As elections approach, we see the usual manoeuvrings and manipulations that precede them. We see unprincipled acts such as the PPP’s scrapping of the controversial Sindh Peoples Local Government Ordinance (SPLGO) the moment it had sprung clear of the MQM’s grip as the party parted ways with the PPP, showing plainly that it had acted solely on the basis of expediency in having it passed.

Elsewhere we see the usual chain of defections – notably in Punjab, where everyone seems eager to jump into the PML-N boat, as it bobs high on a sea of confidence which is also a reason for its strong push for timely polls.

The shenanigans we see now, and those that are still to follow, of course reflect on the state of our politics. It is a state grim enough to drive most of us to despair.

Principle is a lost notion; no party abides by it. Of course it has to be said that this is true of virtually every nation around the world. Politics and ethics only rarely go together, although our position is mostly even worse than others.

The run-up to the polls often exposes this, with expediency taking precedence over all else. Things will indeed be just the same this time around. We have no reason to believe they will be any different. And this means that the same, established parties are likely to dominate this time as well.

Almost certainly, the coming elections will once more be a tussle between established groups, with a resurgent PML-N most likely to challenge the PPP which hopes – by hook or by crook – to cling onto power.

Why should this be the case? After all, the past five years of mis-governance are there before us for all to see. So are the farcical charades of men like Rehman Malik and his various self-serving peers. Some of their comments could quite easily quickly fill a comic book – even if the consequences of their antics have been tragic.

Amidst all this, the many far-reaching acts of legislation achieved, releasing provinces from the centre’s hold and taking away powers held since General Ziaul Haq’s time by the president, become rather inconsequential to people.

Poorly implemented and poorly understood, they are after all mainly of interest only to those following the processes of law-making.

This holds true also to some degree for the laws on tribal areas, changes in the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, the package for Balochistan and the drastically expanded rights for women.

At some point, the existence of these clauses on the statute books may become relevant; they are therefore important – but right now it is the need for a more orderly state and for rule of law that holds sway.

And while memories are short, there are many who remember the last tenure of the PML-N, the wild attack on the judiciary by the party’s goons, the vicious assault on free media and the many corruption scandals that had surfaced.

Most frightening of all through the period from 1996 to 1999 was perhaps the attempt by Mian Nawaz Sharif to impose Shariah law and declare himself Amirul Momineen with all-out powers; the party’s tacit support for at least certain extremist forces also cannot be forgotten.

The idea that the choice to be made, in the long run, is really between these two parties is not therefore very comforting. Indeed it is downright frightening – but the reality that we must face is also that this is how things stand.

Yes, at one point, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had offered hope of change; to some it still does – but there are suggestions that this number may be dwindling.

When it comes to the games of power politics, Imran Khan is a novice. But that is not the real concern.

The issue is also the blueprint he has to make the changes he promises, and precisely where his party stands on key issues like militancy – something that threatens our future at least as much as corruption.

So far, Imran has consistently argued for a ‘political settlement’ with militants, but he has not elaborated along what lines a deal with murderers who have shown such atrocious brutality to ordinary people would proceed.

Precisely what agreements would we reach with such men? All this needs to be made clear by the PTI. Its promise to end corruption is undoubtedly welcome, but there is little detail on how this would be done.

Nevertheless, Imran’s own untainted image on this front may offer some hope. Looking at things through rose-coloured lens, the idea of a break from the US is also welcome.

But before ballots are cast, we need to know how he attempts to break away in the short-term from a nation that has poured some $20 billion into the economy over ten years.

Imran’s suggestion of a switch over to China may not prove quite so simple. His suggestion that people will ‘give’ money, as taxes, because they ‘trust’ him – and his citing of his excellent charitable works as an example of that – may all be very well, but the country cannot be run like a charity.

Similarly, his party spokesman’s proud assertion that Imran runs his palatial mountain residence in Islamabad on a mere Rs50,000 a month offers us all an excellent lesson in home economies. But we wonder if this can be of any real relevance as far as the gigantic task of running a bankrupt national economy is concerned.

Yes, we desperately need change. People yearn for better governance. But to have real meaning this must come in a package that brings with it real difference – through major restructuring, a clear vision that opposes militancy without resorting to any compromises and an ability to take people along.

Finally, it is only the power of the people that can succeed in altering the nature of our state.

We need a leader able to harness this power. Right now there does not appear to be anyone in sight who quite fits the challenging job description that is pasted up against the blood spattered walls of our cities or the northern gullies where people ask that they be allowed to speak, and not spoken for.

The same demand echoes from many other places across a land where light glows increasingly dim in too many places.

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