NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 15

Future of our political system

Although Prime Minister Imran Khan has received a vote of confidence in the National Assembly and apparently secured the immediate future of his government, yet the question arises: whether the present political system is sustainable? The answer is a big “No.” This is evident from the recent political events and processes which have taken place.

The Senate elections, which were held on March 3, and the manner in which money was lavishly thrown to win and secure political loyalties or change them, is enough evidence that the current political system is incorrigibly corrupt. It is argued that in the recent Senate elections most of the provincial assembly members in all four provinces voted for their party candidates and the polls were relatively transparent than the past elections for the Upper House of parliament. However, this is totally a shallow argument. Even a person, like Prime Minister Khan, had to use government development funds to oblige his own party members of provincial assemblies (MPAs). It is despite the fact that PM Khan, before coming to power, argued that developmental funds to legislators were a kind of political bribe. Since the PTI has come to power on August 18, 2018, PM Khan and his chief ministers by and large have desisted from giving developmental funds to public representatives. However, systemic constraints compelled him to use government funds as a tool to secure the support of his own and allied parties MPAs in the Senate elections.

On the other hand, the way the combined opposition parties won the sole Senate seat of Islamabad, for which the Electoral College was National Assembly members, and even got the support of 16 treasury members for its joint candidate, Yusuf Raza Gillani, is also a proof of the extreme failure of the political system. PM Khan himself admitted that 16 of the ruling alliance Members of National Assembly (MNAs) had sold their votes to the opposition parties. However, those who sold votes could not be tracked as the ballot was secret while the Election Commission of Pakistan does not have any mechanism to ascertain which members voted against their respective party policy. These are just two recent examples of the complete rottenness of the political system while numerous other aspects and examples of the incorrigibility of the system could be cited.

Since the current parliamentary political system has been in vogue, Pakistan has yearned for political stability to reap its benefits in the form of economic development and improved standards of living and environment. However, it has remained a pipe dream for all Pakistanis. First, in the initial years after the establishment of the political system, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto behaved like a civilian dictator, physically attacking his political opponents and misusing the constitutional provisions to punish opposition politicians and journalists. The political system could not stabilise the country for which it was formulated in the wake of dismemberment of East Pakistan. In order to strengthen his power, PM ZAB held national elections one year before his tenure, just to rig them and lengthen his term in office by another five years. He could do it by making use of the leverage provided by the state constitution. The result was a combined opposition movement, known as the Pakistan National Alliance, to remove ZAB from the saddle. Taking advantage of the situation, the then Army Chief General Zia stepped in by imposing martial law and then ruling the country for 11 long years.

The restoration of democracy in 1988 was shallow and quasi and introduced a culture of corruption in the politics of the country. None of the four governments that came to power between 1988 and 1999 could complete its respective tenure as all were removed on the charges of corruption, misuse and abuse of power. There was a lot of substance in the corruption and misuse of power changes. The reason that the political system could not provide much-needed political stability after the restoration of democracy in 1988, because the system does not provide real powers to the elected government. The leverage of manipulation in the system from non-political forces or institutions of the country is so huge that they hijack the entire state system, leaving little for the political governments in terms of policy making and governance. Resultantly, they resorted to financial corruption for which there have been a lot of ways in the political system. Different elected political governments and leaders of the ruling parties, spearheaded by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), swallowed billions of dollars of public funds and numerous cases were registered against them in courts, the National Accountability Bureau and departments but nothing could be recovered from them. The reason is that the parliamentary political system provides tools to the ruling parties and leaders to cover up their corruption and misuse of authority and does not hold them accountable and, most importantly, for their inability to ensure good governance.

Due to the huge leverage for manipulation by non-political state institutions and forces of the political system, especially the electoral process, no real representative government could come to power. It is fundamentally because in constituency-based politics as provided by the political system, winning and losing depends not on an agenda or a vision for development and good governance, but candidates’ familial and tribal connections, known as biradris (clans). The political parties also depend on biradaris to secure seats from a particular constituency. Thus, the political system could not provide genuine and visionary leaders due to which the country has been suffering from crisis after crisis and conflict after conflict. In the situation, parochial, regional and so-called religious parties have dominated the political system, because by winning a few seats they can blackmail large political parties, which cannot get the requisite number of parliamentary seats on most occasions. The blackmailing of small parochial and religious parties of large parties, like the PML-N, the PPP and now the PTI, resulted in extreme adverse consequences for the country in the shape of social, political and economic instability.

The present political system could not produce new and young leaders, who have no political base or family connections. Consequently, all political parties, except Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Jamaat-e-Islam and to certain extent, the PTI, have become family limited companies, considering politics as a huge economic enterprise rather than a process to secure power for the larger interest of the state and society.