Personal rivalry weakens democracy

Aug 16, 2017
Politics in Pakistan has never been for the faint-hearted. But as Nawaz Sharif turns to his base for political validation and Imran Khan tries to capitalise on the judicial ouster of Mr Sharif, there is an increasingly evident personal animosity between the two men that bodes ill for democratic stability. Both leaders need to urgently reassess the rhetoric they are using and help steer the political process back towards the path of stability and continuity. Mr Sharif appears to be directing his anger at his latest dismissal from office in an unfortunate direction. While the ousted prime minister has talked of a social programme and tweaks to the Constitution, much of it has the sound of half-formed, off-the-cuff ideas. But Mr Sharif’s anger at the judiciary and the PML-N’s political opponents, Mr Khan in particular, has been more caustic, direct and unsettling. Emotionalism is not a substitute for political strategy and can be dangerous when it displaces governance priorities.
Mr Khan, of course, has made a career of targeting so-called status quo politics and his aggressive rhetoric has worked to the PTI’s advantage, transforming the party from an also-ran to the second-largest vote-getter in the country. To the extent that Mr Khan’s strategy has helped carry accountability of public officials to the centre of the national political discourse, his success is also that of the country. There is no doubt that Pakistan needs a programme of public accountability that is across the board, fair and impartial. Where Mr Khan may be committing a disservice to democracy, however, is in his political fixation with Mr Sharif. After Mr Sharif’s disqualification by the Supreme Court, Mr Khan spoke sensibly in distancing himself from the perception of a personal war against Mr Sharif. It’s not personal, it’s about the country, Mr Khan effectively said of his opposition to Mr Sharif. But as it has become clear that Mr Sharif is not willing to accept a lower political profile, Mr Khan has increased the intensity of his attacks against his long-term political rival.
The memory of the 1990s, when the Sharifs and the Bhuttos attacked each other politically in very personal and aggressive terms, and what that eventually led to — another military dictatorship — ought to give both Mr Sharif and Mr Khan pause today. The PML-N boss has spoken of his desire for constitutional improvement; the PTI boss has reiterated his demand for sweeping accountability — the right forum to merge those two, not dissimilar platforms is parliament. The PML-N has the parliamentary numbers and the PTI the public support to agree on a democracy-improving raft of structural changes. And while that may be an unlikely outcome, both sides should dwell on how the anti-democrats are the likeliest beneficiaries of conflict among democrats. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan should recognise that they can only remain political contenders if the democratic system continues.
Dawn News, August 15, 2017

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