Hidden behind the facade are dictators howling for ever-more authoritarian powers
The problem with our political leadership is that they acutely suffer from a permanent disorder which, in essence, emanates from a gross dearth of ability, lack of sincerity and an abominable paucity of faith in the democratic traditions and their practice. Scantily garbed as reluctant democrats, they operate by authoritarian methods.
Look at the extent of impermanence that pervades the national scene where just about everyone has a caretaker charge. According to a recent report, the number of headless public sector institutions alone stands at more than sixty. The murmurings in the corridors of power suggest that the prime minister is waiting to see the back of the chief justice. It is only then that he would be able to plant his ‘Mamnoon Hussains’ in all positions of power so that he could assume unchallenged charge of all state institutions and deal with these as may suit his musings. They believe that this cannot happen during the tenure of the incumbent chief justice.
In the wake of these intentions, unstated may be, the big question that arises is whether such dictatorial mindset can be allowed to prevail in the future now that one has witnessed a certain level of improvement, no matter how meagre, in various sectors of governance which has been made possible by the so-called ‘intrusive’ approach of the Supreme Court in the last four years?
Left to the political leadership, that’s the way things would be once the incumbent chief justice is gone: back to the bad old ways when the prime minister’s command would hold sway over all other factors and considerations, whether these be in the realm of governance, transparency in its working, or its efficiency or efficacy. Every impeding obstacle would be dismantled to let the prime minister’s princely whims and fancies be implemented.
For five long years, the very same political parties were sharing the spoils of government albeit apportioned differently. The PPP-led coalition was ruling at the centre, Sindh and Balochistan. It also had a share in the government in the KPK. The PML-N made the best of ruling in Punjab. For all this while, none of the provincial governments agreed to hold the local-bodies elections because the overriding purpose was to keep all instruments of political, administrative and financial control vested in the heads of the political parties. So, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the KPK remained without holding the local-bodies elections, thereby denying to the people the opportunity of addressing their ever-increasing woes at their doorstep.
One thought that, this time around, they would address the constitutional requirement of devolving the benefits of democracy to the people and allow them the right of choosing their own leaders to ease their burden of life. Unfortunately, the political leaders have opted to persist with their traditional dictatorial mindset and are bent on refusing to grant this right in a democratic manner. It is only on the intervention of the Supreme Court that the provinces agreed, in the first place, to hold the local-bodies elections, but are still bent on trying to postpone the eventuality under one pretext or the other.
In the lead is the government of Punjab which insisted on holding the exercise on a non-party basis and even enacted appropriate legislation to the effect. The same was petitioned in the Lahore High Court by a coalition of the opposition parties which, in a landmark judgment, has declared that holding the local-government elections in Punjab on non-party basis “will be a violation of the constitution” and proceeded to set aside Section 18 of the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA) 2013.
The court further observed that the local-governments derived their status and authority from Articles 7, 32 and 140 A of the Constitution. Allowing the provincial governments to legislate on the local-government system, these provisions imposed adequate checks on the powers of the provincial legislature to guide such legislation. The court further observed that denying the political identity of a candidate standing for a local-government office under Section 18 of the PLGA negated the obligation of the province under Article 140 A of the Constitution to devolve political authority and responsibility to the elected representatives of the local-governments.
Understandably disturbed at the decision, the dictatorial leadership of PML-N started manoeuvring to somehow postpone the impending local-government elections for which a schedule had already been announced by the ECP under the instructions of the Supreme Court. Interestingly, they were not left alone in this effort. Practically all political parties across the divide joined hands in defence of their so-called “sovereign political will” by passing a resolution in the National Assembly that rejected the local-government election schedules: “This house resolves that conducting the local-government elections in a hasty and non-transparent manner will cast doubts on the credibility of not only the process but also the results. The Election Commission of Pakistan must ensure that proper procedures are followed and minimum required time must be allotted for free, fair and transparent local-government elections”. The resolution further stated that “the sovereign political will of this house must prevail in a democratic process which has to be transparent, free and fair”.
That effectively pits the political parties, expressing their will through the forum of the National Assembly, against the Supreme Court and its adjudication with regard to holding the local-government elections forthwith and instructing the ECP to announce the schedules. Why was the Supreme Court forced to resort to passing the instructions in the first place? Or, for that matter, why was it compelled to holding the Defence Secretary responsible for the delay in announcing the local-government elections in the cantonments and pressing charges against him for contempt of court? Or, for blocking the way of the Punjab government to hold elections on a non-party basis that is patently inconsistent with its constitutional responsibilities and obligations? Who is to be blamed for the very same political leaders not having held the local-government elections during their entire previous five-year tenure in power? But, most important of all, who is responsible for the political leaders’ abject unwillingness to pass the spoils of democracy to the people and allowing them the right to guide their destiny by resorting to improbable excuses in their bid to delay the inevitable? Who is going to change their dictatorial mindsets and render them consistent with the democratic culture and requirements?
Born and bred in the Zia legacy and forever wedded to the same dictatorial culture, the Sharifs, in the inglorious company of a motley political crowd, are leading the charge of denying to the people their inalienable democratic rights and privileges. Instead, they want to keep wearing the worn-out cloak of democracy while, hidden behind the facade, are dictators howling for grabbing ever more authoritarian powers. If allowed, they would rule singlehandedly to implant their decadent and degenerate writ on the fate of this country and its people. The manner in which they have refused to move effectively against the menace of curbing militancy is yet another proof of their insincerity and complicity with terrorist bands that work under their patronage and protection. Unfortunately, in this bid, they seem to have the support of the entire regressive leadership of the country who have their own militant constituencies to safeguard.
In the process, the country is being driven irretrievably into a fatal embrace with the proponents of obscurantism and violence who refuse to look beyond their myopic vision dictated by a self-protecting paradigm. It is only in this country that political leaders are condemning the elimination of a savage terrorist responsible for immeasurable pain and suffering caused to over 40,000 grieving families.
It is also only in this country that he is being declared a ‘martyr’ with impunity and there are also those who are declaring even a dog killed by the Americans as a ‘martyr’. There are others who refuse to grant the status of ‘martyr’ to those who sacrificed their lives in defence of their country. Has acceptance of such shameful edicts become the writ of the state and is this what we are to live by? May be it is time for the Sharifs-led government to mark a place in every city where, a la Swat, the marauding militants would unleash their gory savagery and where people would witness living proof of the Taliban ‘justice’ hanging by every pole or tree in the vicinity.
My head is bowed in shame as are the heads of countless others who are either too scared to speak up, or are just too engrossed in the task of making living possible. These are the tricks employed by the corrupt rulers to continue gaining more power and more bloated coffers – by keeping people disenfranchised and patronising the vile proponents of violence and bloodshed.
The dilemma is that there is no one out there who can lead the charge to reform the society and rid it of the regressive apparel that it has been forced to wear. This is leading to a growing and speedy alienation of the state of Pakistan and soon it shall be denuded friendless clamouring for ever so elusive avenues of salvation. That, I presume, shall be a wee bit too late!
Raoof Hasan is a political analyst and the Executive Director of the Regional Peace Institute. He can be reached at [email protected].