Oct 20, 2011

Media and the masses

Shahid Lateef The recent protests in all big cities of the country by infuriated mobs who ransacked public property were unfortunate. The protesters were demanding an end to the long hours of load-shedding. When the public pressure became intolerable, the government put a temporary lid on the boiling cauldron. The potentially precarious situation was defused by the Rs10 billion injected into the cash-starved power generation industry. However, it is anticipated that the monster of power deprivation will be back soon. There are innumerable examples of the leadership’s non-serious attitude towards the serious problems facing the country. We are groping in the dark with no light visible at the end of the tunnel. Pakistan must be the only country that exists without a clear definition of its national interests. Seriously perturbed about the rapid slide of our country into crisis, I embarked upon a series of articles to present an analysis of the situation and offered solutions based on the initiative by the judiciary (the only credible institution in the country and trusted by most people), for the enforcement of its judgments. The judgments were being blatantly defied by the government. In my article in The News titled “Inviting the army: the judiciary should come clean” (Aug 11), I had written, “At this crucial juncture of our history, the higher judiciary and supporting agencies (the army) bear a large responsibility, to stem and turn the oppressive tide in order to help the hapless nation. It is by fulfilling this obligation that they can be truly portrayed as the guardians and saviours of people, as well as the custodians of their legitimate rights.” In another article, “Behind the violence in Karachi” (Sept 7), I had stated, “It is heartening to see the formerly dormant judiciary spring into action, and taking suo motu notice of the killings of innocent citizens, by the hundreds, in Karachi. The people of this city had been clamouring for the higher judiciary to come to their rescue, by invoking Article 245 of the Constitution. They want the army to bring durable peace, by undertaking surgical operations against the barbarians who have been unleashed upon them.” The objective behind my campaign is to seek a constitutionally legitimate joint action by the judiciary and the army to pull the country out of the dire straits it is in, and formulate a national government to put it back on track, before another election is held, for the resumption of our march towards the democracy. There was a reason behind this desire for a pause so that we can get our act together and put our house in order. While we witness feverish political activity being launched in the form of protests by the main opposition party to dislodge the present government, the motive is purely selfish. People have suffered badly from unprecedented corruption, poverty, unemployment, inflation, load-shedding and out-of-control terrorism during the three-and-a-half years of the present regime. While they have been groaning under unbearable pain, no political party has come to their rescue by putting up joint resistance in alliance with the other parties to mitigate the miseries of the masses. Now that the Senate elections are getting closer and there is fear that the sitting government will secure a majority in the upper house, which would further help it win the next general elections, the politicians have again turned to the masses for support. Let us briefly analyse whether elections at this point in time are a viable option. If we really want to avoid a bogus exercise, a lot of work needs to be undertaken in their preparation. First of all, the Election Commission needs to be made independent and the criteria for eligibility of candidates to be subjected to scrutiny, particularly in the light of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Second, there is a constitutional requirement to hold elections under a caretaker setup, whose members are to be nominated by the president. Can he be trusted to form a non-partisan team to accomplish this onerous task? Third, the system of elections to the Senate is flawed and needs to be corrected through debate, and to be based on proportional representation. Fourth, it is common knowledge that there were as many as 35 million bogus votes cast in the last elections due to false voters’ lists. This will need revision, which is a time consuming activity. Fifth, the security situation in the country is simply non-conducive to an election, and how long it would take to get normal is anybody’s guess. If the elections are held without the system being revamped, the same faces will appear that have repeatedly let us down in the past. The conclusion is very clear. In the absence of any other saviour, the media and the masses have to join hands once again and rise to the occasion. It was this winning combination that performed historic feats in the past, first by forcing the restoration of the judges twice, and more recently, compelling the authorities to terminate the long inflicted load-shedding. Encouraged by the efficacy of street power against an incorrigible and intransigent leadership, they have to stand up and act as agents of change. This change must lead to the formation of a national government which should stabilise the country, clear the mess and create suitable conditions for transparent, fair and free elections, to resume our march towards true democracy. The media has to clearly define its objectives, whereby instead of wasting precious TV time on useless discussions in talk shows that only facilitate political actors settling of personal scores with each other, it should focus on programme that increase the masses’ awareness and focus on events that form the big picture. At this crucial juncture, destiny has carved out a key role for the media and the masses. Let it not be said that they did not prove equal to the task.

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