Something really stinks

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  • It’s the Senate election!

The senate elections finally happened on 3 March preceding an ambience of uncertainty as a result of attempts by the opposition parties to sabotage them ostensibly to deprive the PML-N from gaining majority seats which were very much on cards according to its strength in the assemblies. As a consequence there were permeating fears, even derailment of democracy. Nevertheless those efforts failed to materialise after the joint show put up by PAT, PPP and PTI at Lahore purported to destabilise the government flopped due to low turnout by the people which exposed the worth of those parties forcing them to abort their mission.

But what transpired after that and in the senate elections really stinks. First the PML-N government in Balochistan was toppled by buying the loyalties of the MPAs to deprive PML-N of winning any seat from Balochistan. The independents who have been elected to the Senate from Balochistan will surely join PPP which reportedly has been behind the money-made coup. The same party reportedly is also the architect of the defections from other parties in Sind and KPK. The MQM and PTI MPAs respectively changed loyalties for money according to the leaders of MQM and PTI. Even in Punjab and FATA money seems to have played a major role in changing the results that could have been achieved if the MPAs of the parties had cast their votes in favour of the candidates of their own parties. Though the PML-N now has 33 seats in the Senate, it is not in a position to have its own chairman. The biggest beneficiary of these elections has been the PPP which to some extent has succeeded in depriving the PML-N of the required majority. Obviously the PML-N or the PPP would have to arrive at a consensus for the new chairman or unleash efforts to win the support of the independents and other smaller parties in case they fail to reach any understanding with each other. It is feared that in such a scenario money would again play a role and people might witness another round of horse-trading. What a shame!

Horse trading unfortunately has invariably been the hall mark of Pakistani politics because of the failure of the political forces to effect systemic changes to usher in an era of real democracy in the country. The present system of electing our representatives is the root cause of all the ailments that afflict the political canvass of the country. Elections to the parliament and provincial assemblies on single constituency basis and indirect elections for the senate that give birth to the number game encourage horse-trading by the parties to clinch or preserve power. It has made politics an industry where elected people, instead of focusing on serving the people, strive to build fortunes for them. The political crisis triggered parties have often led to change of government through military coups. It was probably the right time to give a serious thought to changing the way we elect our representatives. It is in the interest of the political parties themselves and the country to use their collective wisdom to end this vicious circle of horse-trading otherwise the country would remain prone to political crisis.

The possibilities of unnecessary wrangling between the political parties on matters like the date of elections and the formation of care taker setup must also be removed permanently

For a multi-cultural country like Pakistan there is an imperative need to adopt the system of proportional representation. Under this system people vote for the parties rather than the individual candidates in a single constituency and the parties get representation in the parliament on the basis of the percentage of votes that they poll. The advantage of this system is that it reflects the real support for the political parties among the masses and also ensures the presence of smaller and regional parties in the parliament making the legislature a truly representative body. The party leaders are spared the blackmail of the electables and they can nominate really competent and educated people from different walks of national life to represent the party in the parliament. The system also eliminates the possibility of horse trading and floor-crossing for personal gains. To make this system really workable voting will also have to be made compulsory so that every registered voter can exercise his right of franchise. The senate seats either be filled through direct elections or giving the parties representation from each provinces on the basis of the percentage of votes obtained by the parties from that particular province.

The possibilities of unnecessary wrangling between the political parties on matters like the date of elections and the formation of care taker setup must also be removed permanently. Like in US the parties must agree on one date on which the election will be held after every five years and the matter should no more be the prerogative of the sitting government to decide. Similarly the formation of the caretaker set up should also be decided once and for all so that the parties can focus more on their programmes rather than wasting their energies on non substantive issues. The judiciary is the most respectable and trusted institution of the country and it would be advisable for the parties to agree on the point that the senior most retired judge of the Supreme Court would head the caretaker set up and he would be free to choose his team to hold free and fair elections and also run the affairs of the government till the new elected government assumes charge.

As regards the elimination of corruption in the bureaucracy and at higher echelons of the government, the discretionary powers at all levels should be abolished. That will help to a great extent in tackling the menace of corruption. All these changes should be effected through amendments in the constitution as it would be in the interest of all the parties themselves as well as in the larger interest of the country. The parties have already shown commitment to the national causes by unanimously carrying out Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Amendments in the constitution and also giving their blessings to the adoption of the 7th NFC Award. They must show the same zeal and dedication in changing the system on the foregoing lines to put the country on the course envisioned by the Quaid. May be it is not possible to carry out these amendments in a short span of time before the elections as it would require an exhaustive process of deliberations, therefore, the parties can take up these issues after the elections and have the changes effected within six months and then go to the polls again under the reformed system.

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