Cirque du Democracy | Bushra Zaidi

Apr 2013

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As the Election Commission of Pakistan’s efficient Returning Officers disqualify candidates across the country, Bushra Zaidi explores the democratic sensibility of the God-fearing, urban, middle-class Pakistani.

In most countries, the actual application for candidacy is not considered newsworthy. This being Pakistan, candidate scrutiny is always a bit of a side-show. We tell ourselves this is because most elections took place either after an Assembly was sacked, or under the watchful eye of a military dictator. Surely it is a sign of progress that we now no longer need dictators to carry out political witch-hunts. The side-show of scrutiny has now fully taken main stage. Let this be known as the first vote: some 800 Returning Officers armed with over twenty unique legal clauses set out to decide which of the 16,000 applicants are unfit to be displayed before 85.7 million feeble-minded voters.

The unfit to run for elections, at last count, include characters as diverse as Jamshed Dasti, Ayaz Amir, Abid Imam, and Pervez Musharraf. I defy anyone to come up with a unifying theory that would explain why both the uneducated and the Columbia graduate, the whiskey-lover and the face of moderate Islam, would face the same chopping block. The comfortable explanation is that Article 62 and 63 have always been used by rivals to keep opponents out of the race. But the purge has gone far beyond political rivals, and includes the media, the Returning Officers, and parts of the urban middle class.

The great guiding myth of all debate in Pakistan is that politics is bad for this country. Politics is the reason why economic growth in the last five years was at abysmally low figures, it is also the reason why a Parliament couldn’t dig the country out of an economic downward spiral. Politics is why the country faces a power crisis, a taxation crisis and a security crisis. Its practitioners, the politicians, meanwhile presumably enjoyed a safe, tax-free, and fully-electrified five years in power. We–the unelected and educated–would like to see people who are more like us come into power: honest and hardworking, BA-qualified and prime-time telly-watching, God-fearing and army-loving.

Instead, we are faced with the odious possibility of the outgoing class of corrupt, thieving, cheating crooks coming back into power. So we conclude there is an information gap, that voters are simply too ill-informed or stupid to understand what makes a “good” democracy.

Enter Democracy 2.0, courtesy Generals Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf. Read On >>

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