Saturday, September 27, 2014

Energy, political terrorism and Twitter power

Bilawal Bhutto can yank himself from the uncles and aunties crowd and tweet #EnoughIsEnough and get his party to sponsor a no-confidence motion in parliament based on the Election Commission Report

A major event can hold public attention for a maximum of two weeks. After this point people get bored and irritated and tend to move on. Pakistanis have been held hostage to a staring contest that shows no signs of anyone blinking. For six torturous weeks now. 
In even small personal projects or efforts, people tend to have a plan B. Pros and cons, plan A and plan B get written down. It appears that Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri went gung-ho with freedom and revolution with little other than their characteristic bluster and rhetoric. The age of technology gave them an audience of millions and their complaints against the Sharif clan resonate with a large segment of the population and a wave of furious discontent currently sweeps Pakistan.   

Within a week of the sit-ins the government was willing to set up a judicial commission for investigation of electoral rigging but Imran Khan had set out for the prize of Nawaz Sharif’s resignation and he ignored the offer. He probably thought that he had gotten to this point with such difficulty he might as well stay for the kill. But this, like so much of life, is a gamble which Kenny Rogers sang about so well: You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run”.  

Interestingly the same premise applies to the Sharifs. One expose’ after another, embarrassment after embarrassment, but the king and all his men just strut around in blissful ignorance. The electricity bill scandal is shocking in its stupidity. No meter readings were done, bills were simply written up with an over 500% markup, and the due date was written as the date that the bill was sent. Burning electricity bills is conduct unbecoming Imran Khan and sets up a bad example for his fans and other Pakistanis. But opening the envelope of the electricity bill and reading an amount that could be higher than 2 months of one’s salary is nothing short of terrifying. The electric supply corporations now say that people should pay their bills and their refund, after meter reading and correction, would show up after two billing cycles. Seriously? Have they heard of that saying: getting blood from a turnip?  

Nawaz Sharif’s private-jet journey, Islamabad-London-New York and his stay at the presidential suite of New York’s Waldorf Astoria at over $1000 per night financed by the Pakistani taxpayer and a nation of shelter-less millions may well be his last hurrah. I often wonder about how many sleeping pills it must take to quiet that wretched thing called a conscience.  

Kenny Rogers’ song is very instructive here. How long can Nawaz be the cloistered prime minister? That tiresome “go Nawaz go” is ubiquitous: chanted, written, painted, posted. His own party chanted it, instead of “go Imran go”! It followed him to London and New Yorkers will join in too.  

The sit-ins have changed the Pakistani mindset and awakened it to massive Sharif corruption and misrule. MPAs and senators removed from flights by angry passengers could be prefaces for a great deal worse. The careless display of power and wealth as well as uncompromising arrogance by the Sharif clan is actually asking for the public to unleash violence. Though this is the course of events in civil disorder, it is unwise for Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan to scream about the potential of a bloody revolution. Hunger, unemployment, disease, floods, crushing poverty, rampant drug use and religious and sectarian intolerance is a ticking time-bomb. Responsibility and not rhetoric is what Pakistan needs.   

Video tapes of provincial law minister Rana Mashood and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif demanding money and allegiance from Asim Malik and his wife MPA Zubia Rubab Malik, leave you open-mouthed. Pretty terrifying to have to fork over Rs. 20 lakh, arrange for your children to quickly leave the country, completely lose your business and have your home with all its possessions occupied by Mashood’s lackeys.  

All that aside what we were arguing about arrived quite unannounced. The Election Commission of Pakistan released its report of the 2013 elections. According to the report the integrity and character of the candidates were not properly or completely verified and loan and bill defaulters slipped in. Trained staff at election booths was replaced with non-trained individuals. Ballots were stamped en bloc. Elections were conducted in a substandard manner and now UNDP, the Commonwealth and the European Union have also expressed their dissatisfaction.  

Even more interestingly election records stored in the basement of a school have been burned beyond recognition. Former law minister Babar Awan facetiously called this not the beauty of coincidence but the beauty of organization. And the report has also been burned off your computer screens, for it has been removed from the Election Commission website.  

Joint sessions of parliament witness much chest thumping in favor of democracy and self-righteous claims to strengthen it. Now’s the chance for every parliamentarian to do just that. The PPP, MQM and even members of the PML-N should latch onto the Election Commission report and demand a re-election under a caretaker government after a consensus on electoral reforms. We must drop this personality rather than processes culture. The Election Commission Report makes the current parliament unelected. The army will most likely stay out of this fiasco. Relying on the Supreme Court to intervene will be circuitous and protracted and serve to further bankrupt Pakistan; the economic cost of the sit-ins is massive.  

Bilawal Bhutto can yank himself from the uncles and aunties crowd and tweet #EnoughIsEnough and get his party to sponsor a no-confidence motion in parliament based on the Election Commission Report. You’ve worked on your Urdu and I was so proud to see you wade through knee deep water even though it was for a photo opp with the flood victims. This would give you a place in history. You will redeem the Bhuttos: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s breaking of Pakistan, your mother’s mis-governance and your father’s massive corruption. A 24-year old and a simple tweet. How very awesome!