FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 20

Democracy’s travails

It has been a roller coaster ride for Pakistan’s fragile democracy over the past few weeks, raising questions about political stability and the future of democracy itself. It has been the stormiest few weeks in the history of Pakistan during which we saw party loyalties changing overnight and legislators crossing sides and defecting from one side to the other in the matter of hours.

From day one the opposition parties have been doing their utmost to bring down the PTI government. There have been fracas inside parliament while outside a series of public meetings, street demonstrations and marches have been held against the government. But things came to a head early last month when the opposition alliance, led by the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F, threatened a no-confidence motion against the government in parliament and, to buttress its move, succeeded in winning over some of the allies of the government to their side. To make matters worse, some PTI legislators also announced their decision to leave the party and vote in favour of the no-confidence move.

This naturally elicited a sharp reaction from the PTI government which scrambled to protect its flanks from the inroads being made into its razor thin majority in the National Assembly. The speed with which the numbers game kept changing boggled one’s mind. The PML-Q, a government ally from Punjab, bargained hard to stay in the alliance while the disgruntled Tareen and Aleem Khan groups threatened to go along with the opposition. The secret huddle of defected PTI legislators in Sindh House gave credence to allegations made by the ruling party regarding horse trading and vote buying by the PDM.

There is nothing unconstitutional about tabling a no-confidence motion in parliament against a sitting government. But if such a move is made with the help of vote buying and horse trading, especially with the involvement of political brokers notorious for such negative tactics in the past, then such a move is not only illegal but amounts to a conspiracy against democracy and the system itself.

The completion of two 5-year terms by the PPP and the PML-N had raised hopes that democracy has struck firm roots in the country now. But the recent events have shaken the hope. Learning from the latest experience, the powers that be and all the stake-holders need to sit down and draw up new rules of the game to ensure against regime change midway through underhand means. Democracy in Pakistan is a delicate sapling which needs to be nurtured carefully and specially protected from the hot winds of vaulting ambitions of power hungry and corrupt political elements, who have no scruples sacrificing the larger national interests at the altar of their narrow clan and group interests.

The latest turn of events is that the National Assembly has been dissolved following the rejection of the no-confidence motion by the Speaker. At the same time, Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced that elections will be held as per constitutional provisions.

Some political observers have raised questions about the constitutional propriety of the action taken. But this is no time for constitutional nitpicking. Democracy is the future of Pakistan and elections are the vehicle to ensure the continuity of the democratic process. All parties to the current dispute, instead of engaging in legal wrangling or indulging in street agitation, should prepare for the next elections. According to seasoned political observers, this is the best way to resolve the present political crisis and stabilize the system.