The illusion of Choice

How to maintain the facade of democracy.

Fact: Nawaz Sharif was corrupt, he paid the price for it. End of story.

But is it? It is if you choose to live in a cocoon but for some it is a set back in a continued struggle. How things have improved in terms of people’s power and democracy over last 40 odd years, is evident from establishment having to hide behind a facade of political campaign, to execute its agenda, in comparison to directly coming in power through a coup. It is an improvement from hanging a political leader and mass persecutions by an outright dictatorship. But there is a pitfall, as is the problem with all comparisons, it depends upon what you are comparing with. So there is a general rise in political dissidence but when compared to real democracies we are light years behind.

We are caught between two extremes. To the north of us, lie two large, stable authoritarian states, Russia and China. From a distance, this type of centralized, borderline fascist, dictatorial governance has attracted my fellow countrymen, which is understandable. Historically, our region has been ruled by kings, overlords and has seen a tribal based social system. Democracy did not evolve here, it was imposed.

Problem with dictatorial governments is that they are not accountable to people and hence rights of a common man have little if any value in their eyes. A simple example is the economic inequality between rich and poor in China. In a recent study published by Beijing University, 1% of population controlled more than one third of wealth, while the bottom quarter of population had access to only 1% of total wealth of country. In the new world, if people do not have power to elect, their rights are mostly ignored.

At the other end, is a well governed, democratic state, where state, rule of law and democratically elected hence accountable government, all three are running in synchrony. Something that in current world, all countries aspire to be. When vote has the power to elect, voter’s life and rights matter.

Pakistan is caught in the middle, with the facade of a democratic country, but establishment holding all the power behind the curtain. The way it’s done is by creating an illusion of choice in the mind of voters. The illusion of choice that Pakistani nation rejoices itself with, at every general election, are comparable to a schizophrenic’s hallucinations, to him it’s real, to reality it’s not.

After living in an illusion of democracy with long periods of dictatorship, gradually majority have found ways to dissociate from motherland. This comment may feel odd to some currently motivated by atmosphere created by upcoming elections, that would be short lasting as always.

In general whenever there is a choice between country and self, we would put self first. No wonder politicians, who know quite well, that it is not the vote that has led to their election, rather it’s the establishment which does the selection, mirror what the rest of us are doing. We have not seen real democracy in Pakistan for 70 years, we are in no position to judge it.

Since his return from exile, NS has been working on one agenda, correcting the balance of power and shifting it from establishment to parliament. Being no fan of NS and as he was going against the nostalgia of historical rules, it took some time to sink in, many still fail to understand it. I was at the first Lahore jalsa of PTI, part of the tsunami of 100,000 who believed in change.

But somewhere along the road, IK must have come to the realization, that coming to power would not be possible, without help of establishment. While establishment were already pressured by democratic alliance and reconciliation, this was a match made in heaven. The tsunami of 100,000 must have helped IK cut a good deal. But reality now stands that he is, what NS was in 1980s. We are back to square one.

NS has been corrupting, but it was permissible that way, as long as he was cooperating, which he refused to anymore. By ousting the one person, who was now working towards a real political and democratic government, that is the people having control over military and establishment, rather than the other way around, at the risk of sounding like a record with its needle stuck, we are back to square one.

Drowned in the euphoria of NAB verdict, this is something that many people are finding hard to understand, as they are distracted by magicians one hand, while he manipulates the cards in the other. We again face an illusion of choice, when we vote on 25th of July. Whichever card you choose, it’s the same magician, holding all the cards and he has tempered with them already.

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Dr. Faisal Chaudhry

Dr Faisal Chaudhry is a graduate of King Edward Medical University and is currently working in Oxford University Hospitals. He is an avid traveler and an advocate of social awareness and dissidence.