A tale of two Prime Ministers
On Wednesday the 25th of March 2015, The British Prime Minister David Cameron faced the last session of “Prime Minister’s questions” (PMQ’s). This session has been a feature of British parliament that provides the opportunity to challenge the premier. Although prime ministers have been answering questions for hundreds of years, but since 1881 PMQ’s became a regular event of the parliamentary proceedings and later became timetabled. Currently it is held every Wednesday.
When Cameron finished the session, he had over the course of his tenure, answered hundreds of questions. These questions ranged from broader issues of economy and security to more localized issues such as pleas by the residents to block a highway or a windfarm.
Not only the prime minister’s questions challenges the person in the hot seat but it makes sure that that the person at the helm is never out of touch. If the PM decides to “Wing it”, than that is akin to a political death wish.
Any minister of any constituency can raise an issue one on one, and the prime minister is answerable to him/her. This creates a culture of accountancy and constantly serves as a reminder for the responsibility. It ensures to the public that the prime minister is answerable for every penny that is spent and every second for which he holds the office.
It is quite common to find top officials in the OECD countries, cutting short their holidays to chair security meetings or issues that require urgent attention. For every Briton that dies of unusual circumstances, the nation looks at Downing Street for a statement. Be it the heinous murder of aid workers or British people dying in plane crash, a point of view is issued by the PM, mostly in person.
It is a duty that is expected and a task that is thankless. While one can disagree with Cameron’s and his party’s policies, but no one can accuse him of idling. For if he risks taking his eye off the ball, his position becomes untenable. Such is the system in the UK.
About 4000 miles away, things are different for Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan. He is currently in the second year of his third term and prefers to look busy through foreign tours. In fact his number of days abroad far exceed the number of times he has visited the parliament, leave alone held the office. His public appearances in Pakistan are also, far and few between.
He was spotted on the 23rd of March at Pakistan day parade and before that, he surprised everyone by visiting the school in Peshawar that had seen a blood bath last year on December 16th. During this out of schedule appearance, his focus was more on the photographers and media men than the aggrieved families. His eyes and body language suggested that he was trying to lap up appreciation homing is way for gracing the occasion. Off course he may not be intending to do so but public behaviour is certainly a craft that requires some training and practice. One shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Winston Churchill used to spent hours rehearsing his speeches. Every nuance of his voice was calculated. It was through this effort that whatever he put out in the public sphere is often re-quoted, even today with a strong sense of nostalgia. His speeches were works of art that have stood the test of time.
People who recognize the power of oratory know how it can galvanize a nation in times of crisis. For the Pakistani PM, this ability of public engagement has degraded over time. To a degree his oratory skills in the previous terms was buttressed by his greater enthusiasm. As that enthusiasm waned, so did his confidence.
The Pakistani PM remains a person that holds the highest seat in the public office but is as accessible to his own countrymen as a mafia boss is to the authorities. Two years into his term, he still doesn’t have a cabinet and key posts remain vacant. Delegation of power is something of an alien concept to Mr Sharif nonetheless he constantly renews vows for strengthening democracy.
This begs the question, how is the system in place allowing this to happen? How can a PM be so detached and untouchable? How can he still hold office?
This is because there is barely such thing as a “system” in Pakistan. The institutes that should have upheld accountability are often the first to be tempered with by every government. Establishments and Pillars of state have been constantly shaken compromising not just system integrity but the system itself.
There was more a chance for kings in the mid-evil era to feel the heat of his subjects and the wrath of church, than there was ever in a democratic Pakistan. Rumours are that Nawaz Sharif spends his evening watching Urdu dubbed Turkish soap operas and political sitcoms. The PM hasn’t done himself any favours by not recognizing the need to change that image.
Having said that, it still feels like Pakistan is not light-years away from the time when Prime Minister’s questions will be a feature of its own parliamentary proceedings. The Peshawar School Massacre was a watershed moment in Pakistan’s history. It brought the nation out of confusion. Pakistan is now very aware of the enemy. With the media’s evolution to adolescence, there is a renewed sense of hope. March towards progress has begun. The improving security situation and growing awareness is rapidly transforming the political landscape. The death in popularity of the two traditional parties (including Nawaz Sharif’s own PMLN) reflects the mood in masses and shows their longing for more engaged politics. Dinosaurs perished as they couldn’t cope with step change in environment. A step change in Pakistan is on the horizon and hopefully it will bring about an extinction of out-dated politicians.
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