It is unfortunate that despite being 75 years old, the country’s political and economic crisis is far from over. The leaders bereft of understanding and sensibility continue to exchange barbs in Assembly as well as through Press Conferences using derogatory language against each other crossing all moral frontiers.
The Political disarray and instability have impacted the Economy to the extent that the Dollar has rocketed upwards while the rupee continues to lose its value and slipped to its bottom due to falling exports and depleting foreign exchange reserves. IMF program on tough conditions and regulations has jolted the whole economic system and turbulent political instability has further worsened the situation to an alarming condition ahead if the incompetence continues to haunt the economic policies
In such circumstances, the political parties should show restraint and take serious steps to resolve this impasse that has overcast the clouds of uncertainty. The people are more concerned regarding the state and the fear of Default than their Political Parties or dirtiest political conspiracies and tactics to stick to corridors of power.
They have almost forgotten their role as reformers and problem solvers instead of just creating such a mess that is deteriorating the situation with each Passing Day. The Main Stream parties such as PPP, PML –N and JUI have joined hands to defend their overtures whether taking place by hook or crook. Their 15-party coalition seems to be at daggers drawn towards PTI as they have forgotten their national role to take the people out of the crisis. PTI is under the radar of the ruling coalition as the narrative built by Imran Khan has dusted their political future.
The tested and tried parties have got the power through conspiracy. However, they claim to have the legitimate right to rule the country by amending NAB laws and depriving overseas Pakistanis of the right to Vote fearing that extending the right to vote and EVM may take these corrupt elements out of Election Winning race.
Since they are well aware that the overseas Pakistanis have strong support for PTI so they want them out of Electoral Process. The Evil designs of this rejected class are crystal clear that they are not sincere with those expats from whose exchange the Pakistan economy gets strong support.
Furthermore, the governance crisis in the biggest province of Pakistan Punjab has further aggravated the situation. Since the resignation of CM Usman Buzdar, Punjab has been run either on an Adhoc basis without any Government or as Trust. The musical chairs between Hamza Shahbaz and Chaudhry Pervez for Punjab’s top slot have already messed up the situation and created a political crisis. Though the Supreme Court decision in favour of PTI Nominee Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi has so far cleared the air for time being.
Luckily, PTI and PML-Q coalition has been successful in installing their Government in Punjab and winning Speaker and Deputy Speaker slots. Though, the PML-N-led coalition has challenged the Speaker Election in the High court which is also ringing alarm bells if the high court terms the Speaker’s Election null and void.
It is beyond understanding that on the one hand PTI demands General Elections to bring Political and Economic Stability of the country but on the other hand, it wants to hold Provincial Governments of KPK and Punjab. Especially, after regaining power in Pakistan’s largest provinces, PTI seems to have backed out from its General Elections Demand.
The existing Constitutional crisis is far from over as both PTI and PDM-led coalition are at loggerheads and making every effort to destabilize the PTI Government in Punjab province, without it, the coalition appears to be limited to Federation as PTI has Government KPK and Punjab Province.
The politics of revenge, opposition, Ego and stubbornness has shaken the very roots of the country. The economic and political crisis seems to have no signs of ending given the polarized and selfish nature of the leaders.
The political imbroglio starting from the no-confidence motion is far from over as it is deepening with each passing day.
The leadership crisis is evident from the prevalent state of affairs when the dollar is rising against the rupee and depleting foreign exchange reserves ring the alarm bells for the country but our political parties being devoid of sensibility continue infighting over the lust for power or the throne.
The Political theatre has opened many fronts that are increasing the risky journey ahead that includes electoral reforms, delimitation, falling rupee and terms of engagement with the IMF program and efforts to get the IMF tranche released. Even the Army chief approached the US to expedite the release of the tranche so the emerging economic crisis could be tackled and falling foreign exchange reserves could be increased.
The fuel price hike has already created inflation costing heavily to common men but the so-called coalition parties in power just show their teeth in mass gatherings that everything is going fine. Their non-serious attitude shows that they will not provide any relief to common people. They are concerned about the power and want to retain it for a long time as they believe that PTI after the en masse resignations saga, are out of the contest and they will not experience any opposition as PTI is not mulling over returning to Parliament terming the multi-party coalition as a mixed pickle.
