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Sunday, February 01, 2015  
Justice for all

by Javed Hafiz
Politics bereft of ethics can indeed become tyranny

For Aristotle politics and ethics were inter-related. He thought the ultimate objective of human existence was happiness. But humans cannot achieve a state of happiness the way animals do. Humans are social and contemplative animals. The best way to ensure human happiness was to provide justice for all. Justice could be of two kinds; distributive and remedial. Justice is based on virtue which is inseparable from ethics. Therefore, the final objective of any political entity or state should be maximum happiness of the people which could be achieved only by a system based on ethical norms.

In the Third World, it is generally thought that all is fair in politics. A political party strives to get into the corridors of power and ends justify means. All means, fair and foul, can be employed to achieve the desired results. The hallowed  concept of democracy is used by the selected few to get into government in order to further individual or party objectives. Who said democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people? Those are theoretical concepts confined to the books. Is the yawning gap between politics and ethics in the Third World a permanent feature? To me it is an indication of political immaturity which can be cured with further practice of democracy and spread of education.

Pakistan, being an Islamic country,  should set high ethical standards for its political leaders. But unfortunately that is not the case. The voter expects the politician to get him the village road, help him with the local police and arrange suitable jobs for his kith and kin. Whether the political leader is a saint or satan, is not important for the voters. As opposed to this, the voters in the developed democracies are far more discerning. In the West, if you hold a public office, your life is public property and you have to adhere to certain moral standards. President Clinton had to apologise for his extra marital laison with Monica Lewinsky, but President Estrada of the Phillipines had no problem keeping quite a few mistresses.

And then within one country, people expect different moral standards from different leaders and parties. If a People’s party leader is caught telling a lie, it is no big deal. But if Imran Khan admits old politicians into his party , he is severely criticised. Remember Nawaz Sharif had said several times that he would never ever entertain pro-Musharraf politicians. Now they are joining his party in droves. Nobody has taken him to task for that move. In his case, it is considered smart politics. Obviously  the people of Pakistan judge Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan by different ethical standards. If President Zardari reneges on a written promise, he is considered smart but if a Jamat e Islami leader had done the same, he would face strong criticism.

But that does not mean that all Pakistanis approve corruption and double standards. The reason that Chief Justice Chaudhary has become so popular is that he wants accountability across the board. A friend of mine, who teaches at a prestigious university and is considered an authority on Pakistani politics, says corruption is only a middle class problem. But I do not agree with him. Corruption, for example, hinders fair and merit oriented distribution of job opportunities. This adversely affects the poor segments  the most as they do not  have the capacity to pay bribes.

One essential function of the political leadership is to serve as a vital link between the people and the state. With so much population and poor security environment, it is no longer possible for the leaders to hold public meetings so often or to receive every body in their offices. But modern technology can be used to bring the rulers and the ruled closer. For example, the Punjab government has devised a system in which ordinary citizens can lodge complaints against corrupt practices of officials by SMS or by phone calls. The recorded voice of the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif welcomes every complainant. People lodging complaints are promptly attended to by the chief minister’s staff by way of return calls. This has helped in bringing the level of corruption down in Punjab.

 In my opinion, ethics and politics can be and indeed should be combined for the sake of general  good. Ethics indeed provides the state with a strong basis and justification. With the increase in wealth  and population, the need for the distributive as well as remedial justice has increased. Politics bereft of ethics can indeed become tyranny.

Oman Tribune

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