Apr 172008

The Anglo Saxon concept of “winner takes all” may be workable in the UK, but in Pakistan the winner invariably works only for his own voters, ignoring all other constituents. It has been the standard operating procedure in Pakistan
Everyone wants democracy but genuine democracies are few and far between; they exist more in form than substance and reflect the requirements of authoritarian rulers or the ethos and socio-economic level of society.

Pakistan is one such example, where military dictators as well as most elected civilian leaders have ruled with authoritarian diktat.

A comparison with India may be appropriate. In 1949 India framed her Constitution, and the first elections were held in 1951. Since then democracy has never got derailed there (except the 77-79 Emergency). Pakistan of course has walked through a minefield: three constitutions, four military interventions and imperfect civilian interregnums.

Why such disparity in the political growth and evolution of two states similar on most counts? In addition to the retrogressive military takeovers, there were other abetting factors and systemic flaws in the application of the democratic principle.

India was fortunate that her founding fathers lived beyond its formative phase. Mr Jawaharlal Nehru governed for seventeen years while Quaid-e-Azam passed away within thirteen months of independence (his successor was assassinated three years later). Democracy in Pakistan grew up as an orphan, soon to be traumatised by military interventions. Elected leaders during the interludes could not consolidate democratic institutions, sometimes due to lack of maturity or an authoritarian mindset, and sometimes due to bad governance.

In Pakistan, domination of the state by a military-bureaucratic conglomerate did much to prevent the growth of democratic institutions even during civilian rules.

Another inhibiting factor has been the dis-equilibrium in our federal structure. The disparity in size, population, socio-economic prosperity, and most importantly, ethno-linguistic differences of the federating units, have negatively impacted our cohesion and unity. India has twenty-two states and nine union territories, as compared to our four provinces. But unlike the Indian Union, where none of the states is in a position to dominate the Centre, the Punjab, in our case, because of its demographic weight, has influenced policy and decision-making, sometimes in conflict with the interests of the smaller provinces.

In mature democracies, the size of one unit does not create problems for others since there are usually two or more political parties with adequate representation in all units of the federation. However in our case, PPP is the only major party with a federal profile. Even the Muslim League, contesting as separate factions under different patrons in past elections, has been gradually restricted to the Punjab, with limited and factionalised presence in smaller provinces. Marginal representation in the other three provinces has created obvious problems of nationwide acceptance, and denied the League of its “All Pakistan” status. Two or three parties with nationwide spread would have been beneficial to democracy.

Yet another flaw in our electoral system is the introspective approach of our electorate, which tends to vote on issues of personal concern like electricity, gas supply, roads and other local requirements, rather than issues of national importance. Then there are pressures of “biradari” and feudal lords. Financial incentives and state coercion further undermine the spirit of democracy and distort the election culture. Devolution of authority to local governments has further aggravated the process and made it exploitative.

The Anglo Saxon concept of “winner takes all” may be workable in the UK, but in Pakistan the winner invariably works only for his own voters, ignoring all other constituents. It has been the standard operating procedure in Pakistan.

The culture of “lotacracy”, reprehensible in any civilised society, has taken firm roots in Pakistan, making horse-trading a profiting venture for the politicians. Contesting elections on the platform of a particular party and its manifesto, and then switching sides immediately after victory, is clear political deception and treachery.

The purpose of this critique is not to belittle democracy or democrats, but to bring into focus those systemic flaws which need to be redressed. Here are a few suggested remedial measures:

* The structure of the Federation needs to be reviewed. If India could restructure her thirteen states in 1947 to the present twenty-two, we could consider redefining provincial boundaries, or dividing them into smaller units. Analysts have variously put the number between nine to fifteen units.

* The single constituency concept of elections needs to be reviewed. We should switch to proportional representation, or a mix of the two systems which could be more responsive to our socio-political environment. The argument that Senate counter-balances the demographic weight of the provinces is not correct, since its constitutional authority is less than the National Assembly.

* The demand for greater provincial autonomy must be given the highest priority and the subject widely debated.

* To draw the electorate away from focusing largely on local issues, no development funds should be given to parliamentarians, who should only highlight the problems and demands of their constituents. All development should be carried out on central and provincial basis.

* Immediate reforms of local government are required. Local representatives should only have a consultative and monitoring role in the affairs of their districts.

* Defection laws should be strengthened, drawing a clear distinction between dissent and defection.

* All factions of Muslim League, in particular the PMLN should widen their base of support in smaller provinces.

The new Parliament should take bold initiatives to present a wholesome Constitutional package to the Nation. There are no ‘copycat’ solutions, but federal structures and electoral systems of Germany and Switzerland could be studied for reference.

Shujaat Ali Khan was a Major General in the Pakistan Army, later serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Morocco. He was also Director General of ISI’s internal wing

Courtesy: Daily Times, 17/4/2008

 Posted by at 10:26 am

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