Undemocratic approaches in Quetta by-elections

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has decided to field Tahir Mahmood, the brother of Balochistan’s former Education Minister Shahfiq Ahmed Khan, who was shot dead in Quetta last month, as its candidate for the upcoming by-elections from PB-1 Quetta. This particular seat remained vacant after the murder of the former Education Minister by the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF), an underground organization that champions the cause of an independent Balochistan.

In the meanwhile, the PPP has embarked upon a process of consultation with different political parties of Balochistan to seek unconditional support to its candidate. According to Senator Lashkari Raisani, the party’s provincial president, the reason for pitting the slain minister’s brother for the by-election is to send a message to the “terrorists” that they cannot undermine his party’s resolve to fight terrorism. This move is also intended to express solidarity with the family of Mr. Khan in order to remind it that the ruling party has not ditched the family in lurch.

The PPP seems to have notched great success in its interactions with various political parties to convince them that the election of the ex-education minister’s brother bodes well for the communal harmony of Balochistan, mainly its capital city, Quetta. Such efforts make sense given the fact that Shafiq was a non-Baloch while Senator Lashkari, a Baloch, is striving to empower a “settler” for the greater interest of Quetta’s peace and stability.

Following successful meetings with the Sardar Yaqoob Nasir, the provincial president of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Nawaz), Commander Khuda-e-Dad, the provincial president of the Awami National Party (ANP) and Usman Kakar, the provincial president of the Pashthunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PkMP), the ruling party has now acquired the full support of these three political parties for the upcoming by-elections. All the three parties have not only agreed to support the unopposed election of the PPP candidate but they have also pledged full support to the electoral campaign of the slain education minister’s brother.

Not many people in Quetta or elsewhere in Balochistan know much about Shafiq Ahmed Khan’s brother as the latter does not have any extraordinary political credentials. If he succeeds then credit must go to his brother for staying committed to the PPPP and giving it another martyr.

Politics on the name of “martyrs”, not good governance, is what sustains the life cycle of the Pakistan People’s Party. No political party is as good as the PPP in playing the “martyrs’ card” while attempting to gain public support. Every time this party came into power, it failed to meet public expectations and people had to vote against it in the next elections.

The PPPP came into power in Balochistan for the first time after the general elections of February 18, 2007 because of the overwhelming “sympathy vote” it attained from the people in respect to the party’s late chairperson Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. While the arrival of the PPP into power appeared to be the return of democracy, the party, unfortunately, once again to act very undemocratically, particularly in Balochistan.

The PPP accommodated in its coalition government the leaders who once stood out to be the greatest admirers of Pervez Musharraf’s junta. They also supported the military operation in the province and refrained from publically protesting against the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. It was a political blunder by the PPP in Balochistan to take all the “bad eggs” on board as well to demonstrate its “heavy mandate”.

Hence, for the first time in the history of Balochistan, the Chief Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly were voted unopposed. In the outset, everyone welcomed this by viewing it as a broad -based government installed in Quetta to permanently resolve the problems of the country’s poorest province. Soon, everyone had to review their opinion once the government stunned everyone with an unprecedented cabinet of 49 ministers in a house of 65. Ministers remained absent from their offices for weeks, and for months in some other cases. It was then that the people of Balochistan began to realize that “reconciliation” and “taking everyone on board” was a gimmick to institutionalize corruption in the province.

Why was the need for “consensus” felt so desperately when everyone knew that Aslam Bhoothani, the Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, did not truly enjoy the support of every member of the assembly, including some representatives from his own party? Why was the Chief Minister eager to get 100% support from his MPAs (of course in return of miniseries, perks and privileges) when he surely knew that Sadqi Umrani, the party’s parliamentary leader, Agha Irfan Karm, ex-minister for Zakat (who was fired by the chief minister), and Ali Madad Jattak, former food minister (who was also expelled by the CM along with his wife Rubina Irfan, the law minister), would one day stand against him? The chief minister looks better when he enjoys the support of the majority but also has some members in the assembly to point out his shortcomings.

Would it not be more of a healthy democratic exercise for Balochistan if some people were allowed to express dissenting views and cast vote by hearing the voice of their own consciousness? A parliamentary opposition, which is nonexistent in Balochistan right now, is very essential for strengthening the so-called democratic process in place.

By brining another MPA “unopposed”, the PPP and three manor parties that have agreed to support this practice, are doing a disservice to the cause of democracy. They are introducing a very undemocratic culture in Balochistan.

Elections, electoral campaigns, debates, election manifestos and public rallies embellish the democratic process. Therefore, the PPP government in Balochistan should work on improving its performance rather than fooling people by repeatedly flaunting over reaching so-called consensus on all issues. Democracy is not all about consensus. It is about difference of opinion and proving your opponent wrong in the political battlefield by your actions.

It is very disappointing that the PPPP government has not even formed standing committees in Balochistan Assembly although eighteen months have elapsed since it came into power. Standing committees are very essential to address the day-to-day problems of common citizens.

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