The loss of public confidence in politicians is the most harmful side effect of political leaders’ relentless demonization of opponents.
The coalition government’s parties and the PTI regularly accuse one another of being avaricious, dishonest, and corrupt. Instead of outlining their own programs and how they hope to benefit the public, their leaders and spokespersons spend time making accusations against one another. The terms “daku” and “chor” are now so widely used that they have become deeply ingrained in the ideologies of every political party.
The constant defamation of political opponents has become the new norm, but it has major repercussions. By associating the political class with scandal and financial fraud, discredits the entire political class.
In the 2018 general elections, about 50% of the electorate did not cast a ballot. It is safe to presume that most people are apolitical. People who hear accusations that defame political adversaries and label them as “traitors” come away with the idea that the entire political class is self-serving and lacking in integrity.
Today’s administration and opposition are involved in a never-ending war of words, resulting in record levels of political polarization. The public’s perception of leaders is impacted by this, particularly when their priority should be addressing urgent economic issues and easing the suffering that people are experiencing. This has a greater impact than just making people dislike politicians.
Since politicians are viewed as little more than tools in a power struggle and disassociated from problems of general concern, it has an effect on people’s trust in political institutions. The political system becomes alienated as a result. Democracy, which requires active and “trusting” citizens, is corroded by this.
The democratic system is threatened when individuals feel that politics lacks a public purpose, which deters them from participating in politics. If governments are perceived as being incompetent and driven by limited political interests, confidence in them declines.
Any system must have the element of trust to function properly. A lack of public trust in political leaders and their governments can produce a legitimacy gap.
No matter their political leanings, governments and political systems are losing favor with the general public, not just in Pakistan. This seems to be pervasive and is reflected in polls conducted around the world.
There is a body of literature that studies this occurrence, which can be explained by numerous variables depending on the country. But there are also similarities. Rising and unmet expectations, the widening gap between political elites and the general population, the behavior of leaders, the distance governments have from their constituents, the importance of economic performance in determining people’s perceptions of competence, and the information revolution, which has given people unprecedented levels of empowerment, are just a few of the general causes noted.
The detrimental effects of political polarizations in nations, both in the East and the West, are a crucial topic that comes up in the conversation. This is frequently blamed for the public’s declining trust in political institutions and people in control of them.
The constant defamation of political opponents may have become the new norm, but it has major repercussions.
In Pakistan specifically, public trust is impacted by the actions of state institutions. Once more, perceptions affect reality.
When it is thought that an institution—such as the judiciary—dispenses justice in an uneven and selective manner, it raises questions. Justice must not only be done, but also be seen. This is a fundamental tenet of every legal system.
When individuals believe that justice is being administered unfairly or with double standards, their reputation is harmed. Public skepticism regarding higher courts has grown over time as a result of a history of contentious rulings, from the judicial assassination of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the recurring legitimization of military coups. Exclusivist explanations of what “sadiq” and “amin” are haven’t done much to allay doubts.
In addition, when institutions are perceived as going beyond their constitutionally permitted boundaries, it undermines public confidence and sparks debate. Parliaments and the executive have occasionally acted outside the bounds of their constitutionally authorized authority. Legal professionals claim that the higher courts have also done so occasionally. The most recent example was the assertion made by a sizable portion of the legal profession that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution amounted to “rewriting the Constitution.”
Public trust in the military is far stronger than it is in other institutions, according to opinion polls. Even so, the military’s reputation has suffered due to its history of coups and more recent experience with so-called “hybrid” administration, in which the military participated in a number of facets of civilian governance.
The military’s involvement in politics and other activities that are outside of its purview as a professional is being questioned increasingly in the public. The implications for democracy of the power disparity between elected and non-elected institutions have long been a source of concern. Due to the weight of history, skepticism is raised about the establishment’s claims that it is apolitical and steers clear of politics. At times, political leaders’ criticism is obviously politically driven because they want the establishment to support them rather than stay out of politics.
Does this all add up to a lack of confidence in political figures and institutions? Yes, in a certain sense. However, things don’t have to be this way.
If political leaders learn to put the needs of the public before their own partisan objectives, trust can be restored. If they acknowledge that opponents are rivals in political struggle rather than villains who must be demonized and destroyed. If constitutional limitations and restrictions are upheld in actions as well as in words, confidence in institutions will be increased.
Written by: Aqsa Shahzadi
Edited by: Amna Sheikh