It says a lot about the state of a country and the priorities of its elected leaders when they show up in record volumes in support of their figurehead, but drag their feet on matters of national importance. At a time when the capitol was choked by demonstrators for nearly a month and the disruption was causing millions in costs and damages, the most pressing issue for the vast majority of lawmakers was showing reverence for their disgraced leader. Even on Saturday, as Faizabad erupted in clashes, the respected prime minister could be seen sitting reverently in the court of his predecessor, ‘strategising’. This is the quandary in Pakistan: despite innumerable issues that need legislation, political intervention and public welfare-oriented attention, self-preservation and cult politics take center stage, because the dominant political party is run like a cult. Last week, Privatisation Minister Daniyal Aziz claimed that 167 votes proved that the PML-N was united under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif. Soon after announcing the result of the vote, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq read out the president’s prorogation order, without taking up the dozen remaining items on the agenda. News reports don’t even mention what the remaining items on the agenda were, or how they impacted the public in what capacity. That became immaterial, sidelined in the cacophony of the political-media circus that ensued, because the dominant political party is run like a cult. A recent report claims the sit-in in Islamabad has caused 120 million to the capitol police. Reports claims that the sit-in has “caused business losses worth billions, besmeared our national image in the world, beating up commuters, attacking school buses and vans, smashing private cars, taking over public property, causing deaths by blocking roads to hospitals, inciting violence, abusing and threatening etc.” However, instead of resolving this sensitive issue peacefully and sensibly, the priority is to show solidarity to an ousted individual, because the dominant political party is run like a cult. Reports claim that the sit-in has ‘caused business losses worth billions, besmeared our national image in the world, beating up commuters, attacking school buses and vans, smashing private cars, taking over public property, causing deaths by blocking roads to hospitals, inciting violence, abusing and threatening etc.’ However, instead of resolving this sensitive issue sensibly, the priority remained showing solidarity with the ousted PM Shortly after the sit-in, a patient died on the way to the hospital as the roads were choked. This is a travesty on two levels. First, a citizen was denied access to healthcare and departed as a result. Second, the healthcare he couldn’t even access is in desperate need of an overhaul. The Sharif family, which has been in power in Punjab, has spent three decades building hospitals and healthcare facilities that are so state-of-the-art, none of them bother to use said facilities themselves. The former Prime Minister and his ailing wife both sought treatment for sickness abroad. They dare not use their own hospitals, because they are more than aware of the conditions of these institutions, and yet they will not see reform or improvement, because the dominant political party is run like a cult. Philip Zimbardo once said: “Many cults start off with high ideals that get corrupted by leaders or their board of advisors who become power-hungry and dominate and control members’ lives. No group with high ideals starts off as a ‘cult’; they become one when their errant ways are exposed.” It is almost as if he was doing a case study on the PML-N. Solving the myriad of problems in Pakistan seems to have taken a backseat to the welfare and elevation of the former PM. He must be credited for stepping aside when the courts demanded it, and for facing charges in court. But perhaps it is time to climb down from the totem pole, and allow fresh blood to breathe some much-needed life into the true priorities of Pakistan. The daughter proudly tweeted that the father is not a person, but an idea, and ideas cannot be killed. It is a contrived statement, perhaps most famously used by the anti-hero V in V for Vendetta, and amounts to little substance. Especially when you consider the fact that in this case, ‘idea’ is synonymous with ‘cult’. There was so much energy spent on defending the leadership, on protecting the Sharif name and legacy that every other matter of national significance faded away. Had an iota of said energy, spent daily in talk shows, press conferences, tweets, personal attacks and extensive defensive mechanisms, been instead spent on peacefully resolving the Faizabad issue, the state and the country would not be in such an embarrassing position at the moment. The public needs to truly see where the priorities of the incumbents lie, what really drives their agenda, and their many, many shortcomings. The public needs to vote for change, for liberty from the tyranny of mediocrity, for leadership that uncompromisingly pushes public welfare front and center. Without this knowledge, as Asimov once said, the tragedy of democracy is that one’s ignorance is just as good as another’s knowledge. The writer serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad, is a freelance journalist, and holds a bachelor and master degree in strategic communications from Ithaca College, NY. He can be reached via email@example.com and tweets @zeesalahuddin Published in Daily Times, November 29th 2017.