It deeply hurts but the sore point is that “democracy is for sale” in Pakistan’s parliamentary system. Current tidal wave of defections, manipulated Senate elections and highly likely maneuvering of money in impending 2018 polls has made democracy a lucrative saleable commodity.

Almost every political party has its potential role in trading democracy whether enjoying absolute rule or sitting in opposition. Parliament, judiciary and executive – the three pillars of system—know very well money manipulation and procedures of shady funding to elect lawmakers in both houses of parliament. As it suits all except the masses, who are main stakeholder, democracy is shaped up into a mega enterprise making roaring business and doling out dividends among political merchandisers.

Unimaginably no law exists to warn and stop those changing loyalties in the name of overnight political realization at a time when general elections are imminent. Scores of political leaders, most of them member of provincial and national assemblies, have been joining other political parties in droves. They are becoming laughing stock of world when present excuses that past leadership is no longer sincere to people and solely new leadership to who they shook hands is the best to serve national cause and public.

Contrary to publicity-blitz claims of championing high moral grounds of democratization, mainstream political parties including PML-N, PPP, PTI and others have never bothered to thrash out a basic criteria to accept dissenters. Defection spree is rife as dissidents are not asked their reasons to quit and join on logical and technical grounds. It is about 20 to 30 percent opportunists who keep switching over from one party to another party. Interestingly, they are welcomed in all parties. Every time, when leave a party are tagged traitors and where they join next are called patriots and representatives of people aspirations.

PTI being recipient of flood of opportunists is happy to be pregnant with favorable situation. It believes that such political pregnancy will bring forth more fortunes helping it to sweep 2018 elections and form a strong government. South Punjab Province Front and party of Nawab of Bahawalpur “National Awami Party” have also jumped onto PTI bandwagon in a flash. Everybody is taken aback that almost 5 years were squandered but they did not protest. All of sudden they felt they have been ditched and neglected so they joined PTI listening voice of their conscience.

Interestingly, once PML-N and PPP have made such botches in their political stints on the same pattern PTI has been doing and eventually suffered loss. This malicious practice, frankly speaking, has stigmatized democracy.

Parliament fell from grace after vote monetization took a heavy toll on recent Senate elections. Such accusations often surface when senate elections are conducted. But this time every parliamentary party whether won or lost alleged that a big number of senators commercialized their votes benefiting Rs 40 million to Rs 50 million. Taking initiative, PTI issued show cause notices to 20 lawmakers for allegedly indulging in obnoxious act. Ideally, every party must have come forward seeking complete probe. But matter soon was thrown into back burner. Election commission was also expected to launch investigation to track illicit vote trade in senate elections. However nothing happened and eventually everything was brushed under the carpet.

Commercialization of democracy is again set to roll out as general elections 2018 is drawing closer. Before polls, it becomes a business deal or venture to seek party tickets in return of heavy funding to party concerned. Who bets heavy and rain down money to leadership clinch desired tickets to contest elections. Loyalty is superseded by money and party diehard workers and leaders who deserve to be granted party tickets are left high and dry. It is callousness of democracy that current political infrastructure and functioning are blatantly silent over such system pitfalls and glitches.

In order to assess basic standards of democracy, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) released a report on “Assessment of the Quality of Democracy in Pakistan” which clearly denounced decline in democracy. It held a view that quality of democracy appeared to be losing its shine since 2013.

Report said that challenges to democracy were all time high. It mentioned 11 key points that impacted on state and quality of democracy in 2017. The key areas spin around “testing time for democratic order”, “longest uninterrupted period of democracy but appears to be weakening”, “civilian space is shrinking in policy spheres”, “lethargic and slow decision-making at the top executive level”, “Faizabad Dharna” & aftermaths “NAP and fight against terrorism”, “national, civil and military leadership failure to address structural problems responsible for extremism and terrorism”, “internal democracy of political parties, “little respect for legislative proceedings as attendance frequently falls below the 25 percent mark leading to premature adjournments and even prorogation”, “parliament and the provincial assemblies and their committees failed in undertaking effective oversight of the executive”, “judicial activism encroaching executive powers.”

It also said that quality of democracy scored 54pc in 2013. It dropped to 10 percentage points in 2014 to 44pc, improved a little to 50pc in 2015 and fell again to 46pc at the end of 2016. The situation has gone haywire in last two years.

The phenomenon of monetized democracy is rampant everywhere raising big question marks on the quality performance of democracy. In Australia, the Greens democracy for sale project is up and running to search for data on political donations. All the data is retrieved from the Australian Electoral Commission’s Periodic Disclosure Locator Service. Each financial year’s donation data is publicly provided.

Parties classify incoming payments each year into “donations” and “other receipts”. “Donations” are defined as simple gifts whereas “other receipts” include all other money received by the party – interest from bank accounts, insurance claims paid to the party, sponsorship of party functions and organisations, money received from fund-raising dinners, raffle tickets sold at fundraising events, etc.

It is clarion call that similar mechanism needs to be developed in Pakistan to keep all processes and procedure transparent. Public has right to know how and who pours funds in the party and what gains is received in return.

With carrying stigma of money manipulation in democracy, National Assembly, the lower house of the parliament, is going to wind down on June 1, 2018 completing its five years term. The previous two assemblies also completed their legal periods. This is being characterized as a positive sign. But fate of democracy still hangs in balance fearing delay in elections. In 1988, the elections were held after the 90 days deadline. In 2008, they were deferred for one month after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. Article 254 of the Constitution is legitimate cover for delayed polls.

Is there any influence of money in delaying the elections? Answer of this question remains widely unquenched. Next caretaker setup must look into issue to deliver at par excellence.


n          The writer is a senior journalist working for China Today and China Radio International. He also contributes to national mainstreams newspapers on economy, international relation and human rights. He is a fellow of ICFJ and is a recipient of China-friendly Netizen 2017 award.

Commercialization of democracy is again set to roll out as general elections 2018 is drawing closer. Before polls, it becomes a business deal or venture to seek party tickets in return of heavy funding to party concerned.