Miracles are probable because, after all, every morning is a new miracle.
Sector-1: Actions by political parties:
Political parties form governments at the Federal and Provincial levels that exercise the executive authority in the name of the State. They provide the composition of the Federal Parliament and of the Provincial Legislatures. Often, they also provide the composition of district, tehsil and union council level legislatures even though local government is supposed to be, in theory, non-party-based. Political parties have prime responsibility to build the supremacy of political institutions.
The political parties of Pakistan have suffered greatly in terms of “arrested development”. Due to their own acts of omission and commission. And due to military intervention. As also due to public apathy, disinterest and cynicism.
The first requirement for political parties is to strengthen the practice of internal democracy as one — but not the only one — vital deterrent to non-democratic intervention.
One aspect of this requirement is their own voluntary practice of internal democracy by party leadership.
Another aspect is with regard to what the law of the land requires of political parties in terms of internal democracy and accountability.
Over 46 years ago, the Political Parties Act, 1962 was enforced for the formation and regulation of political parties. An Amendment Ordinance followed in 1963.
Over 33 years ago, the Political Parties (Amendment) Act, 1975 made further amendments and some procedural adjustments.
About 28 years ago, during martial law, the Political Parties (Amendment) Ordinance, 1979 made it compulsory for political parties to be registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan, and to provide information about the sources of funds and to submit accounts for audit by the Election Commission.
Over 23 years ago, the Political Parties Amendment Act, 1985 made further changes.
The Political Parties Order of June 2002 repealed the Political Parties Act 1962 and further amplified and “improved” the regulation of political parties, also through the Political Parties Rules of July 2002.
Yet in practice, internal party elections, internal democracy, account-keeping and transparency remain ceremonial and often, just plain deceptive.
This is a salutary, sobering instance of how legislation alone — without meaningful enforcement — fails to achieve its aims.
There is an unspoken agreement to “look the other way”. There is a need for the democratic-minded members and leaders of political parties to take a more assertive position within their respective parties.
Despite the failure of law to ensure authentic change, two more legally-binding measures could possibly be considered to facilitate this reform;
First: just as, in certain countries, there is a limitation on the number of terms of office that an individual can hold in State or government, so too there could be a limit on the number of terms that a person can serve as a party leader. Two positive consequences of such a limitation would be to promote the emergence of new leadership and to promote collective thinking and decision-making in place of unilateralism by a single leader.
A second possible legal measure could be for the Election Commission of Pakistan to be charged with the conduct and supervision of internal elections of all parties registered with the Commission. This could significantly reduce the present farcical aspect of internal elections in most parties.
The results of the 2008 elections were progressive and forward-looking. Yet at the very same time they reflect the entrenchment and reinforcement of the approach that can best be described as: “political parties as private properties”. At least three of the five parties which have won substantial representation in the National Assembly are led by persons who are related by blood or by marriage either to each other or to the previous leaders of the same parties. The fact that they enjoy strong support from their party members — and from the people — does not change this basic reality.
This feature also symbolizes the autocratic culture in most political parties. This is a feature which, ironically, the leaders of political parties share with military leaders: authoritarianism and dictatorial tendencies.
In recent times, there are some positive indicators of constructive dissent being tolerated or accepted within major parties. But, by and large, the concept of party discipline steam-rolls intellectual challenges to the leadership’s mind-set.
Political parties have an obligation to lead the shift of paradigm from an almost slavish acceptance of charisma-based dominance by strong single leaders to an assertion of individual human dignity and to enhanced respect for individual members and workers of parties.
During the 1999-2008 phase, and particularly in the period October 2007-February 2008 when many tumultuous events have occurred, three of which are the return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan, the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the results of the 18 February 2008 elections, several leaders of competence, balance and vision, other than the heads of the parties, have also established their individual positions as party leaders. This is a welcome development.
