Rule by fiat

  • And opening many fronts

In our present political milieu, rule by fiat is fast becoming the norm rather than the exception.

The democratic project is a direct function of consensus building, conspicuously missing from the political narrative. But, an authoritarian bend is all too apparent in the style of governance of the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf). Too many fronts have been unnecessarily opened at a time when the government’s own performance leaves much to be desired.

Unfortunately, the problem emanates from the very top. The prime minister perhaps feels that he need not take the parliament or the political opposition on board for smooth running of his government.

How much of this imperious attitude emanates from a lack of philosophical understanding of working of parliamentary democracy or whether it is pure hubris is hard to tell, possibly a combination of both. But one thing is certain that an institutional framework as envisaged under the constitution is conspicuously lacking.

The disdain for the eighteenth amendment of the constitution that gives more financial autonomy and resources to the provinces is openly expressed by high party functionaries and privately even by the ubiquitous establishment. Fortunately, the ruling coalition does not have the numbers to be able to tinker with the constitution.

This is not the first time that the country has witnessed a no holds barred confrontation between the government and the opposition. Back in the late eighties and nineties the PML-N and the PPP fought like headless chickens to the detriment of the system. Resultantly power-hungry military strongmen and their quislings succeeded many a time in toppling them.

That is why late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed the Charter of Democracy in 2006 while in political exile in London. Amendments to make the constitution more democratic and federal emanated from the COD. Resultantly, erstwhile political adversaries despite their differences and a lot of impediments put in their way were able to complete their respective terms in government.

But critics and especially Khan who was not a party to this concord reckoned that COD was a charter for loot mar (plunder) and muk-muka (collusion). The fact that democracy in order to work, precisely is muk-muka or give and take somehow eludes him.

Any moves, if being contemplated, to tinker with devolution by proponents of a ‘strong centre’ will be tantamount to opening a Pandora’s box

Take the simple case of appointment of two ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) members from Sindh and Balochistan. Since proper constitutional procedure was not followed the CEC (chief election commissioner) refused to administer them oath.

The ECP while arguing before the IHC (Islamabad high court) has clearly stated that the president violated the constitution by sending the names of the members without prior consultation with the opposition. Under the relevant clauses of the constitution the president does not enjoy discretionary powers in the appointment of CEC and ECP members.

Instead of following the constitution in letter and spirit, now the government wants CEC justice (Rtd) Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan’s scalp by reportedly deciding to file a reference against him for his removal.

While in the opposition the late Ms Bhutto always clamoured for an independent election commission. The same is true about Khan when he embarked on his dharna against elections rigging back in 2014.

Zardari and Sharif did amend the constitution to make an independent EC a reality. The PTI now in power perhaps thinks otherwise. Or is it simply the prime minister’s antipathy towards ‘the corrupt’ opposition that prevents him even to shake hands with its leadership, leave alone consulting them?

Federal law minister Fargoh Naseem has stirred up a hornet’s nest by threatening to invoke article 149(4) to use federal powers to fix Karachi. Since the rainy season the financial hub and provincial government’s capital has been in the news for not being able to effectively resolve its wastage disposal and drainage problems.

Undoubtedly a combination of years of neglect, rampant corruption and paucity of funds has brought the citizens of Karachi to the end of their tether. Ironically the law minister’s mother party, the MQM fully or partially in power for over two decades in urban Sindh is part of the problem rather than the solution.

The answer to Karachi’s woes is that all the stakeholders work together rather than political point scoring on the woes of Karachi. Back in 2013 when Karachi was burning and the law and order was at an all-time low the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif who had recently taken over got all the stakeholders including the military and security leadership in one room to form a no holds barred joint strategy to restore the lost glamour of the metropolis.

The strategy worked. In this case as well, Khan needs to outgrow his rather bloated ego and bring all the parties on one page under his leadership, rather than his law minister talking of using dubious constitutional shenanigans to brow beat political opponents.

The extremely adverse reaction to the law minster’s threat is however quite instructive. The Pir of Pagara a government ally, Sindhi intellectuals, and the usual suspects have bitterly opposed the abortive move. So much so that Fargoh Naseem is now backtracking, hiding behind the hackneyed excuse- so often proffered by politicians- that he was misquoted.

It is obvious that the urge for provincial autonomy is quite strong in the provinces. Hence any moves, if being contemplated, to tinker with devolution by proponents of a ‘strong centre’ will be tantamount to opening a Pandora’s box.

In the meanwhile Khan should feel lucky that the beleaguered opposition, in complete disarray, is forced to lick its own wounds. The enigmatic Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman’s proposed lockdown of Islamabad has few takers perhaps with the sole exception of incarcerated Nawaz Sharif himself.

The PPP that was merely paying lip service to the Maulana’s quixotic cause has decided to stay away while Shahbaz Sharif is visibly lukewarm towards it. The PPP leadership claims to have taken a principled position. But the real reason is perhaps pragmatic politics.

Being in power in Sindh, it does not want to rock the boat. Nor are its long-term interests served by a possible extra-constitutional intervention in case of chaos in the country.

While Nawaz Sharif has categorically ruled out any kind of plea bargain, perhaps Zardari under the prevailing circumstances could be more amenable to the idea.

This gives more space to Khan provided he is willing to take it. For that he has to disembark his high horse and take off his shining armour. And perhaps he should also wake up and smell the coffee by being more aware of the Trojan horses in his own ranks.