Itís not working. Six months have gone by and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has not even begun to scratch the derma. True, they inherited a dismal situation. But by this time we should have seen some outline of a plan. Instead what we have seen is politics as usual dominated by a reciprocal and increasingly nauseating blame game. Where fresh blood was needed and promised, we see the same recycled faces from previous regimes once again stalking the corridors of power.

This was supposed to be a break from the past: an honest, decent and fresh faced leader taking the reigns for the first time in Pakistanís history. We all hoped that at last Pakistanís time in the Sun had arrived, that finally the poor benighted people of our land would see light. But the night lingers. And worse, there is no sign that the dawn is near.

Perhaps we were dazzled by the manís earnestness, passion and commitment? Perhaps it escaped us that honesty, a necessary virtue, is not on its own sufficient to lead a complex, divided country like Pakistan? Perhaps intelligence, vision, creativity and team building are indispensable elements? Or perhaps democracy itself is flawed?

It is this latter question that deserves analysis. Weíve been told time and again: give democracy a chance. It will work. But it hasnít. So is there something wrong with democracy or with Pakistan that it does not seem to work here? The answer really is a bit of both.

The basic premise of democracy is that people are free to vote for whomever they want. In Pakistan this basic premise is brazenly and sometimes criminally violated. There are vast swathes of the population, especially in rural areas, who have no choice. They are obliged to vote for local landlords. If they donít do as told they know that there will be retribution: arrest, torture, eviction from their homes, animals stolen at night, daughters picked up and raped. So they vote like they are told to.

Poverty has its own imperatives as well. Those with money buy votes. For people who donít know where their next meal will come from, an offer for several thousand Rupees per vote for the whole family is an offer that simply canít be refused.

So what we have in Pakistan is a diaphanous veil of democracy carefully draped over a robust, neatly integrated substructure of feudalism wed to plutocracy. This is why whenever we have elections, the same people or their ilk repeatedly return to the assemblies. It should be obvious that if people were really free to vote this would never happen.

It is not a coincidence that in the last few weeks the talk of military intervention has surfaced on social media. It is a measure of the disappointment with things as they are that this is even being discussed



ďLet democracy reign uninterruptedĒ, say itís supporters, ďand the people will weed out the scum.Ē They are dreaming. The way our system is set up, even if democracy reigns forever nothing will change. Never in history have plutocracy and feudalism commited suicide. They need to be confronted and taken down. This is of course easier said than done. But we have no choice. Either we take this particularly malevolent bull by the horns or see our country dissolve slowly into irretrievable chaos.

It is not a coincidence that in the last few weeks the talk of military intervention has surfaced on social media. It is a measure of the disappointment with things as they are that this is even being discussed. Especially given our disastrous experience with such interventions in the past.

Hypothetically, though, a limited and carefully calibrated interruption to the democratic process may provide an opportunity to reset the Ďboundary conditionsí in order to find a solution to our particular problem. The task of such an intervention would be to lay the groundwork for true democracy to flourish in the country.

The specific actions needed would be redistribution of land holdings from feudal landlords to small farmers. This would right a historical wrong of the colonial era when foreign rulers gifted huge tracts of land to their collaborators. And it would free voters to vote for whom they like.

Also needed is a change to the Whitehall parliamentary system that is currently in place. A system developed over hundreds of years in the UK was transplanted to a poor, barely literate, newly independent, undeveloped country. What on Earth were those who did this thinking? It has not worked. And this is why it has to be changed.

Many proposals have been made. A particularly neat solution is to put in place a presidential system in which the chief executive is directly elected. This would ensure that no one could buy the vote. You cannot pay off the whole country. Another feature would be that the legislature would have no executive authority. The chief executive would be free to appoint a cabinet of professionals from the best people in the country.

Walk the street or a village lane in poorer parts of the country and sooner or later you will hear the lament: the only way to get rid of these corrupt politicians is a Ďbloody revolutioní. This is of course a horrifying prospect. But people are desperate to see the backs of the usual culprits. And now that the PTI Sun has not shone, as most believed and earnestly hoped it would, these disturbing chants are growing louder.

Life for the poor is becoming intolerable. Many times over the years theyíve been told: wait for the next election, things will get better. But they do not. A man dying of thirst approaches a mirage in the desert with hope only to discover that it remains tantalizing out of reach. Eventually he realises that he is pursuing a phantom. And so it is with the hapless people of Pakistan. They have been duped by unscrupulous politicians for too long.

It is hard to predict of course how all of this will play out. But there is one important principle that all of us need to keep in mind as we move forward: good governance is about people. Countries that succeed in the world are those that give the responsibility for running the affairs of state to the best of their people. Our problem has been that we routinely hand this responsibility to those least qualified to bear it. And until we change this bitter reality there will be no progress. Only more of the same slow decline into oblivion.

Nadeem M Qureshi is Chairman of Mustaqbil Pakistan

Published in Daily Times, February 12th 2019.