NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 09

Political system constraints and bad governance

The present political system, which is now quite mature, is not functioning at all, resulting in poor governance all around with sufferings of the people multiplying with each passing day and making ever-growing pressure on the system.

The existing political system based on the parliamentary form of government has been in place in Pakistan since year 2002, and during the period four political parties have remained in power, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Noticeably, almost all smaller or regional parties also remained partners in political power whether at the provincial level as leaders of coalitions or at the federal level as allies of the four mainstream or larger parties. The smaller or regional political groups, which have been enjoying political power, include Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party (ANP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI), Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) and National Party (NP). Thus, all the large or small political parties and outfits have been in power somehow. This means that all parties with their different agendas, ideologies (if any) and manifestos remained in the power corridors. Obviously, they must have tried their best to achieve their ends. However, collectively these parties could not bring about any big social change or development. This is evident from almost all socio-economic indicators including the GDP growth, incidence of poverty, rates of unemployment, illiteracy, Human Development Index (HDI) and so on.

The situation suggests a very important aspect that despite almost all political groups and parties remaining in power, they have failed to deliver and bring about positive change in the lives of the majority of Pakistanis or even a substantial number of Pakistanis. The answer is both simple and not that simple. Fundamentally, it is the problem with the political culture of the country that is obviously part of the wider societal culture. However, we must not look into the political culture of Pakistan and its issues in this piece of writing. However, it is the political system that is based on the political culture which is the immediate cause of failure of governance structures and the resultant bad governance. The resultant conflict and crisis in the country at each level and its ubiquity is the upshot of the chronic issue of our political system. The foremost issue with the parliamentary political system of Pakistan has been disputes over the results of national elections. It is important to note that since the present political system in vogue, every time the results of elections were questioned by the losing parties. When the first national elections were held in 1978 under the 1973 Constitution, the defeated parties raised a hue and cry over the results and which obviously were rigged. The result was political crisis which provided the very pretext and opportunity for the then power-hungry army chief, General Zia-ul-Haq, to usurp power and rule for the next 11 years to the exclusion of all political players. Noticeably, the political system has no strength to address and resolve the issue of allegations of electoral fraud. Therefore, the last government of the PML-N, according to the present ruling PTI, came to power in 2013 through a fraudulent election. Consequently, the PTI launched an unprecedented protest and agitation drive against the electoral fraud and held a 126-day long mass sit-in in Islamabad. The sit-in although did not result in anything concrete but fully brought to light the weaknesses of the political system. In 2018, when national elections were held and the PTI won a thin majority, all the losing parties including the PML-N, JUI-F, PPP, ANP, PkMAP, JIP and others declared the elections a total fraud. So a government which comes to power on the basis of tainted elections, whether allegedly or in reality, not only becomes a suspect in the eyes of the people but the international community and even itself which has a strong debilitating effect on bigwigs of the government. Elections are considered the biggest form of accountability, therefore if the process is questionable what kind of accountability it could ensure?

Another very important problem with our parliamentary political system is that governance structures under it could not ensure transparency, accountability and the rule of law. This is because of the fact that the system provides opportunities for nepotism, financial misappropriation and so on. In fact, the structure is based on a system in which the ruling party or the government has to make all its political supporters and party bigwigs happy and contended instead of the masses. Obviously, this requires the violation of the rule of law and merit and the result is non-transparent and unaccountable structures of governance. Moreover, the checks and balances system between the key pillars of the state─parliament, executive, judiciary─is not strong at all. This is despite the fact that the country’s higher judiciary has demonstrated reasonable activism and even disqualified sitting prime ministers and resisted military generals’ bid to encroach upon its constitutional powers. The inter-institutional checks system in the Pakistani political system is not strong, rather functional, because of the very fact that in our parliamentary system the government is given birth by the parliament itself and the head of the government is not only part of the parliament but most often the head of the ruling political party. Consequently, the parliament could not exercise the required checks on the executive. More importantly, as in Pakistan the members of the parliament, whether in the ruling or opposition parties, have been getting public funds called “development” funds to carry out public works in their respective electoral constituencies. As the government has the complete control over the provision of the “development” funds, therefore, even the opposition parties’ parliament members could ill-afford to exercise the requisite check on the treasury benches.

The question that why all important big and small political parties of Pakistan despite being part of the power corridors could not bring about meaningful development and ameliorate the lot of the people must not be left unaddressed. When political parties are asked that why this has been happening, they complain that they remained in power but they have been straitjacketed because of political systemic constraints. For instance, this writer once met the late Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami in 2007, when the religious parties alliance had nearly completed five-year in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, his argument on their failure to deliver was quite interesting. He told this writer that first his party was part of the religious parties umbrella alliance, the MMA, and therefore, was not independent. Secondly, he said, the federal government of the PML-Q and power-that-be did not let the MMA government implement Shariah in the province. In other words, these political parties argue that due to the requirement to have an easy majority in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan, the two chambers of Pakistani bicameral parliament, which is impossible to achieve in a system with a large number of parties and viewpoints, they remained virtually powerless despite in the power corridors. This is itself the biggest question mark on the parliamentary political system.

The political system shortcomings and problems have been connected with the political culture of Pakistan, which has been taken its shape and form from the wider societal culture, therefore, in this situation nothing could change. The last part of the argument is somewhat mistaken despite the inability of society to change significantly. Because the political system is fundamentally meant to overcome the problems of society, therefore, it must be designed to do so. Therefore, if the basic structure of the political system of Pakistan is changed, which the parliament and the people, through referendum, could very easily do, things could be fixed. Otherwise, no change of faces in the saddle would or could work.