Pol­i­tics mi­nus cul­ture

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

THE ex­tended ex­er­cise to se­lect a care­taker prime min­is­ter has shown that the price Pak­istan is paying for its lack of a cul­ture of demo­cratic pol­i­tics is much greater than is gen­er­ally re­alised.

Heavens be thanked that the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan de­cided the mat­ter by a healthy ma­jor­ity of four to one and the re­sult has been widely wel­comed.

If the ECP had split 3-2 the win­ner would still have been in­stalled on the un­duly cov­eted gaddi but the barest pos­si­ble mar­gin of his success would have cast long shad­ows across his path. One won­ders why the former judges con­sti­tut­ing the ECP could not dis­play the una­nim­ity that dis­tin­guishes our su­pe­rior ju­di­ciary th­ese days.

While Mir Hazar Khan Khoso de­serves and needs the sup­port of all par­ties, it is nec­es­sary to probe the fail­ure of the politi­cians to de­cide the mat­ter. This is be­cause doubts have arisen about Pak­istan’s ca­pac­ity to avoid hav­ing a care­taker regime for hold­ing gen­eral elec­tions and to prop­erly im­ple­ment the con­sen­sus-based for­mula de­vised vide the 18th Amend­ment.

The in­sis­tence on hav­ing care­taker gov­ern­ments for hold­ing elec­tions is not in ac­cord with the prac­tice in es­tab­lished democ­ra­cies; the idea is a con­ces­sion to coun­tries where the elec­tion ma­chin­ery is too weak to pre­vent ma­nip­u­la­tion by the government or any­body else. Such coun­tries are ex­pected to not only de­velop in­sti­tu­tions ca­pa­ble of guar­an­tee­ing fair elec­tions but also to ac­quire the cul­ture of de­cent and demo­cratic com­pe­ti­tion. An end to the need for care­tak­ers will sig­nal Pak­istan’s tran­si­tion to a demo­cratic polity that could func­tion with­out crutches, such as care­taker set-ups and bay­o­nets to pro­tect vot­ers. The re­cent con­duct of Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal elite does not en­cour­age the hope that it is in­ter­ested in set­ting its sights prop­erly.

The au­thors of the 18th Amend­ment strength­ened democ­racy by tak­ing the power to ap­point a care­taker prime min­is­ter away from the pres­i­dent and giv­ing it to bi­par­ti­san par­lia­men­tary bod­ies. The par­ties in government and those in op­po­si­tion were pre­sented with an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop the art of gov­er­nance by mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion. Their fail­ure to profit from this open­ing, es­pe­cially the man­ner of their fail­ure, must have hurt all demo­cratic-minded ci­ti­zens.

I A Rehman

All the eight gen­tle­men on the list — un­for­tu­nately it be­came an all-male af­fair af­ter the only woman men­tioned in dis­patches found rea­son to de­cline nom­i­na­tion — were em­i­nent ci­ti­zens and wor­thy of due re­spect and con­sid­er­a­tion. It was per­fectly in or­der to judge their el­i­gi­bil­ity in terms of their in­tel­lec­tual cal­i­bre, com­pe­tence and ex­pe­ri­ence, but of this lit­tle was heard.

The most com­mon rea­son for re­ject­ing them one af­ter an­other was that one side or the other doubted their abil­ity to treat it fairly. What was un­der at­tack was a nom­i­nee’s in­tegrity, some­thing the un­for­tu­nate quar­ries might have found in­com­pat­i­ble with a le­git­i­mate sense of self-re­spect. They did not fail the test; those who failed were the se­lec­tors. Quite clearly each one of the par­ties charged with se­lect­ing a prime min­is­ter was not look­ing for a qual­i­fied helms­man but was keen to see its own man in power. Thus, ev­ery­one pro­posed by the ‘other’ had to be re­jected by ‘us’. Nar­row par­ti­san­ship blocked the way to demo­cratic ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The first re­quire­ment of a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion is the abil­ity to see merit in a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent’s ar­gu­ment. If ev­ery­thing the other party says is to be cav­a­lierly re­jected with­out due de­lib­er­a­tion then Pak­istan will never have the plu­ral­ist democ­racy it needs and the peo­ple will be con­demned to go on suf­fer­ing the tyranny of the ma­jor­ity.

The stakes are quite high. When it was de­cided that ap­point­ments to key con­sti­tu­tional of­fices and the su­pe­rior ju­di­ciary should be made through bi­par­ti­san agree­ment, in­stead of be­ing de­cided by the head of state in his dis­cre­tion or in con­sul­ta­tion with the prime min­is­ter, it was hoped that Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers will be able to recog­nise com­pe­tent peo­ple be­yond their favourites.

But they seem de­ter­mined to dis­ap­point their well-wish­ers. The new sys­tem of se­lect­ing judges is ap­par­ently not work­ing smoothly and the lawyers’ crit­i­cism of the process and the at­ti­tude of se­lec­tors can­not be ig­nored. The se­lec­tion of the chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner looked im­pos­si­ble un­til Mr Fakhrud­din G. Ebrahim an­swered the call for a mes­siah. But there are not enough FGEs for all the of­fices to be filled through demo­cratic con­sen­sus.

If the sys­tem meant to pro­mote in­ter-party un­der­stand­ing on na­tional im­per­a­tives in­stead of fu­elling an­tag­o­nisms be­tween them is to suc­ceed, the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers will have to aban­don the holier-than-thou at­ti­tude.

Above all, each main­stream party’s re­solve to see its favourite as the care­taker pre­mier be­trays an in­grained be­lief in his po­ten­tial ca­pac­ity to ma­nip­u­late the polls. How­ever valid this view may be, the an­swer does not lie in search­ing for su­per­heroes, it lies in mak­ing the elec­toral process im­mune to ma­nip­u­la­tion by the government and the non-state ac­tors known for dis­rupt­ing it.

Steps in this di­rec­tion have be­gun to be taken only re­cently. A per­ma­nent, multi-mem­ber elec­tion com­mis­sion has been set up af­ter many years of hes­i­ta­tion. It will take time to fix its demo­cratic pri­or­i­ties (in­stead of bu­reau­cratic wishes), to do its job in time and not at the eleventh hour, and to cur­tail its flights of fancy. Some day we will be able to re­alise that elec­tions and gov­er­nance can only be man­aged by politi­cians and it will then be pos­si­ble to re­lieve the judges, re­tired or serv­ing, of the ex­tra bur­den they have been shoul­der­ing on be­half of 180 mil­lion luck­less bipeds.

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