The PTI terms the coalition as an imported Government since it was formed with external support. If the PTI MNAs return to Assembly, they will have the feeling that on their Government benches, they will find those criminals who were either convicted or sentenced.
Meanwhile, the acceptance of 11 MNAs of PTI by the Speaker National Assembly and their subsequent denotifying notification by the Elections Commission of Pakistan has added fuel to fire in the already polarized and turbulent political situation.
Fearing the adverse decision in the alleged Foreign Funding case by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the PTI passed Resolutions in both Punjab and KPK Assemblies demanding the resignation of the Chief Election Commissioner. Even PTI has decided to register a reference in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and their Members.
The establishment being neutral or apolitical must come forward to unite the political forces so that the strategy is devised to revive economic growth and stop the rupee from further losing value. The judiciary is performing very well since it is proactive to help prevent the country from falling prey to turbulent political and constitutional crises.
Political leaders have their priorities than those of national interest which is causing the economy and stock market to crash.
The political debacle emancipating in Punjab Assembly has engulfed the entire country since all coalition parties were pressing hard to make full court to hear the case of Deputy speaker Mr Dost Mohammad Mazari’s ruling regarding PML-Q Party Chief alleged letter calling the MPAs to vote for Hamza Shehbaz instead of the Parliamentary party nominee Chaudhry Pervez Illahi who had a thumping majority in the House with 186 Votes against Hamza bagging 179 votes. But it was rejected by Supreme Court clarifying that the Full bench is not needed to decide the case and decided the case in favour of Chaudhry Pervez Illahi terming the Deputy speaker’s ruling null and void.
Since then the Political weather has become very hot and PML N-led coalition Government has built pressure on ECP to announce foreign funding cases of PTI to continue their political rivalry as they want that the PTI should be banned and Imran Khan should be sentenced for receiving funding from Israel and India. Their reliance on the outcome of PTI’s foreign funding case is aimed at Political rivalry with PTI chief Imran Khan and his Party due to its narrative of corruption.
The decision was reserved for eight years but finally, it is being announced after the ruling coalition exerted too much pressure on the Election Commission of Pakistan. The PTI will eventually challenge the decision. Political analysts are of the view that the Political crisis will further deepen and will further aggravate economic conditions and the Pakistani Rupee Slide against Dollar.
It is the need of the hour to have the charter of Economy and reach the consensus to hold early General Elections so that the Economic and Political situation may be stabilized with a new Government with a simple majority whoever gets it.
The concerns and fears do predict that ECP’s sudden decision to announce the foreign funding case will create the worst political crisis which will risk the economy and provide the opportunity for the country’s foes to conspire against the fragile state of affairs.
Let’s hope that whatever happens, it should not have any adverse effect on the country’s disarrayed political arena because the economic crisis, increasing Power tariffs and skyrocketing inflation have already made the life of common men miserable and the uncertain situation presenting a grim outlook that is dangerous for the country.
It is imperative for all the parties to sign a charter of the Economy so that economic conditions could be improved. It is in the national interest to have an apolitical COE that can put the economy on the right track.
Intense polarization and Pakistan’s democratic future
Pakistan has been a polarized polity and consequently, a divided society for the past half century, and even longer if we look back deeply into its history. It started with the serious differences among the political elites of the country over the character of the state, quality of federalism, relationship between religion and governance and ideological choices. One may argue that it could be a normal process in a diverse nation’s struggle to take a definite direction and achieve stability in the formative phase. But one wonders why it would take nine years in writing the first constitution and then its annulment within three years without any general elections or transfer of power happening under it.
Without getting into the details, it was the inability of the ruling elites, their diverse regional backgrounds, personal vested interests in power grabs, and for that purpose, engineering of political manipulation to wreck governments and forms new ones.
Factions of the same elite under different party platforms kept displacing one another from power endlessly until the military took over in 1959. There is another view that political elites were innocent and they were actually played against one another as puppets by the civil and military bureaucracy.