One measure by which a “transfer of power” within political parties could occur is to empower party units in each constituency to democratically select candidates and nominees for obtaining party tickets in elections. In place of the present practice by which decisions on party tickets are taken by the central or the provincial leaderships of parties in consideration of factors often other than the wishes of party members in each constituency.
Strict observance of personal integrity and ethics, while in public office and while out of office, by party leaders and legislators.
Our political parties operate with formidable disadvantages — hazard of arrest, physical persecution, fabricated cases, lack of funds, lack of volunteer workers between elections, lack of resources to independently finance research into public affairs, etc.
The strengthening of political parties to make them democratic deterrents against future military intervention becomes a responsibility shared with other sectors and categories of society and the State.
Sector-2: Steps required by Parliament:
Legislation for electoral reforms to increase the representational facets of polls e.g. the winner in a constituency should get at least 51% of the votes cast, or of registered voters.
Repeal of undemocratic features arbitrarily imposed on the Constitution.
Compulsory voting: whenever a citizen becomes a voter by law, every violation of the Constitution or incursion by non-political forces into the political domain becomes the direct violation of every single citizen’s fundamental rights. Compulsory voting alone gives democracy a holistic, all-embracing, truly representational character. No Supreme Court can then throw out a public-interest petition about related issues on grounds that the petitioner has no “locus standi” when, for instance, a petitioner challenges a serving uniformed officer who is allowed to contest an election.
State funding of political parties: say, on the basis of the performance of parties in the past four elections, as per the law in Germany, and Sri Lanka in South Asia also offer a model to build upon. Stable, transparent sources of funding would help move political parties a small, vital step closer to the financial stability enjoyed by the military!
The conduct of meetings, both open to the media, and in-camera, depending on the nature of the subject, by the Standing Committees on Defence in both Houses of Parliament to monitor aspects of the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces.
Debate by Parliament of allocations for Defence in the annual budget while portions of allocations that are meant for secret or sensitive uses can be excluded and left to the in-camera sessions of the Standing Committees on Defence or to in-camera sessions of the full Houses.
Monitoring the performance of intelligence agencies by the same Committees, in-camera, whenever necessary.
Reform of the intelligence agencies sector through legislation.
Enactment of an appropriate specific law that further codifies and elaborates on Article-6 of the Constitution.
Sector-3: Executive measures by Government/s:
While maintaining due respect for the dignity of the Armed Forces, revise protocol procedures to ensure that, in keeping with well-established best practices in most democracies, precedence is afforded to the elected political holders of public office e.g. during welcome ceremonies at airports for visiting Heads of State and Government.
Conduct public education campaigns on a comprehensive scale on the reasons why a nation is strengthened by the continuity of a civil, political, democratic system.
Revise and refine curricula from primary through to university levels in order to inculcate in students and youth knowledge and values of democracy and the political process.
Optimizing and facilitating access of the people at the grass-roots level to officially-controlled information and make official systems of governance sensitive to, and respectful of, each single citizen, regardless of any discriminatory features e.g. by the Police.
Sector-4: Initiatives by civil society:
Energized and inspired by the new activism shown by civil society during 2007, various organizations and coalitions of civil society need to promote more active participation by citizens in political parties as members and as volunteers willing to devote time and effort to broaden and deepen participation by citizens in political organizations, advocacy of democratic values and in other relevant programmes of action.
Until the ideal of compulsory voting is achieved, civil society has a responsibility to increase voter turn-out. Though the 2008 elections are said to have witnessed almost a 50% turn-out, in several parts of the country, the data on turn-out was distorted and exaggerated due to selective rigging caused by different factors.
The relatively low participation of women in elections, particularly in rural areas, is a priority that requires continuous effort by civil society.
If, say, about 500 organizations of civil society from diverse sectors decide to formally endorse either the existing, or a revised version of the Charter of Democracy, the political and democratic dimensions of society would be substantially strengthened and serve as one more buffer against military adventurism.
