The ‘lesser-evil’ argument
There is nothing like a timely wrong step taken by one political force to send the rivals skyrocketing onto a higher moral platform. For the people, it is the ultimate aphrodisiac in a country where we formulate our ever-fickle political beliefs more on how bad one isn’t rather than how good they are. After all, how many times have you made, or heard, the justification, but he/she/they is/are the “lesser evil.”
Take, for example, the PML-N. Now, this party was sitting pretty until a few days ago – emboldened and popularised more because of the slip-ups of its principle opposition, the PPP, than anything else. The general notion was that Nawaz’s boys would “sweep” the next elections because his popularity had increased.
Yet, if you really look at it, what had Nawaz and his merry men really done? Marched with the CJP’s supporters? That was already an ongoing cause. Left the coalition? More a move motivated by political ambition.
Make no mistake. What really did attract people to the PML-N was:
The NRO. The past of the PPP’s present leadership. The PPP’s and AAZ’s non-implementation of the CoD. A PPP-backed court declaring the Brothers Sharif ineligible to seek public office. The PPP’s imposition of Governor’s Rule in Punjab. The PPP taking an unnecessarily long time to reinstate the judges. The PPP name surfacing (again) in corruption stories. The PPP-backed Kerry-Lugar Bill. The PPP-backed Wajid Shamsul Hasan and the Swiss case fiasco. Asif Ali Zardari himself. Salmaan Taseer and his statements. And, of course, the Sindh card.
None – none – of these things are what the PML-N did do. It was what others did, or did not do. That is no achievement at all for a party sitting in the opposition.
The PPP seemed to be a disaster; so the PML-N became popular. It is as simple as that. This phenomenon, which I am inclined to label the Theory of Political Relativity, has ruled Pakistan’s political fate since its inception. Just look at history. What incumbent has ever won a second straight tenure?
The ’77 polls were massively rigged – hence do not count. I will not even venture to comment on Gen Musharraf’s re-election as president.
Or look at the period of democracy between 1988 and 1999. The PPP won in ’88 and then was dismissed on charges of corruption and misgovernance. With the PPP reeling, the Nawaz-led IJI (which is effectively today’s PML-N) “won the hearts” of the people. Nawaz was then sent packing after people become discontented with his government. That discontent carried over into the next elections, and the PPP cashed in, winning the 1993 polls. The PPP was then dismissed on charges of corruption and misgovernance, and Nawaz came back playing the saviour card. It is safe to assume that had there not been a military coup in ’99, necessitating the arrival of the Q, the PPP would have won the next elections.
The right to power in Pakistan is not earned by one party – it is just lost by another. The PML-N has fallen victim to this same theory lately with their government in Punjab committing a series of gaffes.
The fiasco of the dismissed policemen in Punjab – one who refused to release alleged criminals on the orders of political bigwigs in the province and another who arrested PML-N workers. The speech of the Punjab chief minister wherein he pusillanimously grovelled to the Taliban, asking them to not attack his province. The evidence of the PML-N courting banned religious outfits in their election campaigns.
The PPP now seems to be gaining significant ground on a party that was a seen as a sure shot to sweep the next polls.
The Theory of Political Relativity, ladies and gentlemen. The problem is, the pitfalls of this state of affairs and the neurosis it represents are great.
This phenomenon has rendered our democracy superficial, given that there is more concentration on the demerits of one option rather than what the other can do for you. Not only does this afford parties and leaders the opportunity to hide their own demerits, but also allows people without a plan to grab the reigns of power, only to direct this disoriented country further adrift.
It cements the country’s feet in a mould of perpetually low-expectations from its leadership. Means that incumbents become increasingly complacent – worried more about not doing something wrong – which, in turn, gives birth to an inclination for being passive at a time where it is required to be proactive. Governments are perpetually non-starters, stagnated and languid. It is this argument that gives the khakis the opportunity to remain revered masters.
The “lesser evil” argument is reflective of a defeatist syndrome and empowers armchair critics.
The PML-N will probably rebound from their current down, given that the PPP is in power in the centre and will, within the paradigm of the Theory of Political Relativity, give more reasons to the electorate to not vote for them.
But if we can step outside this condition, just briefly, the reality is that the PPP does indeed deserve credit – and not because of how badly the N is faring.
It is because the incumbents have actually passed a bunch of good ordinances despite a period of extreme pressure; because they negotiated a brave NFC Award; because they are on the verge of introducing a historic amendment.
I, a staunch critic of the incumbents, concede that the slow trudge out of a morass of unpopularity is based on what they have done.
Regardless of the poll results whenever elections are held next, one only hopes that this concrete positive is not lost in the fickle gains of political relativity. That is the only way we will breathe life into our democratic process.
The writer is city editor, The News, Karachi. Email: gibran.peshimam@ gmail.com
Source: The News