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Nay to democracy, aye to elections

We have become an election-loving, democracy-loathing republic

The bigot and the zealot, once shunned in the developed world, have not only made a comeback but also scored true believers for their causes

‘Kindly vote and support advocate so-and-so in the upcoming bar elections and play your role in breaking the vicious cycle of status quo,’ reads one text message out of hundreds I received during past many months. However, lawyers are not at all the only creed intensely in love with elections. Journalists, traders, members of housing societies, even engineers get enthralled whenever election season is around the corner.

‘Once again vote for Splendid Hack Panel’ reads a banner near the press club. ‘Defy the Splendid Hack Panel by voting for Freedom Fighters Group’ says the banner by a splinter faction of Splendid Hack Panel. And thus stands the electoral politics of press club in many cities of Pakistan, hegemony of a well-established, well-rooted ‘panel’ being challenged by a splinter ‘group’ comprising disenchanted, sidelined former members.

No one, even politicians, can beat the folks they look down upon; I am talking about traders and shopkeepers who too hold elections with other groups to ‘serve’ fellow traders and shopkeepers in their respective markets and localities. Words like Unity, Welfare, and Friend are aptly placed between Trader and Group. Even the election symbols like crescent, rose, and lamp smell of brotherhood, fresh yogurt, unity and rice.

Welcome, dearest sirs and ma’ams, to the time where elections are ubiquitous. Visit any district court, you’ll see the humble black coats who are contesting elections ‘requesting’ fellow black coats to kindly vote for them and give them an opportunity to serve and become their voice. At the same time, journos are sharing aggressively colorful pictures of their ‘panel’ in all and every whatsapp group they are part of with the same ‘request’ advocate sahibaan are making on texts and in person.

All said, dearest sirs and maa’ms, we are an election loving people. Since elections provide an opportunity to sift friends from foes while having some halla-gulla on the side, only a fool can hate them. In the election season battle lines are drawn, alliances are made, campaigns are undertaken, symbols are allotted, speeches are made, allegations are hurled and as the polling day nears a warm sense of purpose engulfs the individual who is convinced that he is part of something massive, something meaningful, and something historic. Well, the ultimate ‘epiphany’ kicks in the very next morning when he returns to the same old, dull routine called life in which he has to balance work and life. He silently yells in his heart; status quo is dead, long live the status quo, and leaves the bed.

The common man, who remains just another number, another statistic, in multiple surveys year in year out, all of a sudden becomes an individual voter with a unique identity no one can snatch or replicate. In first-past-the-post electoral system the candidate contesting general elections, local bodies polls or any other election needs to bag more votes than his rivals. And to win the hearts and minds of voters, something a little more concrete than future prosperity, something to alleviate the present misery and something to redress the past wrongs has to be offered. That ‘something’ is offered and accepted. No points for guessing what that ‘something’ is.

Let’s put our thinking hats on for a minute. People, at least in our part of the world, hardly vote as per the dictates of their conscious (including myself). Multiple factors like irrational love of personality, caste, biradari, peer pressure, group think, and herd mentality, an innate desire to please a friend or family member override even the basic reasonable consideration of choosing the lesser evil for an individual voter. Since an individual voter considers his vote as an instrument for petty, short term gains, those who dabble in electoral politics of any kind and at any tier steer him accordingly.

Every passing day, there are fewer and fewer takers of democracy all over the world. After the Brexit referendum in UK and an election that made a certain Mr Donald Trump POTUS, democracy has become pariah in the very territories it was once considered inviolable and invincible. The bigot and the zealot, once shunned in the developed world, have not only made a comeback but also scored true believers for their causes.

In a world where everybody with a smartphone and social media presence is a microscopic celebrity, where almost every jobless lad is either a motivational speaker or a budding entrepreneur, we have droves of charismatic folks in every walk of life who believe that becoming a leader is an end in itself rather than a mean to attain an ideal through sweat of one’s brow.

Let’s us wrap this week’s column with a distinction I learned during my bachelors. What separates an autocracy from a republic? Many things, you may say, like freedom of speech, liberty, rule of law, accountability of rulers and so on and so forth. Well, dearest sirs and ma’ams, the defining difference between an autocracy and a republic is that in a republic people by virtue of their votes decide who’ll rule over them, while in an autocracy, the usurper or a tyrant decides the fate of his people. About time, we inculcate a tad bit respect for democracy that allows us to vote whether we are black coats, journos or shopkeepers hellbent to change destinies of our fellow mortals.

Mohal, Nawaz. Nay to democracy, aye to elections. Pakistan Today, February 5, 2017.

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