Apr 272008

If the government’s democratic mandate dissipates and it loses support of the common people, it would become vulnerable to manipulation by Musharraf or the army or both
Democracy is the most cherished system of governance and political management. Even dictatorial and authoritarian rulers adopt some features of democracy through carefully regulated elections or some measure of political liberalisation.

Fair and free elections are essential to democracy but these are not the only criterion to judge the genuineness of democracy. Several other criteria give substance to democracy, including supremacy of the constitution; impersonal power structures deriving legitimacy from popular will and the constitution; an independent judiciary; diversity of power centres; rule of law; civil and political freedoms; and socio-economic justice. Democracy is not merely a principle of governance but also a societal norm that is reflected in the overall disposition of people and groups.

Pervez Musharraf’s government held elections and introduced some liberal measures. However, these steps did not make his government democratic. The overall orientation was authoritarian and centralised, and democracy or liberalism was allowed to the extent to which it served his interests. Parliament and the federal cabinet functioned as an adjunct to the presidency.

Media outlets were allowed freedom as long as political discussions and talk shows were substitutes for entertainment programmes. When channels and newspapers covered the 2007 anti-Musharraf movement and persistently criticised the general, they were subjected to harsh restrictions. Similarly, if Musharraf seems to have adopted a low profile and declared his intention to work with the government, it does not indicate that he has become a democrat.

Musharraf represents a tradition of governance that contributed to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971, perpetuated authoritarianism and created a feeling of colonisation among some people and regions of Pakistan.

If the president and his associates have not fully understood their rejection by the people, the present government needs to make them conscious of that reality. This requires more than ministers wearing black armbands or sloganeering by the parties’ loyalists at ceremonies.

Musharraf is waiting for the coalition to divide on the restoration of ousted judges or lose popular support due to their failure to address economic issues. This would give him an opportunity to return to his old game of manipulation. He may also react negatively if the judges are restored without giving security to his continued stay in office. The elected government faces a looming threat to its stability from the presidency.

The federal and provincial governments enjoy high democratic legitimacy and the former is the most representative and widely supported government in Pakistan’s history. This gives it an opportunity to make far-reaching changes in the character and function of the state. This legitimacy and mandate gives the political government a clear advantage over Musharraf. Therefore, this mandate should be sustained, which is possible only if the major coalition partners develop consensus on the restoration of judges and Musharraf’s future.

The major dilemma for the coalition is that divergent political experiences of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari are influencing their disposition towards these issues. Having been removed from power by Musharraf in 1999 and then exiled for almost eight years, Sharif has some scores to settle with the president.

Zardari’s disposition is also shaped mainly by his ‘unique’ personal experiences. He was put imprisoned for eight years without being convicted of any charge, and his efforts to redress this injustice from the superior judiciary failed. Therefore, he neither sees the ousted judges as ‘holy’ not does he view the removal of Musharraf as his first priority. In fact, Zardari may be willing to work with Musharraf provided the president’s powers to strike back at the government are scrapped.

Zardari faces another problem. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto thrust the PPP leadership on him at a time when he was working slowly to enter the party’s mainstream as an active leader after a gap of several years. Though his credentials are strong because he stood by the ideals of the party and rejected the compromise offers from Musharraf, he needs time to consolidate his hold on the party.

On the other hand, Sharif does not face such problems with respect to the PMLN, making it easier for him to concentrate on the judges issue and the future of Musharraf. Further, he learnt from the election experience that his hard line towards the president and the army’s top brass helped him get unprecedented success in central and northern Punjab. Sharif thinks that an unambiguous and hard line approach on these issues will further strengthen his political credentials in these areas and attract support elsewhere.

Sharif and his party are quite comfortable with the disposition of the lawyers. Zardari, however, is uncomfortable with their categorical demand for an early restoration of judges because he views their insistence as a threat to the primacy of political leadership, especially the PPP. He does not want to be seen as succumbing to extra-parliamentary pressures. He wants to restore the judges on his terms and in his own way.

Sharif and Zardari have to reconcile their differences and work out an acceptable arrangement on the restoration of judges. If the PPP wants to fix the tenure of the chief justice, it must give a face-saving option to the PMLN.

The delay in the restoration of judges is raising doubts about the capacity of the major parties to settle this matter. This will soon bring them in conflict with major civil society groups, especially the lawyers. This could also lead to the withdrawal of the PMLN from the cabinet.

These developments will destabilise the situation, cut short the democratic mandate of the government and compromise its capacity to address the major socio-economic issues, particularly inflation and the food and power shortages. A decline in popularity of the new government could either cause its collapse or force it to adopt authoritarian methods to sustain itself in power. And the major beneficiary of these developments is going to be Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf is also expected to resist the restoration of the judges and any effort to remove him from power. However, his success depends on the support of the army. The political government can counter the prospects of the army’s open support to Musharraf if it sustains its democratic mandate, functions coherently and effectively and acts decisively in performing its basic obligations to the citizenry. This calls for a continued partnership between the PPP and the PMLN on a shared agenda.

If the government’s democratic mandate dissipates and it loses support of the common people, it would become vulnerable to manipulation by Musharraf or the army or both. It would then stumble like earlier political governments.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Courtesy: Daily times, 27/4/2008

 Posted by at 9:41 am

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