Foot loose & fancy free

Foot loose & fancy free
Imran Khan says that someone has offered to donate Rs 150 million to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust in exchange for a PTI ticket to the Senate. Notwithstanding such bribery, he says the gent is a “good man” but Pervez Rashid, his PMLN nemesis, has taunted him for not naming this “good man”. The two parties, otherwise, wanted to end “the evil practice of horse trading” by amending the constitution to do away with secret balloting that facilitates vote switching. But they were thwarted by the PPP, JUI-F and opposition allies who fancied their chances better if their respective Moneybags were allowed to go on a shopping spree for foot loose and fancy free MPAs.

At stake for the PPP and PMLN are the narrowly contested top slots of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Senate. The PPP is desperate to reclaim the chairman’s seat and has staked its bid on winning two critical seats in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where it only has only five votes against the required 36, and one in Punjab where, along with its allies, it has only 20 against the required 35. The average tag for a member of the provincial parliament is about Rs 30m. So Mr Zardari will be spending a lot of moolah to capture the Senate, although he is not likely to dip into his own pocket for it!

Not to be outdone, the JUI’s Maulana Fazal ur Rehman has nominated two top Moneybags himself to grab two seats in KPK although he is only able to muster one seat on the basis of his party strength of 17. Much the same sort of situation prevails in Balochistan where at least 9 MPAs are required to win one of the 7 seats on offer while there is an assortment of parties that are offering their MPAs to the highest bidder. The PMLN has two seats in the bag but needs to buy at least 5 MPAs to win the third; the PMAP has one seat but needs another 5 MPAs for the second seat. Those who don’t buy the required MPAs will end up selling their surplus stock to the others. And so it goes.

The most vulnerable is the PTI in KPK. It has 56 MPAS, which means 3 general seats @ 18 per seat. The PTI also has the votes to bag the two women’s and one technical seat. But Imran Khan and his Chief Minister Pervez Khattak are pulling in different directions. Mr Khattak is convinced that his flock will bolt at the sight of Mr Moneybags. So he isn’t averse to cutting deals. He tried to woo Mr Zardari with a quid pro quo and even persuaded Imran Khan to call and thank him in advance but Mr Zardari had already stitched up other deals and spurned the offer, leaving Imran in the lurch. So Imran was compelled to camp in Peshawar and threaten to dissolve the KPK assembly if disgruntled or greedy PTI MPAs sold their votes.

It may be recalled that horse trading was first witnessed in 1989 when the opposition, led by Nawaz Sharif and abetted by the ISI, led by Gen Hameed Gul and his Midnight Jackals, tried to oust Benazir Bhutto’s government in Islamabad by buying off her MNAs. Ms Bhutto hit back by doing the same in the Punjab Assembly governed by Mr Sharif. In the event, Mr Sharif corralled his parliamentarians in Changa Manga and Ms Bhutto herded hers into planes and took them for an enforced holiday in Swat. Later, the ISI led by General Asad Durrani, and funded by Mehran Bank, helped Mr Sharif win the 1990 elections. The core institutions of the state and all the political parties of the country jointly muddied their good name in the race for power and gave democracy a bad name. Many years later, Gen Durrani accepted his role in the sordid affair but the Supreme Court, led by that great chest-beating warrior, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, meekly backed off from taking the culprits to task.

Democracy is a fine institution but ours is far from being the best and most functional democracy in the world. Part of the reason has to do with our political culture that is heavily weighted by religious, ethnic and tribal affinities and associations that are inimical to democracy. No less is the burden of colonial rule and its emphasis on the martial races that provide the physical and intellectual manpower for the Pakistan army upon which impulse our generals have held democracy in abeyance for half our life as an independent state. To crib and complain about horse-trading in such circumstances is to miss the wood for the trees.

Equally, however, it must be admitted that our democratic polity is far from being stable. Imran Khan is piqued and frustrated. His KPK party and government are diminishing his aura of principled invincibility. If he raises the spectre of dharnas and resignations again, he could still tilt the scales.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.