Today is election day. Tomorrow is a brand new day.
Or is it?
It is likely that following today’s vote we will have tomorrow a political set-up which is marginally more democratic than the current regime. It is possible that we will emerge from our long dark winter into a glorious spring filled with democracy and development. Or it is possible that things could get a whole hell of a lot worse.
Frankly, both outcomes are equally probable.
I wish I had words of comfort to provide. I wish that I had some blinding beautiful insight that would explain how things are going to all work out. But the truth is that nobody knows. Churchill once referred to Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Much the same can be said about Pakistan.
Two weeks ago, I attended a seminar organised by the SECP to publicise the launch of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). The seminar was erudite, the audience was learned and the vision being painted by the SECP of Pakistan’s rosy future was both enticing and entirely plausible.
But when one picked up a newspaper, all the good vibes disappeared. Dozens dead in suicide bombing, screamed one headline. These elections are a farce, shouted another. Between the seminar and the surkhis, my brain all but split into two. Either one or the other had to be right. Pakistan could not be simultaneously so advanced and so messed up.
But that is actually the case.
The problem with Pakistan is not that there are shades of grey which are being missed by casual observers. The problem with Pakistan is that it is a checkerboard with lots of blacks and lots of whites. Whether you think of Pakistan as shining or screwed up, you can find all the evidence you want. What you won’t find is a definitive answer either way.
So where does that leave the undecided voter?
Well, I decided to take the Sherlock Holmes approach and first rule out the impossibles. So, vote for Zardari? Hell no. Vote for Nawaz Sharif? Over my dead body. Vote for Moonis Elahi? Only if you took me aside later and shot me in the back of the head.
But who did that leave? A bunch of no-names including the no-name running under the sign of the elephant whose house happens to be opposite mine. But that would mean wasting my vote, my precious democratic vote. At that point, I was sorely tempted to use my seven-year-old’s solution to all complicated issues: eeny meeny mina mo, catch a tiger by his toe…
I wish I could give a coherent explanation as to why I finally settled on the PPP but I don’t think I can. When I reached the polling booth, my head was still spinning from the lack of decent choices.
Inside the polling station, all was confusion. There was a PPP polling agent but he could not figure out my name on the list and so told me to go outside. Outside was no better, as the PPP booth was literally unmanned, being staffed only by a gaggle of ladies who told me in the most shaista Punjabi that they had no lists and did not know what to do with them anyways. Not knowing who else to approach for help, I went to the PMLQ booth where a bunch of efficient organised workers soon had me all set up and ready to vote.
After I had gone back in and managed to manoeuvre my way through the whole finger-painting, thumb-stamping process of casting a vote, I asked the PPP’s polling agent why his party was so woefully disorganised that I had to get my slip filled out by the PMLQ guys. His first reaction was, “Challo ji Moonis Elahi da koi ta faida hoiya na!” And when that excuse did not quite pass muster, he tried a different tack. “Sarkar, we have no computers. Only the Q wallahs have computers”.
At this lovely riposte, I have to say that my heart sank. All I could think of were the lyrics to an old Ray Charles song titled, “Here we go again”.
Here we go again
She’s back in town again
I’ll take her back again
One more time
I’ve been there before
And I’ll try it again
But any fool knows
That there’s no way to win
As the last chords of the song faded from memory, I tried to figure out what to say to this gentleman, now representing the party to whom I had entrusted my political future. I wish I could report that my response was profound, but what I actually said was, “This is your third time. For god’s sake, don’t f**k it up.”