This is too charitable a perspective to excuse the political elites and their never-ending factionalism, which continues to this day, after a long history of 74 years. If they had played by the rules, demonstrated political solidarity on principles and forged a political consensus, the democratic norms and convention would have gelled over time. The recent ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan, despite the fact that he had the largest party in the parliament with 156 members losing power to a motley group of political factions, the closest second having only 86 members and forming the new government, speaks a great deal about persistent polarization. The sad story of Pakistan is that naked factional elite interests have shaped these power plays, often by seeking friendly intervention from the powerful judicial and security institutions.
Generation after generation, coming from the same feudal-tribal social background, Pakistan’s political elites have promoted political values that run counter to nation and state-building.
The normal and expected role of the political elites in any form of political system is working toward stability, order, national unity, solidarity and continuity along with ensuring progress, social and economic development.
The Pakistani elites have done quite the opposite: polarizing and dividing people along ethnic, religious, ideological and narrow political lines. Generation after generation, coming from the same feudal-tribal social background, they have promoted political values that run counter to nation and state-building in ethically and demographically diverse society.
Ultimately, it is the rapacious character of the Pakistan ruling classes, their low commitment to rule of law and accountability and access to power as means of material benefits that have stunted the growth of democracy. In such conditions, the military has assumed the role of ‘guardian’ of the state, and has regularly managed political conflicts erupting over power struggles among the elites.
The present polarization between the PTI and the rest of the 11 so-called political parties and factions is not new. It is a continuation of the same historical pattern, only the main characters have changed. Each successive confrontation has been more severe than before. The ongoing clash looks like political warfare with no-holds-barred, barely covered with a fig leaf of constitutionality. This has been in the making for the past nine years when Imran Khan challenged the fairness of the 2013 elections. The others, in return, questioned the accuracy of the 2018 vote and vowed to oust him from power by forming a joint alliance, launching street demonstrations, and finally succeeding by winning over dissidents from his party and coalition partners and moving successfully a vote-of-confidence motion in the National Assembly.
The sudden change of heart by four coalition groups supporting Khan and the open betrayal of 20 members of his party have raised many troubling questions about the neutrality of powerful state institutions. This adds another dimension to the political conflict playing out in media, civil society and the general public.
Khan has instantly decided to engage in popular agitation against what he calls an ‘imported’ government by weaving a narrative of foreign ‘conspiracy’ and accusing some as ‘traitors.’ His decision to resign from the national assembly en-masse is stunning and may prove to be an adventurous path to Azadi‘liberation’ for the country. He will be doing politics now not in the parliament but in the streets, rousing public anger against the ‘corrupt mafia’ and demanding fresh elections.
Democracy: A colonial hangover
The system is premised upon the idea that one head would count one vote. Although the notion theoretically solves the basic inequality problem, it generates far greater inequalities’
Right after the Second Great War, though the British did leave this continent for good, they left a mess for the people of the newly founded nations to collect. Oftentimes, while trying to rationalise their colonial past, many of its fervent advocates claim that one of the greatest things that colonised countries inherited, which they would not have otherwise, was the idea of democracy: A new system of governance. A facile narrative to cover their smelly past, but also a false one.
Like many other nation-states, Pakistan also adopted democracy at the time of its inception, taking its cue from the then supposed leaders of the world. It hoped that by doing so, it too would reap the benefits that democracy promised to bring along – equality, freedoms, free-market economy and stability. However, many of these states descended into martial laws under despotic rules or turned rogue. Pakistan’s own fate was no different.
Perhaps, there are inherent flaws that everybody tends to overlook because of the way it was delivered to us and by whom – our old masters giving us the parting gift. But why is it that, to date, the same system working with far greater efficiency in the West fails miserably in developing nations?
Free market is a preeminent feature of democracy and in theory, it was supposed to be the lodestone towards freer and more egalitarian societies. But all it accomplished in reality was a further chasm in inequality and degeneration into pure consumer capitalism. This marvel made it so that power would concentrate in the hands of the affluent, making it essential for the politicians to remain in their thrall if not from within them. This notion is precisely misleading when looking at western societies. The idea of social-welfarism – which began in the early 1900s only – bridged this gap to an ‘acceptable’ degree both in terms of social and economic equality. But can this ever be achieved in countries like Pakistan or India: Reeking of moral corruption, notoriously venal, elections manifestos premised upon intolerant suppositions, bedevilled histories and above all, rugged with indigence?
