Published in The Nation, December 23, 2012.
Democracy is every citizen’s right and its every citizen’s right that his life, honour and property be protected by this democracy; that a just order be established. Our political structure and the entire government mechanism that supports it, does not show the promise. However, we are told that survival of the country lies in its continued existence, and that it needs time to grow. But it has so rapidly brought us to ruin, that we either correct it now or risk plunging into the abyss.
Parliamentary democracy is not suited to our psychosocial reality and political culture; its architects are its sole beneficiaries. Existence of political parties, which is the basis of this structure, is the foremost reason for its failure. They are, by their very nature, self-serving. We could do without them. There is the bookish aspect of different agendas, but what is the relevance of party agendas in our scenario? In any case, the only agenda we need now is a socially just order, which is the nucleus of our security and wellbeing.
Political parties divide the nation and create conflict. They create sub-nationalism, focus on disagreements and entangle us in disputes. They protect feudalism and perpetuate oppression; they play in the hands of financial mafias and foreign agents, encouraging corruption and crime. Parties produce professional politicians, who acquire hereditary rights. Public representative becomes party representative and does not speak in the interest of his voters, but in the interest of the party; and seldom the truth. Parties give political colour to the entire government machinery; they shackle the government. They do whatever it takes to win elections and stay in power. Finally, the ever expanding cabinet is composed of those whose only expertise is politicking. Half of Parliament works to malign and fail the chosen government. Party interest outweighs public interest.
In a presidential structure, where a handpicked team promises greater delivery, the system can be liberated from the encumbrance of political parties. A non-party Parliament’s only priority will be public interest and will collectively work for it. People will be elected on their personal strength and not on party strength. Neither will allegations fly, nor will Parliament become a fish market. Neither will bhatta (extortion money) be collected, nor will political vendettas result in street massacres. In our environment, public interest can only be safeguarded by a non-party Parliament - a democracy, which is free of ‘politics’. I am not suggesting a one party system, but a truly non-party presidential system.
Along with this, if we do away with elaborate provincial setups and have smaller provinces with elected governors, it will not only improve governance, but also substantially lower its cost.
We also need to reconsider the rapid turnover of governments, now an acceptable norm on the premise that the government, in any case, is not going to deliver. It takes vision and farsightedness to manage a country; and time for projects to mature. Here no one thinks beyond the next election. Good rulers are not available in such abundance that they should be wasted merely on time constraints. Minimum tenure should be increased from five to 10 years, after which the President should seek a vote of confidence through a national referendum; failing which, elections should be held. A non-performing ruler could be removed earlier.
Another critical aspect is that a government cannot be left without checks and balances. To safeguard public interest, it might be appropriate to create a non-political citizens’ representative body, with the highest authority in the country but no role in governance. This body should be composed of professionals from all fields like teachers, lawyers, commerce community, farmers, labourers, doctors, engineers, retired soldiers and government servants. This council of professionals should exist at each regional tier and upwards to the national level. People should vote within their own fields, to choose their representatives from amongst those whom they know relatively well.
The national council could be given three basic roles. First is to bring transparency in governance. For instance, the tiers of councillors of health department would monitor hospitals, pharmaceutical industry and other health related aspects, to ensure that all activities are being undertaken according to the laid down laws. They would also register all community complaints about health services. All this would be made public at each regional website and in their periodic published reports. They will also ensure that all government departments display their daily activities on their websites. Transparency will create pressure to perform and reduce corruption.
The second objective is to provide patronage to important national institutions. These institutions could be: institutions providing justice, armed forces, Election Commission, State Bank, FBR, regulatory bodies, including one for media, anti-corruption agency, Public Service Commission, Establishment Division, etc. These institutions would perform according to the law, but their appointments, transfers and promotions would not be influenced by the government. Important institutions will thus be able to perform independently, remaining outside political influence.
Third responsibility is political in nature. If the council through a majority vote feels that the government has become ineffective, it may recommend a change to Parliament. If Parliament approves, the President would be changed. If recommendations forwarded twice are not approved, the council would then be empowered to seek a public referendum. When the President is to be replaced, the council, in consultation with Parliament, will nominate candidates for national elections, according to a laid down criterion.
This council’s decisions will reflect collective wisdom of each field and will safeguard the interests of each professional segment. They will also add to national cohesion, since they will cut across all other boundaries.
Pakistan’s future lies in a system that ensures social justice. This must be the focus of our government and its leading priority. Current system, by its very design, remains focussed on politicking and needs to be replaced.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general and former corps commander of Lahore.