Politics: the art of compromise


Nasir Khan
Political parties are essential to modern democracy, contrary to some popular opinion. Parties organise democracy and prevent voters from having to choose from among scores of candidates. Parties in a broad sense stand for a particular view of the role of government. Party identification is the best predictor of how people vote. Compromise between the parties has been and will remain vital for the functioning of democracy. These political compromises reflect the collective behaviour of the nation. In the 2018 general elections, no party has managed to achieve a simple majority. Now is the time for compromises and conciliation.
One cannot be a successful politician if one sticks to his ideals and convictions. If a politician is rigid and inflexible in his thoughts and approach, he will be isolated from the masses. Politics knows no code of conduct or ethics. If there is any field in which ends justify the means, politics is certainly one of them. One who is very conscious of the promises made on various occasions to the voters cannot progress in politics as one cannot fulfil many of the promises that are made and should be prepared to compromise on this score. True, to some extent politicians do fulfil some of the promises made during election campaigns, but by and large, assurances in political manifestos are ignored both by the masses and the parties themselves, with old promises yielding position to new. One cannot afford to take a firm stand on any issue in politics. The politician should be flexible enough to accommodate new thoughts, ideas and suggestions as the emerging situations demand. After all, there is a famous saying that politics is the art of compromise.
Politicians are bad at compromise not only because the electorate votes based ideology, but also because politics artificially and unnecessarily limit the number of bargaining parties. Thus, describing politics as the art of compromise is misleading. Because the value to interest groups of using the political process depends on the inability of other groups to organise effectively and join in the political bargaining, politics may just as accurately be described as the art of confining compromise: organised interest groups have incentives to confine the number of parties sitting at the political bargaining table. The result is that the interests of the general, unorganised public typically are compromised by political compromise.
It is a hallmark of our democracy that no candidate for office is ever able to deliver on all of her or his campaign promises. That is because of the way our system of government works. In dictatorships, it is a different matter of course. There, laws have nothing to do with the arena of public discourse or what the people want.
No one gets everything they want. Half a solution is better than no solution at all. To a hungry man, half an apple is much preferred to an empty stomach. More importantly a stubborn, rigid position even if it is sometimes the right one will often do more harm than good. Is a bad deal really worse than no deal at all? Sometimes, but not all the time.
Politics is the art of compromise. This does not mean that you have to surrender your personal convictions and always level the decision-making process to the lowest common denominator. This does not mean everyone is unhappy because they only get half a solution. But it does mean that effective leaders have to keep an open mind and be able to identify the greater good and the lesser of two bad solutions, and then make a timely choice, in good faith, to the best of their ability. Yes, the PTI leadership will have to face blackmail in the name of political compromise, and it will have to be very careful because the opposition is quite strong.
Negotiated solutions are almost always preferred to unilateral ones. Democracy is a messy process. But it is the best one we have. Let’s help it work better going forward and demonstrate statesmanship and the art of compromise in pursuit of a truly democratic culture.