With every election in Pakistan, the people build up their hopes that unlike all previous elections, this election will bring change. A change from the endemic corruption that has plagued Pakistan since its very inception. A change from the dynastic politics, that bring the most incompetent and corrupt individuals to power, simply because they are the son or daughter of an equally corrupt and incompetent father or mother, who was the recipient of the gift of a vast tract of land by their colonial masters for their services during the British Raj. This because it is felt at every election that this election is unlike all other elections before it is somehow different, and with the likely success of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in this election, the hopes of the masses have never been higher.
This misplaced optimism is not just confined to pseudo-democratic change, rather when the population tires of the same rotten faces taking turns to loot the public purse, they transfer all their hopes and aspirations to an army strong-man who they believe, will in one fell swoop, cleanse the country of all its ills.
The prevailing wisdom is that with the ascension to power by any means, be it democratic or otherwise, one morally upright and competent leader will transform the country from a corrupt and nepotistic country, to an enlightened meritocracy which will then take its rightful position as one of the world’s leading nations.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than any substantive change, each successive democratic or military regime has presided over a worsening situation, whereby nepotism, corruption, the absence of the rule of law and the concentration of wealth into the hands of the few has increased.
The uncomfortable truth – which for many is a bitter pill to swallow after the sacrifice of partition and decades of hopeful anticipation – is that the current system will not bring any ease to the poor and the dispossessed of Pakistan, or in fact any nation on earth. Rather than being aberrations to the otherwise fair and smooth running of the system, the multitude of problems encountered in Pakistan are inescapable consequences of the democratic secular and capitalist system of governance, that is imposed on Pakistan and the rest of the world.
In Pakistan, the pretence of elections every four years (with their associated costs), ensure that only the wealthy can afford to field candidates in national and provincial legislative chambers. Even if a meritocratic but poorer candidate somehow manages to obtain a ticket from one of the mainstream parties to run as their candidate, his reliance of wealthy donors and the multitude of dynastic politicians both in and outside his party will ensure that any meaningful change is impossible and the status quo is maintained.
This point is adequately highlighted by the recent candidate ticket allocation by the anti-establishment PTI party. The mantra oft-repeated by its leader Imran Khan and its notable politicians has been staunchly anti-dynastic politics, in fact, for two decades Imran Khan has criticised both PML and PPP of being dynastic political parties. Instead of making a break with the past and fielding meritocratic grassroots candidates, Imran Khan has chosen to field candidates from the same feudal lords, capitalists, tribal chiefs, former civil and military bureaucrats and wealthy, as both PPP and PML. The 30 most powerful families in Punjab have been awarded 80 candidate tickets for the upcoming National Assembly elections, with some families obtaining multiple candidate tickets for multiple family members. So, rather than being a party focused upon the poor and oppressed masses of Pakistan, in reality, PTI (like its election foes), is a party of the military, political and economic elites of Pakistan , , , .
This move is seen by many as an “if you can’t beat them join them” policy by the leadership of the PTI, but in reality, it is simply an attempt by the elites of Pakistan to rejuvenate the ailing democratic process of Pakistan – which is the vehicle that protects their collective interests.
The reality of the democratic system in Pakistan – and in fact almost all secular democratic countries – is that vested interests trump ideals every time. The nexus of political, judicial, bureaucratic and security hierarchies ensure that any grassroots movement working within the democratic process to unseat the established political order is quickly subverted or co-opted by the established elites – again the example of PTI is sufficient to underline this reality. It is only after a shift in support of the all-powerful army and intelligence services from PML-N to PTI, has an election victory become likely for PTI, and even then it is by the mass influx of existing seat holders into PTI rather than a mushrooming of grassroots support .
This then brings us to the most salient point, that democracy has and will always be the exercise of power by the wealthy, for the wealthy. Although the face may change frequently, the system ensures that the actual levers of power remain firmly in the hands of the few – for the pursuit of their own interests, at the cost of the interests of the many.