Each political party must make it clear exactly what it stands for: rationally, not emotively
In today’s atmosphere in Pakistan, with politicians switching political parties, you wonder why politicians do such things with the monotonous regularity laxatives aspire to.
Political parties, in the modern sense, did not come into existence until sometime in the 1600s. The ancient Greeks had none, even though ancient Greece is where democracy began.
The ancient Romans had patricians and plebeians, which were not ‘political parties’, but lobby, or interest groups. The patricians were the nobility, or the upper classes, and the plebeians the merchants – what is now the middle class. Their interests were represented by these groups. The words patrician and plebeian continue to be used to refer to those groups of persons today.
In some ways not much has changed. The upper and middle classes are still the main actors on the stage. It is a different matter that the middle class has far greater rights and influence now than before. The two classes have organised themselves into parties with guidelines as to their makeup. The patricians, are more or less the Conservatives and the Republicans, who tend to prefer the status quo. The Plebeians who translate into the Labour Party, or the Democrats on the other side of the Pond, are said to be more open to change.
The Economist calls this a closed vs open model of society.
The Chinese have just one party and Pakistan has many. Something in between is good as an example. So we’re using American and British political parties as examples, although switching parties is nowhere as common in those countries as in Pakistan.
There is now a greater intermingling among these groups. You can have Tories with Whig-ish sentiments and Republicans with less conservative and more Democraticsensibilities.
Also, now, a third, anti-establishment group has emerged on the far left of the spectrum, led by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US. This appears to represent the most liberal, thinking segment of society. It will be interesting to see what they manage to achieve.
The one thing all these parties have in common is an agenda. Most political parties in most countries have a written goal, a manifesto, a written declaration of views and aims.
In what seems to be a contradiction, it is hard to judge a political party by its manifesto. One of the parties with a well written manifesto and it is also a better organised party than others in Pakistan is the MQM. But it being an exemplary party at present unlikely.
Most parties profess the same thing, more or less. But they approach what they profess differently. The Guardian said a couple of years ago about the party manifestos in the UK that all of them ‘are decent, civilised, kid-gloved affairs, reluctant for the most part to go on the offensive against the other parties for fear of negative campaigning. By a striking coincidence, almost all of them advocate a prosperous economy, a better deal for young people, a better deal for old people, a better deal for farmers, babies and badgers, a world-class educational system, affordable housing, controlled but fair immigration, the best possible start in life for your child, higher wages for everybody and equal opportunities for all. Only the Greens break with this bland consensus by having a special policy for helping bees.’
It’s like the saying ‘there are many ways to skin a cat.’
The cat represents the country, the common factor.
To skin the cat painlessly and well represents the goal – the one thing that many parties have in common, the common weal, good governance, whatever, which guarantees a cut for the skinner. Never mind that the cat dies in the process. Let’s ignore that.
The person skinning the cat is a member of this party or that. He skins the cat using his party’s methods.
Some ways of skinning the cat are more painful to the cat than others. Some ways present the person skinning the cat in a better light, makes her or him look prettier or not, or are more advantageous to the person skinning the cat, which guarantees he will get the job in future. Because yes, there are other persons behind this person, all hoping for a chance to skin the cat, a chance no other person might have if the first person plays his/her cards right.
So taking all that into account, there is what is called the ‘lota syndrome’ in Pakistan. All that means is that if it becomes obvious that no one else is going to get a chance to skin the cat on this side of the table, the people in waiting roll like lotas to the other side of the table. And when that side of the table doesn’t work either, they roll to yet another side. And so on, there being as many sides to a table as political parties in the country, and there is always the independent, the guy who stands in the middle of the room skinning a cat all by himself. And of course the Greens, who have a special policy for skinning cats, or bees, but I don’t think we have them here. In Pakistan we’re free to pollute and plunder the earth anyway we like.
Honestly, it makes you silly, this issue. But it’s a silly sight, all those lotas rolling around, people who have no convictions or principles, no concern for anything but the skin and to be in the limelight. Ms Ashiq Awan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Sheikh Rasheed are just three examples.
There have been rumours going around today of yet another roll. Whether that turns out true or not is to be seen.
Is it time to consider penalties for ‘doing a lota’ greater than losing a seat in the Assembly? That has been tried in some countries, but it hasn’t worked. Can we come up with something?
Unless each political party makes it clear exactly what it stands for, rationally, not emotively, and distinguishes itself from other parties by specific methods and pathways towards attaining its goals instead of indulging in rhetoric, uncivilised shouting matches, accusations and counter accusations, lotas – many of them – will always be rolling around. What does it matter if they skin this cat or that, this way or that? The point is to look as pretty as possible while doing it, and the getting your hands in where the action is. That, at present, is all that appears to count.