The Joker in the Pack–Public Opinion

Posted on Posted inOpinion

IRSHAD SALIM — In project democracy–a work in progress since a decade now, the push for rule of law is slowly but gradually emerging as the golden nugget, while the perennial misuse albeit abuse of law, bending of standards and norms with “end must justify the means” penchant, are incrementally losing their shoeshine. There are indeed growing pains inherent in the transformation, but the big picture is clearly becoming apparent to the nation. This is the new normal and the majority (including Pakistanis abroad) seem to be happy about it. Tired of making a choice between “The Emperor Without Clothes” and the “Robin Hood”, many agree the society can no longer afford to settle for intellectual corruption which has been unleashing poverty of sense and sensibilities–been there and done so, it’s time to move on toward practicing the art of possibilities within our nascent democracy, many say.

Indeed the shift has been tectonic and painful for the naysayers, but it has been triggered by public demand–it continues unhindered in a roller-coaster ride with the voting process–the vehicle which does so to bring about change with populism spread over time and scale. Therefore, hyphenating the developing ecosystem as “political engineering” and liking it with “regime change” could carry wrong annotations in our young minds (almost 60 percent of our population).

The gripe that some of us is carrying is because the “joker in the pack–the public opinion”, has been very capricious over the decade. The 2008 polls saw a moderate, secular party, the PPP, come into power with popular vote mostly from the province of Sindh. Five years later, a right-of-the-center party, the PML-N came into power with popular vote mostly from Punjab. And in 2018, a third force came into power with popular vote but spread over three provinces: Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The emergence of one party with stakes in all federating units is a step up, call it any name, and give it any color. A spade would still remain a spade—unless observations are replaced with inferences and skepticism—and that’s where the embryo of a “conspiracy theory” starts evolving.

Therefore, polls results of 2008, 2013 and the one held in 2018 can either be all accepted or none—accepting all would lend credence to the joker’s peccadilloes at best, and a conspiracy in the works at worst. Imagine in 2008, the joker wore the PPP hat. In 2013 it wore the PML-N hat, and five years later it threw both the hats away and donned a new one: the PTI hat. Two things therefore emerge: continuance of groupthink and voters’ ability to exercise their right to choose—two essential drivers of project democracy whether it is Pakistan or anywhere in the world. That’s political engineering by the joker that we all have accepted. So why cherrypick events and make efforts to pigeon hole expectations and choices?

If honorable Mr. Irfan Husain’s opinion piece in Dawn dated April 29, 2018 is considered–the iota between what is clearly observable as a pattern and what is being inferred to otherwise is fairly discernible. To quote Mr. Husain, “…for most voters, taking a commission is not a mortal sin. In fact, they expect their leaders to make money on the side, provided they deliver on the basics.” Such a stream of consciousness if it did pervade the voters’ mindset, however, graduated this time. The ongoing musical chair for power grab between the two major parties was replaced with an elephant in the room–it has though been sulfurous to many understandably.

“Provided they policial parties) deliver on the basics” as Mr. Irfan wrote, did not happen over the decade. Health, education and governance took a dive while two sides of the same coin kept appearing with alacrity: “taking commissions”, “making money on the side”. Therefore, condoning these and letting the perpetrators of such acts and misdeeds continue tantamount to letting fiddlers on the roof sing the blues.

The faultline of such a thought process magnifies if Mr. Zahid Hussain’s latest opinion piece dated January 2, 2019 in Dawn is considered. Public opinion (voting) about Sindh affairs being discounted and at the same time sins of the province’s governance being condoned can’t lend credence to the bouquet.  Our rural and urban youth and women hardly care for narratives if the delivery is amiss in the process. They have graduated thanks to the social and electronic media and want a “corruption-free” affair as the only fair game, and expect Sindh’s ruling elite not to stoke ethnic divide or play the Sindh card, etc.

If by demanding Sindh Chief Minister’s resignation, and seeking an in-house change is “political engineering” by “the establishment”, then so would be the orchestration of efforts by many who expect the nation to digest such a pill: “taking a commission is not a mortal sin”– many of us have crossed the Rubicon.

Likewise, influencing, intervening or encumbering a party’s democratic right–no matter how politically incorrect or suicidal it may be—to seek lawful change in government, would stand diluted also if we call it “political engineering” or “regime change” allegedly by invisible forces. Why not let the rules of the game run its course, and the joker can decide which way he would throw his hat. He did that thrice.

Alternatively, we all may need to go back to school on state, the nation and government, the rule of law, rules of business in a democratic setup, etc. etc. in order to understand and not infer the interplay and subtleties between and among all of them.

As for the Judiciary, it has been doing quite a bit as the equalizer—its hyper activism notwithstanding. Rest of us seem to be failing though, by looking at things we have conveniently cherrypicked, and therefore been trying to advance narratives akin to fixing a round peg in a square hole or vice versa—that’s by the way (reverse) engineering too.

Frankly, in my opinion,, the ongoing project democracy is that huge ship we had never seen before. The problem is, many of us have made ourselves stand on the edge of its deck, and counting the waves–ready to jump off board, therefore even a one degree tilt in the ship’s motion makes us “sea sick”. Fear takes over and inferences overtake observations.

There’s buoyancy at work, not political engineering, I dare to say.

We also seem to forget that the joker in the pack (public opinion) is derivative of our rural mass’ (nearly 76 percent) silent and apolitical hum drum, and not the jetsam flotsam of our urban’ (24 percent) mass whose some members’ cacophony and daily rituals on social media against the ship’s new course and buoyancy at work don’t bother the rest.

Therefore, rather than scare the new lady out of the gentlemen’s club, we ought to be requesting her for a dance—and guess what, it always starts with a slow number, not a Flamingo.

(The writer is a business consultant and analyst presently based in Islamabad).

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