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 more time making such accusations. The terms “daku” and “chor” are now so widely used that they are deeply ingrained in the ideologies of every political party.
The constant defamation of political opponents may have become the new norm, but it has major repercussions. By associating the political class with scandal and financial fraud, language that is repeated by the media discredits the entire political class.
Some leaders are said to have a Teflon quality since nothing bad can be said about them in the eyes of their followers, who are willing to ignore the truth even when it is shown to them. That’s actually the case. However, it ignores the effects on the broader public and individuals without partisan allegiances.
If the participation in general elections is any indication, they make up at least half of the adult population of the nation.
In the 2018 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 lack in integrity.
Today’s administration and opposition are involved in a never-ending war of words, resulting in a record level 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.
Because they 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. A lack of public trust in political leaders and their governments can even 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 currently 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 to be done. 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 the 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 “ameen” 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 more frequently in the public nowadays. 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 can learn to put the needs of the public before their own partisan objectives, trust can be restored; if they also 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 can also be increased.