Good Governance versus Populism


Good governance and populism cannot co-exist for long.  History is replete with instances of (1) popular leaders failing to give good governance and (2) leaders who give good governance being hardly popular, at least during their lifetimes.  While it would be too simplistic to say that popular leaders are not capable of good governance, that is only possible by leaders who are prepared to be unpopular i.e. have the ability to take tough decisions.  Sher Shah Suri, who drove the Moghul Emperor Jahangir from his throne, was hardly as popular as the royal potentate he deposed, yet the short five years of reign before he died (and Jahangir was welcomed back by a fickle people as a conquering hero) is quoted as the one rule in the history of the sub-continent that is seen as the best period of South Asian administration. For that matter the two hundred years of British rule till 1947 over India was hardly populist in nature, it was tough but fair and counted as an example of good governance.

If we are to add up the “good governance” scorecard of the military regime uptil Oct 12 there are many more pluses than minuses, if we were to go back further to the days before the President started his Referendum campaign, then those pluses are far more that those visible today. The “Referendum” can be said to be the watershed of the Musharraf Regime; his rule being divided into the period “before Referendum” (BR) and “after Referendum” (AR).  On the balance sheet the military regime has done extremely well BR but in public perception it has failed the acid test of credibility AR.  While there were some misgivings before the elections as to supporting of favourites, a lot of people who supported Gen Musharraf wholeheartedly have been turned off AR by the goings-on of the last 9 weeks or so. The Oct 12 results dictated a PML(Q)-led coalition in the Centre, an MMA government in NWFP,  Balochistan with a “pot-pourri coalition” inclusive of the PML(Q) as a senior partner and PPP-led coalition in Sindh.  This master plan was scuttled by the “Fazlur Rehman spanner”. Ms Benazir threw into the works, thereafter the regime’s wise men decided that the PPP did not deserve any democratic consideration. In the process they used the “Patriots” to shoot down the PPP’s aspirations for having their man as PM, they then got carried away and put paid to any PPP hopes to making the government in Sindh.  While this may be good in the short run, the compromise choice of Chief Minister, Ali Mohammad Maher, does not excite much confidence in sustaining this coalition rule for any length of time.  He may well surprise us by having strength presently not visible on the surface, at the moment he is very much a “puppet on a string”.

In the meantime, Pir Pagaro with his 13 swing votes has got his pound of flesh by (1) keeping Arbab Rahim out of CM contention and (2) getting his man Syed Muzaffar Shah elected as Speaker while the “Muttahidas”, who, as the second largest majority party in Sindh should have led the Sindh Government if the PPP failed to do so, are on course to get the Governorship for Ishrat ul Ibad.  This leaves PPP out in the cold, for the moment.  The heavens would not have fallen if PPP had been allowed a democratic opportunity to form the Sindh Government, they got the most seats and the most votes in Sindh, it was theirs by electoral right. Not that their leader did not play a major part by effectively scuttling her own party’s chances by her shenanigans! Getting Ali Mohammad Maher elected as the CM was the easy part, to keep all the coalition partners in line will test a magician’s penchant for juggling.  This is not what this country deserved after three years of excellent military rule, this is not what the military regime promised the people of Pakistan at the end of the rule.  If political frustrations boil over, Nawabzada Nasrullah is back on song to do what he does best, toppling susceptible regimes.

The President may have fulfilled the letter of the compact made with the Pakistani public on Oct 12, 1999, the spirit of those vows has been violated by a display of rank pragmatism on the part of the President’s men. Tariq Aziz and Maj Gen Ihtesham Zamir’s political “management” pre-elections was understandable, one accepted this as the military regime’s right to ensure that their excellent reforms enacted over the past 3 years were not frustrated, one called it pragmatic idealism.  However, their political overdrive post-elections has gone over the fail-safe time. In third world countries where adult literacy is low and perception has a greater say than facts, it becomes the bounden duty of those in power to ensure that absolute power does not fall into dangerous or fickle hands. That is the basis of the doctrine of necessity, and for those in the democratic west whom may not be comfortable with this philosophy, just look at the measures the bastion of the greatest democracy on Earth is taking.  The US is well within its rights to seek to protect not only the present but also the future of its citizens by instituting measures that would have the founding fathers turning over in their graves.  If George Bush was not motivating a mandate from his people for his war against terrorism by his present belligerent rhetoric, it would be a dereliction of duty.  For third world countries, like Pakistan, where the elected representatives of the country stand in Parliament to say a collective “Fateha” for a self-confessed murderer, for the President to voluntarily emasculate his authority in the present circumstances would be to invite civil disorder leading to anarchy.  He has to preside fully over the “transition” to full democracy. So that the dictatorship of a vocal minority does not dominate “the great silent majority”. Musharraf needs the authority (duly adjusted to cater for democratic norms) to maintain the semblance of sanity necessary for the citizens of Pakistan to live a civilized life.  This authority could well be imposed through the barrel of the gun but for three years of military rule it rested more on the President’s credibility, unfortunately his wise men have taken that bankable asset and dented it badly, it may not be in smithereens but the glass has cracked. The post-election moves of the President’s wise men has been counter-productive to the image of the Musharraf regime.

This military regime certainly provided Pakistan with good governance for the most part.  The citizens of Pakistan felt secure and safe, having much more freedom than in any of the military or democratic regimes before that.  However what they have now is uncertainty and apprehension because of the blatant compromises made on principles, putting good governance on the back burner. Unfortunately the logic of good governance in any third world country belies the sanctity of pure democracy, to have good governance the ruler must be tough and fair. That went with the personality and stature of Musharraf till very lately. Every ruler wants to be liked and loved, unfortunately the ruler who provides good governance in the country must be prepared to be hated by the elite.  This is because he has to step on the toes of the elite to give succour to the masses. Since the elite commands the media in all the countries of the world, the ruler must be also prepared to be temporarily disliked by the public in choosing good governance over populist measures. As a generous good-hearted being, Musharraf only gets tough when his own authority is threatened. Make no mistake, the Musharrafs of the world are no pushovers, this man is a tough cookie, he must also act tough, a permanent accountability process is necessary to put the country firmly on the road to good governance. The rulers and the ruled must be indiscriminately taken to task for any misuse of their authority or their privileges.

The President is a good man, in fact he is a wonderful human being.  He is not vindictive and he has none of the arrogance we normally associate with our rulers, particularly the democratic ones.  That he wants to be liked has been the undoing of his popularity, a Catch-22 that can only be corrected by his immediately taking tough and fair decisions, that includes allowing the real representatives of the people to rule the people who have elected them.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).