NationalVolume 14 Issue # 10

Does the situation warrant mid-term polls?

Recently Prime Minister Imran Khan and former President Asif Ali Zardari, to the surprise of many, hinted at mid-term elections in the country, causing many observers to ask why such statements were made. Hints at mid-term elections by persons who hold, or previously held, the highest governmental offices in the country at such a time when national elections were held just five months back is, indeed, perplexing. In particular the statement of PM Khan does not make much sense when his party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) finally formed the government after almost 22 years of continued political struggle. Statements regarding snap polls in the country reveal the structural and fundamental problems with the political system. Here it is important to understand that even mid-term or any number of elections may not reform the system because of basic structural issues.

Continuity of democracy in the country is the only way forward and it is because of that very factor that despite multiple weaknesses and grave problems that have afflicted political system of Pakistan, whatever good we can see today unfolding in the shape of the capturing of political power by a relatively new party, judicial activism, the media watchdog role and the military’s distancing itself from the political arena are because of the continuity of the political process.

Noticeably, three successive governments completed their respective tenures when Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government completed its five-year term at the end of May last. The PML-N government was preceded by the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid led government (2002-2007) and Pakistan People’s Party-led regime (2008-2013).

However, there has been a kind of unstable stability in the political system of Pakistan, despite continuity of the system. Governance and the state’s response mechanism to the basic needs of the people and their issues and problems largely remain slow. This has been fundamentally due to the lacunae in the political system or simply its irrelevance. Therefore, today the PTI government with PM Khan in the saddle with all his sincerity and dedication to reform the system and put the country on the course of development is facing extreme problems and it appears that even the PTI government may fail to rectify the system and its institutions. In this scenario, the most important question would be what option would the state have left to exercise. New elections may just propel one of the two main opposition, but erstwhile long-ruling political parties, the PML-N and the PPP to power. However, how can either of the two parties, which have been responsible for much of the present multiple crises, be expected to address the basic problems and needs of the people? Therefore, something has to be thought out of the box because it is a question of the survival and functionality of the state.

Different quarters are presenting different solutions to the multiple crises in the country. The opportunistic political parties and leaders like Maulana Fazl, PPP, PML-N, ANP and others see the solution in the resignation of PM Khan and some have suggested formation of the national or unity government. It is anybody’s guess how practicable such an idea is. No doubt, national governments have historically been installed at the time of crisis in different countries, for instance the U.K., during World War II, but could it be a solution to the problems of the system in Pakistan? The answer is an emphatic negative. First, formation of a national government is near to impossible in a country with such polarized politics and virulent political opposition. A national government, as proposed by PML-N leader and former Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, ought to include almost all the political parties and groups of the country that believe in the unity of the federation. In Pakistan’s case it is an extremely difficult goal to realize. Thus a Pakistani version of a national or unity government would include the top few political parties to be part of the ruling dispensation. Again problems would crop up regarding the head of the government and the distribution of ministries and powers. If one will recall, in 2008 soon after the death of former prime minister and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, when her party won the elections the main opposition party the PML-N also joined the coalition government. However, soon the PML-N had to withdraw from the coalition or was expelled by the PPP.

So with the present system not delivering the much-needed goods, and mid-term elections and a national government not the solution, and continuity of democracy necessary for the survival of the state and solidarity of society what is the other option? As saner elements within the society are arguing the most viable option left is fundamental and drastic changes in the political structure. The au fait members of the intellectual community of Pakistan believe the country is faced with the most serious crisis of its history and the same could be averted if radical changes are made in the political system and its institutions. Some are even calling for bringing in a new constitution while others are demanding changing of the political system from parliamentary to presidential. However, changing of the political system would necessarily require bringing in a new constitution. It is important to note that advise to formulate a new constitution for the country and switching to the presidential system have been made by highly-respected members of the intelligentsia and political leadership. For instance, at one point even former prime minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali suggested bringing in a new constitution for the country. People like Jamali by calling for the need for a new constitution have pointed towards those subdued voices that since long have been calling for the same as a permanent solution of country political problems.

The political crisis in the country seems to be heading towards some historical development and there is no denying the fact that the situation is grave, thus necessitating calling for moving from a parliamentary system to a presidential form of government to overcome the crisis. In fact, the installing of a parliamentary system by the political stakeholders in the early 1970s, was done in bad faith as all wanted a permanent piece of the pie in the system. They calculated that even with a few parliamentary seats with their political ambits would enable them to remain part of the system and enjoy the perks and privileges of power, as otherwise a presidential system would propel just one person or party to have absolute control. However, pursuit of this narrow political interest has cost the country dearly. A presidential system in a country like Pakistan could be far more democratic and representative than the existing parliamentary system which has failed to lay the foundation of a democratic culture in the country.  The crisis in Pakistan is severe; now it is up to the decision-makers to take decisive steps to ensure the continuity of democracy but to install such a system which could address the issues and needs of the people.