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Antithesis of democracy

Rather than patchwork or cosmetic changes, Pakistan needs massive reforms in all spheres of governance

Antithesis of democracy

Pakistan is a strange country where custodians are themselves complainants. Those who head institutions, instead of reforming the same, complain and express helplessness about their malfunctioning, inefficiency and non-performance or under-performance. In recent days, people have heard a lot about paralysis of our legislative, administrative and judicial systems, and that delivery to public is not possible without reforming the existing institutions. We all know what ails Pakistan yet there is no will for all-out reforms — already much delayed.

In any society, administration and dispensation of justice should be the top most priority. A society without a sound, reliable and speedy judicial system, which does not ensure effective dispensation of justice, can never progress or prosper. Administration and dispensation of justice under various laws in Pakistan need serious attention — there is a consensus that the entire justice system is on the brink of collapse. There is an urgent need to revamp the justice system to ensure justice for all, rule of law, fairness and equity. As pointed out by the Chief Justice of Pakistan in recent speeches, the legislature has failed to perform its duty in this regard and that he is ready to interact with them to achieve the goal of reformation of the entire justice system.

In a country where politicians, high-ranking civil and military officials and judges get state lands as bounties and do not make public declaration of assets owned by them and their relatives, there cannot be hope for true democracy, rule of law and responsible governance.

In present discourse of what ails Pakistan initiated by CJP and others, conspicuous by its absence is mentioning of the fact that we have failed to democratise our State apparatus. The existing system is inherently exploitative and anti-people — the ruling elites thrive on people’s hard-earned money using police force, taxation and judiciary to keep them under control and for their vested interest. Empowerment of the people, both politically and economically, is the real essence of a true democracy but this would be a deathblow to the ruling classes. Thus, they work hand-in-hand to safeguard their mutual interests. They hoodwink the masses by arguing that “system” is important. They know that perpetuation of the existing system alone can help them to keep the masses subjugated.

For democracy, the sine qua non is accountability for all. Accountability must start from the judges who adjudge others. Judges must be above board — men of integrity, blameless, and free from all internal and external pressures. Since justice should not only be done but seen to have been done, the prime duty of a judge is to demonstrate this through his judgements and not by verbal exchanges in courts or statements on various occasions.

In Pakistan, political parties lack the culture of disagreement(s) and working unanimously for agreed agenda after proper debate and winning majority vote. All parties have an authoritarian, single-person-dominant model that itself is a negation of democracy. There are no bona fide elections within parties and no process for accountability. This lack of democratic values within political parties is the root cause of their failure to deliver. Sadly, despite criticism from all corners, parties are still not ready to introduce democracy within their ranks.

In all established democracies, political parties regularly hold elections and meetings of workers, publish their audited accounts, file tax returns, and disclose details of expenses and names of donors. But these elements are totally missing in our political milieu. The commitment to do work at the grass root level and empowering the masses is completely alien to all our political parties.

Our governments — civil and military alike — have been totally insensitive towards the poor and at present it is officially admitted that 60 million are living below the poverty line. Income inequalities in Pakistan have increased sharply during the last three decades and the trend continues unabated despite tall claims (sic) of poverty reduction. The main factors that govern personal income distribution include: distribution of assets; functional income distribution; transfers from other households, government and rest of the world; and tax and expenditure structure of the government.

The single most devastating factor for increased income and wealth inequalities remains the regressive tax system. Incident of tax on the poor during the last 10 years has increased substantively (35 per cent) while the rich owning 90 per cent of wealth of the nation pay less than 1 per cent of total tax collection. We are facing chronic economic disparities and dearth of essential services. The ‘great divide’ in today’s Pakistan between the rich and the poor is assuming alarming proportions but there is no debate about it in any quarter.

Politicians need to act responsibly in all spheres — whether in power or in opposition. Their role is pivotal for effective working of institutions of the State. Being role models, it is imperative for them to show others by their conduct, the supremacy of rule of law. If they indulge in corruption and malpractices, the entire system becomes discredited.

At the moment, the PML-N has governments in the centre and Punjab, the PPP in Sindh and the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with coalition of Jamaat-e-Islami. The allegations of favouring near and dear ones, bad governance, corruption, inefficiency and/or amassing wealth by public office holders and government officials are common for all these governments. None of the governments has demonstrated that it is a true custodian of public money and is bound to work for public welfare. The latest happening of revolt against the PML-N-coalition government in Balochistan testifies to it.

Presently, almost all political parties are dominated and controlled either by a single person or a handful of individuals with workers showing complete loyalty to their “chief” rather than to the party’s manifesto/programme. Obviously, in return, they expect personal favours from the “chief” when the party gets power. This culture of nepotism within parties is the biggest failure of democracy in Pakistan and not the imaginary “interferences” by establishment that may be in security and foreign affairs but not in internal affairs of political parties. Another failure of politicians is non-establishment of an independent accountability authority that is accepted and respected by all. The way forward is that political parties should be forced to file tax returns and make their accounts public after audit. This will help the process of filtration within the parties.

A true democratic set-up ensures rule of law and accountability of all, especially of rulers, public office holders and government officials. Absence of rule of law (as is the case in Pakistan) is absolute negation of democracy. Favouritism, nepotism, despotism, repression, fascism, bigotry, totalitarianism, oppression, tyranny, intolerance, denial of human rights, persecution of minorities and denial of access to justice are all, antithesis of democracy. Elections per se cannot guarantee a democratic polity or rule of law. Since abuse of power can only be checked through a proactive and impartial judiciary, dispensation of justice is a sine qua non for democracy.

The ruling elites work hand-in-hand to safeguard their common interests and despite occasional in-fights and pulling each other’s legs for grabbing more and more benefits and privileges, they immediately unite to “salvage the system.” They hoodwink the masses by arguing that the “system” is more important compared to giving them their basic rights. They know that perpetuation of the existing system alone can help them to keep the masses in eternal subjugation. In other words, historically all subjects were ruled by one king but today, each subject has to bow before many kings.

The existing power structures, whether related to executive, judiciary or legislation, belie good governance and democratic norms. No political party wants to dismantle these structures. On the contrary, politicians vociferously protect the interests of civil-military bureaucracy, landed classes and unscrupulous businessmen. This unholy alliance not only denies empowerment of masses but also exploits them in the name of “democracy” and/or “national interest.” The real challenge is thus dismantling of this unholy alliance.

Pakistan needs massive reforms in all spheres of governance, rather than patchwork or cosmetic changes. The starting point should be accountability of all organs of State. In a country where politicians, high-ranking civil and military officials and judges get state lands as bounties and do not make public declaration of assets owned by them and their relatives, there cannot be hope for true democracy, rule of law and responsible governance.

A broad-based alliance of political workers, civil society, media and intelligentsia should be formed to force the Parliament to abdicate all laws of secrecy and enact a comprehensive legislation for right to information, as enshrined in Article 19A of the Constitution, coupled with strict accountability by an independent body.

Dr Ikramul Haq

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