What ails political parties

By: Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Viewed in the context of development of political institutions and civilianization of national decision-making structures, the ship of Pakistani politics has been stuck in unchartered waters for the last six decades since its inception in 1947. The understanding of the key variables is important to grasp the prevalent political realities. These realities include, inter alia, the inability of political parties to learn lessons from the past mistakes and chart out a course of action that is based upon political expediency and a culture of co-existence. Even the capacity of making new mistakes has been lost in the political wilderness.

To start with, politics is often defined as the art of the possible. The idea of politics arose out of people’s concern for their welfare and their wish to make their viewpoint known to the powers that be on the issues that can affect their life. With the expansion of human thought, the difference on the handling of issues among the representatives of people (politicians) led to the multiplicity of political forces representing specific viewpoints different from what other party was holding. Thus the presence of more than one political party with divergent views is seen as a plus for the growth of civil society and democratic norms. This is an indication of the fact that the growing needs of people are taken care of in every possible manner. The mutual relationship between the political parties is not characterized by enmity, vendetta and antagonism. Rather respect for each other’s views is the hallmark of the politics and harmonious democratic culture. This tolerance and an atmosphere of reconciliation comes from the well entrenched rules of the game that political parties set as cardinal principles directing their conduct in the domain of public policy and general welfare.

In Pakistan’s chequered political history we find that political parties have cut very sorry figure on a number of fronts. Whenever they got a chance to rule the country, they have failed miserably to come up to the expectations of the electorate. Their mutual relationship has degenerated into personal enmity and antagonism. If one party is in power, the other would concentrate all its energies on dethroning it even though it entails the military intervention. Things come back to square one with resultant chaos and political turbulence. Unless the rules of game are set, narrow approach to politics would continue to characterize our body politic.

In the developed societies the political parties are the champions of democracy and rule of law. They have well-established internal mechanisms where members of a party discuss and debate the issues freely before airing them publicly. This is possible because political parties have internal democracy. But here in Pakistan the space for discussion and dialogue within a party is taken to mean the loosening grip of party’s leadership and tendency on some members’ part to dilute the party. Hence little wonder if central leadership of party provides little space for internal discussion and often takes recourse to unfair means to curb dissent. The result of this practice is that the decision-making remains concentrated in few hands and only the thinking of the party leadership sets the tone and tenor of the party. The introduction of 14th amendment to the constitution by a former PM is case in point. The amendment was proposed with the intention to curb dissent and tighten up his grip on the party. Due to lack of democracy in a party, the top leadership often aided by a kitchen cabinet of ‘yes men’ takes all key decision without generating broad consensus. This attitude has stunted the growth of political parties and turned them into a personal possession of a few individuals.

In developed democracies the parties come to power on the basis of their manifesto. A manifesto of a party is the most important document since it contains the broad policy parameters that the party intends to implement if people vote it into power. When a political party ends its tenure, people then judge its performance on the basis of the promises contained in the manifesto. Unfortunately in Pakistan, the manifesto-based politics is unheard of. The political parties prepare their manifestoes just to fulfill the legal requirements and once they are in power, they forget each and every thing about their manifesto.

Our political parties remain alive on newspapers and electronic media all through the year. They get motivated on the ground only when the elections approach. This reflects very badly on their commitment to solve the people’s problems. Since the concept of politics has come from the idea of people’s welfare, therefore, political parties in the developed democracies serve as a bridge between the state and the people. They implement their manifesto when in power and campaign for the good of people when out of power. Even when out of power, they launch people-friendly schemes to help them out and guide them in a number of ways. But in Pakistan the political parties have not imbibed this idea so far. They are the possession of elite and serve as an instrument for protecting their corporate interests in the power structure. Even the smaller religio-political parties and other NGOs have made a mark for themselves by virtue of their being close to people. These outfits are well organized and embark upon a number of projects that are meant to endear them to the people at the grass roots. They may not perform ideally courtesy the prevalent political system but they certainly serve as a pressure factor upon the overall policy outlook of the country.

The last but not the least is the deplorable fact that our political parties have not done people-oriented politics. Their efforts have been concentrated on the idea of basking under the sun of the Establishment. Unfortunately our political leaderships without any exception have developed a notion that power in Pakistan lies with the military-led establishment and if they are in the good books of the establishment, this is supposed to be a license to seek power. This attitude on the part of political leadership has not let democracy flourish and take roots among the people. In mature democracies people are the source of power but in this country it is the rating of a political party in the eyes of the unseen forces that counts. This also explains why political parties start campaigning for the ouster of their rivals from the corridors of power and often look toward army to ‘save the country from disaster’.

This is because of this factor that political chaos and turbulence have become the defining features of our polity. In Pakistan all parties are Kings Parties. The only difference is that one party that is able to cut a deal with the Establishment is publicly dubbed as a Kings party, while the others take up the mantle of opposition to the government simply because they fail to clinch a deal to get into power.

It is certain that our politics would continue to be in the backwater if no real attempt is made at transforming the very dynamics of politics in Pakistan. The major challenge facing the political parties is to establish the civilian supremacy. Only a party that derives its strength from the people would able to establish a code of conduct and rules of the game in politics. This can happen if our political leadership ponders over the factors as to why democratic norms have not struck roots in this country. In this view it is instructive to wind up this piece with the contention that instead of indulging in blame-game, a self-introspection is direly called for if this country has to adopt democracy as a culture.

E-Mail: hmq@hmqadri.com