Sector-5: Verdicts by the Judiciary:
Bury forever the doctrine of necessity.
Never ever again grant a non-elected, non-Parliamentary entity the power to amend the Constitution.
Both through their own hearings on a normal basis, and through suo moto action, expose the fabrication of cases against political leaders and workers.
Reform internal work patterns and the speed of processing cases specially at the High Court and district levels in which politically relevant cases are often allowed to rot for several years.
Sector-6: The corporate and business sector:
Stop eulogizing military rule as being “great for economic growth”.
Recognize the harmful medium-term and long-term implications of military intervention in politics that override short-term gains in profits.
Reduce the distance from, and mistrust of political parties by conducting regular, open dialogue through collective, institutional means so as to enable continuous inter-action with governments and with all major political parties.
Provide philanthropic support to public education campaigns that project the merits of sustained political democracy.
Sector-7: The media:
While continuing to provide information and analysis on a pluralist basis, media should also promote the value of rational thinking rather than obscurantist dogmas, objectively researched data, respect for scientific knowledge, and ensure fair, balanced representation to diverse viewpoints.
While remaining vigilant monitors of political policies and actions by parties and governments, media should reduce their tendency to demonize politicians and trivialize politics. It is bad enough that the media have mutated information with entertainment to create a new synthesis called “infotainment”. Don’t make it worse!
Sector-8: The Election Commission of Pakistan:
A credible electoral process is a powerful safeguard against attempts to question the authenticity of the people’s commitment to democracy: an alleged lack of interest in democracy is often informally cited as a justification for military intervention.
There is a dire need for the Election Commission to substantially increase the use of powers already available to it in order to ensure that the electoral process becomes far more credible than it presently is.
Demonstrate in actual practice during the election phase the authority over, and control of the executive elements of government, specially at the local district levels, which are obliged to help the ECP to conduct fair elections.
Vastly improve and expand the pre-election preparatory process.
Increase the accuracy of voters’ lists by creating a direct linkage between the database of NADRA and the voters’ lists.
As in several other countries, the Election Commission of Pakistan should also issue voter cards to each citizen well in advance of polling day to specify voter registration number, the site of the polling station, etc. to ensure that every voter knows precisely where the vote is to be cast. This task is presently rendered by political parties, a task which is not their duty to render.
Consult with the Election Commission of India to introduce electronic voting machines on a gradual scale, starting from cities and towns to rural areas.
Given the necessary legislation, supervise internal party elections.
Improve the scrutiny process of documents submitted to the Commission by the political parties about funding, accounting and internal elections.
Sector-9: Foreign governments:
Refrain from making statements in support of elements whose policies have been roundly rejected by the people in elections which these very same governments term: “reasonably free and fair”.
Give unqualified support to the civil, political, democratic process.
Desist from the shameful practice of ignoring how the superior Judiciary of the country is being treated at the very time when support is being expressed for a particular favourite.
Stop meddling so crudely. Don’t even do it subtly.
Sector-10: Foreign corporate sector:
As the principal channel for foreign direct investment in Pakistan, signal whenever appropriate or possible, that a civil, political, democratic system alone ensures long-term security and stability for economic development.
Use parts of its vast resources and funds to promote democratic principles and practices to support public education campaigns.
Sector-11: Foreign media:
Improve knowledge about Pakistan and the quality of analyses on issues germane to our relations with other countries.
End the portrayal of Pakistan as “the most dangerous place on earth”: one of the most misleading and inaccurate portraits ever presented by any media at any time.
Notwithstanding many instances of courageous honesty and independence shown by foreign media, stop sometimes being a conduit for deliberate, disinformative “leads” that promote a larger “grand design”.
Sector-12: The citizens: the people:
The people are un-organized, deprived, beset with critical problems. Yet the political buck starts and stops with the citizens of our country. Ultimately, it is the people who have to resist disruption of democracy; it is the people who are responsible for their own destiny.
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