The rich representing the poor has long been a feature of Pakistan’s politics. Now, increasingly, it is the very rich representing the poor who by inflation, if not by falling wages, are getting poorer. Those in between the two extremes keep away from politics. They are not rich enough to contest polls, nor so poor as to line up to vote.
Presently and, it seems, for some time to come, the choice for the poor is only between the Sharifs and the Bhutto-Zardaris. Imran Khan, with all his charisma, was able to snap at them from the side because he is also cricket-rich, but even so he could not dislodge them from the centre of power.
Democracy in Pakistan is in fact a plutocracy, the rule of the rich. The real problem is not to have one or the other type of democracy, parliamentary or presidential, but to empower the poor who, irrespective of the area in which they live or the language they speak, easily constitute three-fourths of the population.
The rich dominating the present democratic dispensation are averse to local government not because it would give the poor a share in political power but because it would reduce the latter’s dependence somewhat on those who rule the roost in Islamabad and in the four provincial capitals.
The demand for carving out more provinces from the present four is aimed not at helping the common people but to create more power centres for the rich elite. New seats of government at, say, Multan or Bahawalpur or in the wilds of Balochistan would still remain inaccessible to the poor because of the lack of money and influence.
Any scheme aiming at the reorganisation of the federal structure must empower the common man in his own area and neighbourhood. More provinces, whatever their number, would not. The answer lies in assigning governmental functions and public revenues to the districts to make them accessible to the people’s representatives at a level where they would best know how to use both for the good of the poor and deprived.
The privileged class — the politicians and bureaucracy alike — have all along been acting to the contrary. All, or most, power and resources are vested in the federal parliament and government. The provinces look up to the centre for their share and the local councils, whenever in existence, look up to the provinces which hand down but a pittance.
The urban councils and more particularly the municipal corporation of Karachi was able to make its mark in the recent past only because the mayor (nazim) had direct and quick access to federal funds. But that was Gen (retd) Musharraf’s personal largesse and not institutional empowerment. Parks, flyovers, etc, are no longer seen coming up in Karachi as they did in the Musharraf era.