the alternative system which will be presented by Dr Qadri

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  • Misbah Wahid
    May 11, 2014 - 5:05PM

    The democracy exercised in Pakistan is nothing but pseudo-democracy. The corrupt elite dont give a damn about the nation, they are protecting their own vested interests. Dr Tahir ul Qadri is a staunch support of the democratic process, he is fighting to restore clean and fair elections and he is fighting for the rights of the people. By participating in elections PTI have become another status quo party and are wholly incapable of bringing any chance, they dont even have any real influence in the Parliament.

    I support and endorse Dr Tahir ul Qadri’s vision for change! I stand behind him in the creation for a new Pakistan!

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  • cupid
    May 11, 2014 - 5:27PM

    Q1. Why wait a year to challenge the election results?
    Ans1: Answered multiple times before but just for Raza’s information again: The first step is to go through the legal procedure i.e election tribunals who were supposed to give a verdict in 4 months but even after a year they have not done so. PTI also went to SC and raised the issues in parliament despite all the talk bu Khwajas and Nisar nothing has happened in terms of vote verification. Instead chairman NADRA has been removed to halt the process altogether.
    Q2 Why form a government in a province, become part of the assemblies, and then choose the street agitation route?
    Whats wrong with it? PTI has reservation on 35 seats. Their opponents can aslo go against them in courts and in fact they have done so and got relief as well…..
    Q3: Despite the lapse of a year, substantive proposals were submitted in the National Assembly by the PTI to improve and fix the electoral system?
    Yes. PTI has asked for electronic voting and an autonomous, all powerful election commission. Unfortunately neither Raza nor those sitting in parliament ever listened to such proposals.
    Having said all that I must say no matter what Imran or PTI do, I ma sure Raza, , Saroop, Siddiqui, Shafi, Qasmi, Safi ( choti yey walay kalam navees), Sethi, Raoof Tahir, Absar Alam, and many others plus PML N, JUI, MQM, ANP and PPP will always criticize him

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  • Rex Minor
    May 11, 2014 - 6:20PM

    @Nikki:
    The Presedential system in not a not a recipe for democracy but is a lesser evil than that of the authoritive dictatorship. It is a folly to vest the authority in the person of one to control and administer centraly the total country. The French President has become the laughing stock of the french people and the America President has led his land to isolation.

    Rex Minor

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  • Rex Minor
    May 11, 2014 - 10:08PM

    @cupid:
    Nothing but nothing and not even your detailed narrative can justify the actions of this self styled cricket-cum political populist wizard, who has not the respect for the basic rules of the parliamentary democracy. The task of the registered political parties in a democracy is to enlist the suupport of its members and followers for a predefined policy objectives and to establish a transparent and publicised manifesto, which it persues in its campaigns for the parliamentry seatings to debate in the parliament or when in majority in the Government policy. Every public demonstration against the Government for matters which must be addressed and debated in the parliament for resolution is a set back for democracy. The author is fully justified to point out to the failings of political leaders of the country.

    Rex Minor

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  • Nooruddin Taj
    May 11, 2014 - 10:26PM

    “Consulting editor for The Friday Times” …. There you go…now that tells me a lot about you and your article.

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  • Humza
    May 11, 2014 - 10:55PM

    @Umar Farooq: If Tahirul Qadri’s aim is to destroy democracy because he doesn’t think it is a viable system of government, why did he run away and why does he live in Canada? He should practice what he preaches but obviously words come cheap.

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  • imran
    May 12, 2014 - 3:23AM

    @Zulfikar Cheema:
    See my question to people like Raza is Are you ok with the rigging? If you are not brave enough to fight against corruption, atleast dont criticize others who are trying their best. And people keep asking why Imran Khan waited that long, well didnt he say last year that he will give time to these people so they wont have any excuses that they need time for investigation. Instead of asking Imran Khan questions, why dont these people ask questions to Nawaz Sharif or other politicians that why are they not verifying election results, are they trying to hide something? But of-course the good deed always get questioned. I dont understand how some people in Pakistan are ok with the rigging? They say, well it always happens. Like this interviewer with a smug smile telling Imran Khan that why are you so surprised that elections are all about money, thats normal, people bribe to win elections. That is unbelievable how arrogant that guy is. Its like calling us stupid for raising voice against corruption, and they are completely fine with corruption. Well hint hint, of-course thats how they are making money thats why its so funny for them if someone else is amazed by something like thats.

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  • imran
    May 12, 2014 - 3:27AM

    Do you have a better solution? Or u r just satisfied with Pakistan Corrupt government? Or do u not think its corrupt? You are happy with people with no electricity? No food? Didnt Nawaz sharif said he will resolve electricity issue in 90 days. Why not question these politicians, why are you guys always ask questions to Imran Khan

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  • dr amad khan
    May 12, 2014 - 1:45PM

    Roomi sahab, I expect that you will support reason , and reason is enough to talk against present rulers due to very sophisticated coruuption altogether different from PPP government , electricity shortage and horrifying load shedding, and price hike less jobs, all costs are doubled in last 1 year , what to do think dollar came down automaticially not sir , these are by dangerous maneuvers , another two generations are required to pay the cost , actually the problem with you people is that you(journalists&anchors) have started considering yourself as master of all and off course your own interests and liking and dislikings.

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  • Rex Minor
    May 12, 2014 - 7:47PM

    @imran:

    Can you please name one country in the world where corruption is not at home and regarded a foreign ‘term’. In my opinion you guys overstate and over emohasise it!!

    Rex Minor

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