Muk Muka

In South Asia on 26. January 2013 at 19:08

Pakistan’s problems are decades old and they are infested in the very social fabric of the nation. To fix these will take a gradual process where the main object should be to find the right path; the remaining task of walking in this direction will be easier once the path is chosen. Democracy is a self-corrective system which once given the opportunity will evolve stronger and give well functioning institutions.

Being witness to financial scandals, violence in all forms and general lack of welfare delivered from the state people gets fed up and rally behind those who promise to end the many injustices by implementing their formulas. Especially before elections and during democratic tenures a general lack of trust in democracy is given. In recent weeks we have witnessed the same old mantra that there is no democracy in Pakistan and that elections are rigged in favor of dynastic political parties. In short that it all is pre-decided – muk muka – and that election commission and the entire election process is merely a fraud.

This begs to mind three questions. Is there democracy in Pakistan? Has the election commission of Pakistan lacked reforms in order to deliver free and fair elections? And last, is it all a fraudulent setup where two main political parties have settled the outcome behind the scenes? Let’s start with the first one.

Pakistan is a democracy, not a perfect one, neither a strong one. It is young and fragile and needs the time and support in order to develop. The first decade of Pakistan’s political history was marked with unelected constituent assemblies, followed by army rule until the bloody civil war in 1970. First democratic period lasted for four years until 1977 again to be followed by a decade of army dictatorship. The decade of 90s saw a clash between institutions as presidency, executive, judiciary and army and again one commando took the top slot. Civilians took the reins in 2008 and for the first time in history a civilian Government will hopefully fulfill its term and be replaced by another civilian Government. With such a short time given to civilians, and with extrajudicial moves there is no wonder democracy could not grow any stronger.

But history tells lessons and most of the established political parties do not wish to see another army chief at the top slot. Judiciary itself has ruled out any use of the notorious ‘doctrine of necessity’ which was used to legitimize army takeover. Army on its side has hinted that the time when army chiefs could take power is over. When institutions start to give such statements then there is a sure sign that democracy has strengthened. More than before power is also shared among so many that no single body can alone decide to rule the country alone, a strengthening of Monstesquieus separation of powers theory.

Country lacks rule of law. Be it religious persecution, police brutality, bribery in all sectors and injustice in court rooms all witness of the lack of rule of law.

Rule of law – not simply three words clinging nicely, but a basic necessity to be in force in order for one state to claim its writ on its territory. It is also essential in order for people to feel the needed security and trust they need in a state. Lacking this security and trust people will seek it elsewhere, as in tribal, ethnic, sectarian or ideological groups. Such fragmentation weakens a society and the only law to rule is the will of the strongest. To counter this democracy has the tool to spread power from few hands to many and to make the will of the people more powerful in assemblies.

Now to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and whether or not reforms have stood at standstill. During current Parliamentary tenure there has been launched a five year strategic reform plan (2010-2014) for the ECP. According to Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) the ECP has become a fulltime and permanent commission for the first time in this nation’s history. Of its 15 strategic goals with 129 objectives some 48% has been implemented.

Further the Parliament with a unanimous vote on the 18th amendment have made the entire process around electing the chief election commissioner and the four members more transparent and subjected to parliamentary oversight. This is a change from previous practice where President could handpick anyone of desire. The change makes it necessary for Prime Minister (on behalf of Governmental parties) and Opposition leader (on behalf of opposition parties) jointly select candidates who are vetted by a joint parliamentary committee which is equally numbered with Government and Opposition representatives. That makes the election process more trustworthy in a country where mistrust has been marked on election process.

Computerized national identity cards are made compulsory which will make it easier to arrange computerized electoral rolls, reducing the risk of bogus votes. One major issue which has to be solved soon is the need for an all out population consensus. Current constituencies are made up after the 1998 consensus, while the recent count has been criticized for being unreliable. The upcoming election might not be of the standard in western democracies, but compared to Pakistan’s history, it might become one of the most fair and free elections ever conducted.

And then finally to the last issue, is the entire electoral system a fraud? Has it all already been settled by the established political parties?

Contrary to what some might say, Pakistani political parties fight for each inch of popular support which can be won, compromises are made only if a possible coalition can bring one group of parties to power. The current rivalry is between three main political groups, PPP, PML-N and PTI and their political supporters. In such a way there is a fight to secure alliances with smaller political groups and the local influential political leaders. This is not muk muka, this is coalition building which is necessary in order to create a majority coalition because no single party can form a Government at its own.

With the passing of 20th amendment the major political parties agreed for a caretaker setup during election times in order to secure a neutral administration. In order for a caretaker Prime Minister to be elected both Government (in consensus with coalition) and opposition (in consensus) have to agree on whom to be nominated. Those in Parliament not agreeing to the candidate have the full right to file a petition in Supreme Court.

Any other institution meddling in this process is against the constitution and its amendments. To demand inclusion of judiciary and military in the process is to exceeding their limits and to shrinking the limits of Parliament.

And despite the eligible articles of 62, 63, 63A and 218(3) are a good check to rule out unfit candidates from Parliament, some sections of it are highly controversial, for example article 62 first section points c to f which are highly subjective. Thus even though there was to be an effective rule of law, the law would not necessarily bring equality for all citizens. One can compare the value of equality with the second amendment and Ordinance XX, the value clash with these amendments and ordinances. Those demanding change should reflect on fundamental values of democracy and also demand changes in constitution which works against these.

And while at it, there are other major issues which also undermine democracy but receive little interest from political leaders. Media freedom, freedom of speech, rights of minorities and religious freedom are issues which will not be fixed by change in law, but that would be a good start. In the end, by giving credit to those lawmakers who actually do their job we as citizens can contribute in putting incentives for others to follow suit.


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