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EDITORIAL: Put a handful of multi-millionaires and even fewer billionaires in charge of a country with hundreds of millions of people either just hovering around the poverty line or desperately trying to eke out a living by doing multiple jobs and soon enough you have the classic modern-day failed state. And the situation is made indescribably worse, as in this country, when the latter get into the habit of repeatedly voting the former into power to rule over them. In such situations over time the rich invariably grow richer and the poor, along with the country itself, much poorer. And so the cycle goes on and the institution of democracy only entrenches feudal lords and industrial barons ever more strongly in the halls of power. We in Pakistan are only too accustomed to such trends, of course, so nobody would have been surprised at all when data recently provided to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) revealed that our national and provincial assemblies are littered with super-rich, high-net worth individuals. It's almost as if you have to have dozens of cars, properties in London and Dubai, and more money than you can count to qualify to be in a position to legislate for the good of our precious country.

With time this peculiarity has given rise to a whole new phenomenon in our political culture - the indispensable electables, whose money buys the votes that are needed when their power or influence fails so they, in turn, can give their own loyalties to the highest bidding party. The businesses that they and their families own get the best government support, the bureaucrats who serve their interests get the best promotions in the civil service, and media houses that toe their line receive extra advertisements as well as preferential treatment. Together all of them form a very powerful nexus that lords over ordinary people who can do nothing better than go about their lives, and is only very happy to cut them down to size whenever they get too big for their own shoes. Most of Pakistan's most prominent electables can claim to have represented almost all parties at one time or another and still boast this description, which would be a cause for embarrassment in most parts of the world, as something of a badge of honour. For nothing lightens up their resumes like the distinction of having secured crucial votes for some of the top players in the game.

Another problem that we seem just unable or unwilling to overcome is lack of democratic norms and practices within democratic parties. Granted, the overall political culture of the subcontinent is such that charismatic dynasties heading political parties often tends to work like a charm and the Congress Party uses similar explanations in India, but surely this particular trend has now outlived its time. It is, after all, one of the main reasons for the downfall of Congress and the Gandhis across the border. Now that the country as well as party workers face the prospect of serving the third and fourth generations of the once revered dynasty, a lot of them are just not up for it anymore and insist on transparent elections within the party before it can be taken seriously again. Such a time has not yet come in Pakistan and even Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) came to power, after years of promising everything under the sky, when it finally went back on one of its own core policies and opened its door to electables. That is why we still have only the very rich as our masters everywhere.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020