Establishment weight has significantly affected the electoral process in Pakistan. Today the country faces an interesting situation. PML-N, an establishment political outfit is now challenging its incubator on the basis of its long stints in power. The battle lines are clearly drawn; it is establishment weight versus PML-N. The biggest loser in this tussle is bound to be democracy. The will of the people will not prevail yet again in this electoral contest. The Parliament is the Mecca of democracy where people’s representatives are expected to work for them. Unfortunately, the last serious parliamentarians went home in 1977, since then it has been a circus. Both Kaptaan and Sheikh Rashid have denounced the house while the leaders on both sides of the divide have come to its defense. Nawaz Sharif, The Ex-Prime Minister attended only 6 out of 102 sittings in the past year. This is the second assembly that is about to complete its term, yet its performance remains dismal with major quorum problems. The speech of the leader of the opposition was more balanced when he said that we cannot lock up the building to invite a dictator to take over. Fortunately his record of attendance is ten times better than the Ex-PM.
While I was defending the existence of the Parliament I was asked a direct question, “What has this house done for the people of Pakistan”? It took me a while to come up with an answer as there is very little to write home about. Finally, I thought about the legislation for the National Action Plan (NAP) that has effectively improved the security of the country. War on terror has certainly produced results. Under General Raheel Sharif it was ‘Zarb-e-Azab’ while under General Qamar Javed Bajwa it has been named ‘Radd-ul-Fisaad’. The entire nation came together to win this war on terror. First, the political forces came on one platform by holding an All Parties Convention (APC). The bill was then legislated and the Armed Forces were asked to carry out the operation.
Nations are built by internal cohesion not by conflict and confrontation. Every institution including the Parliament has to play its role. Ballot is the entry point of democracy as such it must be credible and acceptable to all parties. Political leadership must emerge on its own merit not with the help of the establishment or roguery of the administrative machinery as has been the case since 1977.
The Mecca of democracy cannot be closed nor can it be allowed to operate as an enemy territory working against the interests of the people as it has been. By ignoring the seat of political power Nawaz Sharif has hurt not helped democracy. It is not him alone, the entire cabinet keeps away. The Speaker himself was disqualified by an election tribunal for electoral irregularities. Instead of remorse and bringing in a better candidate the entire state apparatus was used to ensure his return to the house.
In order to grow, nations must learn from their mistakes. There have to be major process corrections. With ten manipulated ballots since 1977 there has to be a change in approach. If the Parliament has to be kept open then the elections have to be free and fair otherwise the entire system will collapse. Neither the weight of the establishment nor the meddling of the system will be able to save it.
Another APC is needed for the next electoral contest to make it credible. All political parties must agree on the rules of the election ahead of time. Like the unanimous NAP it can be called Declaration for Democracy (DOD). The same should then should be approved by the Parliament and be followed in letter and spirit. Indian democracy continues to grow as the election results are indisputable. The verdict of the people is respected by all contestants as such there is no room for the establishment manipulation.
Mian Saqib Nisar, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) has given his word to stand by the Constitution. Pakistan is a constitutional democracy. The 1973 Constitution was framed by a truly elected parliament which had the real mandate of the people. Several unholy amendments to the sacred document have been removed. It is time to risk another free and fair election in 2018 as was done in 1970, that is the only way lighten up the Mecca of democracy called the Parliament. It will need a leader of the house and opposition who must attend at least 80 percent of the sessions in order to spearhead the democratic order. Democracy was born in the bazaars of Athens with all its noises, hustle and bustle. It requires debates, discussions and open deliberations. All decisions have to be in the best interests of the nation. Only effective governance can maintain institutional balance, in the absence of which there is frustration and imbalance. People of Pakistan deserve better leadership elected by their votes not by the weight of the establishment or the roguery of civil administrative machinery. Between the devil and the deep sea perhaps only a credible ballot can salvage the nation and keep it on track thereafter as a mother and not like a stepmother.
The writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.