Forgetting the mandate?
As the constitutional reform process gets into full gear, it is useful to keep in mind what the January election was all about. It was not a standard election where voters sought a change in the policy platform along Party lines. It was also not the typical Green vs. Blue contest, where people felt one Party was more credible than the other. Instead the election was about bridging Party politics to take a stand against a skewed system of governance that benefited just a handful of elites. Therefore, as the ruling coalition presses ahead with the constitutional reform process, it is important that its members keep in mind that voters elected them not for what they represent separately as Political Parties, but the promise they made collectively to fix the system of governance.
In that sense, the January election was a call for a new social contract—i.e. new agreement between the rulers and the ruled. The previous social contract, under which the country had suffered for so long, was characterized by an “authoritarian bargain” where rulers secured support through targeted allocation of economic benefits and political favors to a select few. This led to the creation of a narrow set of powerful elites composed of closely linked politicians and business figures.
These elites used their privileged access to the policy making process to safeguard their vested interests through policies that exclusively favored them at the expense of the majority of the people. The collusion among the elites affected every sphere of society, including business tenders, government contracts, favorable bank loans, civil service jobs, permits for street vending etc. Moreover, these elites prevented the emergence of popular consensus against them by using their privileged positions to distort information and to create populist—'us vs. them' type—narratives to validate their action.
In this regard the last regime was in overdrive. The end of the war made them overplay their hand even more. With the insecurity gone the country was ripe for rapid growth. But in a system of “authoritarian bargain” the disproportionate beneficiaries of the pent-up growth were the elites—with only negligible trickle down effects. Similarly, the ‘us vs. them’ type rhetoric that provided them with cover during wartime did not have the same appeal anymore. Instead they became chauvinistic vitriol leading to new ruptures in society. The only positive to come out of all this was alerting the people of the skewed social contract that they were stuck with, due to the sheer helplessness they felt in face of the regime’s blatant plunder. It was this widespread disillusion that the joint opposition was able to take advantage of when recording their remarkable victory in January.
Therefore, as members of the ruling coalition wrestle to commandeer the constitutional reform process to benefit the narrow ends of their Political Parties, they should remember that they are not in power by virtue of belonging to a particular Party but by promising a dejected polity to fix their system of governance. Therefore, in pursuing constitutional reforms, their true loyalty should be to that mandate and not to the narrow objectives of their respective Political Parties. And if they forget this, we should make sure to punish them at the upcoming Parliamentary elections