NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 24

Flaws in Pakistan’s political system

Of late, Pakistan is yet again facing acute political instability with the federal government failing to control mafias in different sectors, raising questions whether the extant governmental dispensation has what it takes to address the key issues of society.

Whether it is the sugar mafia jacking up the price of the commodity in the country or the petroleum mafia making artificial shortages after the government brought down the rates in line with international market dynamics, the government looks helpless to control self-interest groups. The aim and purpose of a government is to safeguard and promote the general public interest in the face of efforts from self-interest groups to have their way. Now the biggest question is that with the wherewithal to make and enforce laws why the state is seemingly so helpless? The reason is that the federal government, representing the state, does not have the required strength to take on the issues and mafias by the forelock. Why the government does not have the strength is another important question and there could be several answers to it.

The foremost reason for the government’s inability to take on mafias and special interest groups, which exploit the situation to their utter advantage at the altar of the masses and society, is that the mafias have their representatives on important positions in institutions of the political system. They prevent any action from the government to break their stranglehold in different areas. In other words, the government is blackmailed by representatives of the mafias present within the ruling party or coalition parties. However, the crux of the issue is that why the government could not act against the black sheep in the ruling party despite a mandate from the people to provide them with relief in every possible manner and devise every way and mean for the welfare and development of the masses, the underlying cause is the nature of the political system. In the parliamentary political system, which Pakistan has, the government emerges from the parliament and it is the legislative body that gives birth to the supreme executive body of the state. Here lies the real problem. In the parliamentary system, the ruling political party has to maintain its majority members with it. As Pakistan is a nascent democracy and the country lacks democratic culture, therefore, for any parliamentary ruling political party it is very difficult to first get a majority in the National Assembly. Even if a party is able to get a majority in the parliament it is mostly thin. Consequently, the ruling party has to fall back upon small political groups to get and maintain a majority to remain in power. This is politically nerve-wrecking and the government has to indulge in every kind of chicanery, collusion, connivance, financial corruption and bribery to keep its majority in the National Assembly. In the process, the energies and resources of the government are diverted towards keeping its party parliamentarians and coalition partners on its side. Thus, every act of appeasement is used to achieve the purpose. No government since the death of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 could protect itself from dependency. All had to depend on party parliamentarians and coalition partners. Resultantly, most governments could not fulfil their election promises.

It is interesting to note that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief and now Prime Minister Imran Khan, before the election, had claimed that his party, if given an opportunity to come to power, would not provide public developmental funds to members of national and provincial assemblies, because developmental funds ought to be spent by local government authorities instead of MPs. For the purpose, the PTI promised to upgrade local government institutions and make parliamentarians solely focus on legislation and policymaking. Unfortunately, PM Khan could not resist the demands of the ruling party and coalition partners for long to provide them with public development funds. The latter have been demanding funds as they claim that in order to keep their respective political support intact they have to carry out public works, like streets, roads and bridges construction and set up dispensaries in their constituencies. So, without visible performance an MP, who is elected by the local population, cannot stand a chance to win elections again unless they are from an influential social background.

Providing public funds to legislators to carry out public works and developmental activities is the basic cause of many afflictions of our political culture. Most people join politics to become public representatives either at the provincial or federal level. After becoming a legislator a multipronged tug-of-war starts among the ruling party MPs to become ministers, advisers or at least parliamentary secretaries, as the positions have a lot of perks and privileges and also financial and administrative powers. The monetary and administrative powers can be used or misused for personal and group aggrandizement. It is important to note that those who don’t get the chance to become a minister or adviser, start criticising the ministers and advisers for their acts of omission and commission, so that to remove them from their position and replace them. Interestingly, even the prime minister is not safe from such efforts from within his own party at times.

This is the situation PM Khan is really facing today in Pakistan as efforts are being made to send him packing. Within the political circles it is termed the “minus-one formula,” which means that except Imran Khan anyone else from the PTI could become the prime minister and if the treasury benches do not support him, he would be backed by the opposition MPs. These chicaneries and bizarre acts are only possible in the parliamentary system of government. Therefore, the political system cannot be expected to provide much-needed political stability to the country, what to talk of national development and find a solution to public issues.

The PTI government of PM Khan has been facing the situation since its installation and the reason has been that the party could not get a clear majority in the National Assembly in the July 2018 national elections and it had to fall back upon on a number of small parties, like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Balochistan National Party-Mengal and others. Most of these political parties have not been ideologically compatible with the PTI. However, for political expediency the PTI embraced them and the small groups joined the government to have perks and privileges of power. However, extravagant demands from the coalition partners have unnerved the government of the PTI. Undue demands from its own MPs and leaders have also made the government ineffective. The opposition parties have started demanding that the only way out of the current political chaos is to call new national elections to bring to the saddle a new government. This is like crying for the moon. It is also a fact that whichever political party and whosoever would become the prime minister cannot address issues the country is facing as long as the existing political system remains intact.