The system is premised upon the idea that one head would count one vote. Although the notion theoretically solves the basic inequality problem, it generates far greater inequalities. This perspective is not supposedly a new idea and was also put forth by B.R. Ambedkar at the time when he was penning the Indian constitution. The idea of an English democracy did not particularly resonate well with another leader of the Indian freedom movement: Mahatma Gandhi.
One might inquire the reason why these leaders were so sceptical of democracy. The answer can be found precisely in today’s time. Even a fleeting look at the Modi regime could call a day of reckoning for all purveyors of democracy: de facto martial law in Kashmir, systemic persecution (as witnessed in Gujrat) and discrimination against ethnic minorities, populism at its peak, leading India into regressivism – and all this being done by the ‘democratic power’ vested in Modi by the ‘largest democracy’ in the world. Maybe such foresight left some of the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement disenchanted with democratic prospects, fearing that such a system would spawn the same problems that they sought independence to curb.
Pakistan, billed as the single Muslim nuclear power has always had to maintain an international image. The problem with the image is that it is examined on western ideals of which democracy stands to be the single biggest factor, irrespective of how nominal it is. This ensures aid, loans, and all sorts of international support for said country.
If such a scene is set, how can really a country decide what system serves its people best? It is as if countries are being goaded into something simply because they cannot yet afford a dignified existence for their people. It is not to whinge that democracy is rooted in every problem or to anoint it with a gilded halo as the saviour of nations.
The point in matter is to maybe think beyond for more egalitarian and just systems of governance. To not only aim at democracy as a metric to be reasoned among civilised nations. To make it in essence, once again, the society of Lycurgus, the society of Plato, the society of Marcus Aurelias which could push beyond what they could see. These rusty gateways of discourse, which would require some pushing, need to be opened. Maybe democracy works, maybe it does not – but the answer, in the end, lies with the people.
LGs and welfare
WITH a renewed focus on conducting local government elections, the issue of grassroots governance has bounced back into the news and policy cycles. This is reflected in the various aspects of LGs being dissected by political and civil society stakeholders, and activities — including protests by political parties — to find better and lasting ways to improve local governance.
Historically, the local bodies, first introduced during Gen Ayub’s military regime, have waxed and waned in line with the wider political schemes of state managers. It is an open secret that LGs are strategically renewed by military governments for undermining the established local political elite and manufacturing into existence a new layer of more pliable grassroots leadership. Meanwhile, elected governments and political parties too have neither looked kindly on the prospect of LGs taking root for similar fears that their locally established leadership might be challenged by new political actors.
However, irrespective of the intention behind the strategic diminishment and resurrection of LGs, the consensus across the political and academic spectrum is that local bodies are the linchpin of service delivery and the chain of political representation. Moreover, their role as connectors of higher-tier government structures and grassroots also remains unchallenged. In this respect, while many aspects of LG service delivery roles are being pored over, the role as a deliverer and administrator of social protection programmes has not been given the attention it deserves.
In Western democracies, the political governance landscape is based on local parish and councils. It is unimaginable to see them knocked out of the political representation and service delivery chain. In the UK, without local councils administrating education, social welfare systems etc, the whole edifice of a unitary state would come crumbling down. In Pakistan, however, LGs have been turned off and on like tap water, discouraging the exercise of people’s right to local representation.
With LGs, Ehsaas can have a greater reach.
The role of LGs in the administration of social welfare programmes is by now also well established in the developing world. Brazil is both associated with introducing participatory budgeting at the municipal level and the use of LGs in the administration of its famed cash transfer programme Bolsa Familia. This model has been copied in the rest of Latin and South America with municipal offices playing an ever-greater role in the roll-out and administration of similar cash transfer programmes. Brazil’s municipalities are at the front and centre in managing its social registry, carrying out a broad set of functions including identification of low-income areas, registration of beneficiaries, data collection and verification, training and outreach etc.
In Colombia, LGs are responsible for processing new applications and updating existing beneficiaries’ data on a rolling basis. Each municipality signs an agreement with the national cash transfer programme, committing to specific obligations and responsibilities. Committees are also established at the municipal level to handle complaints and allegations of ineligible beneficiaries.
In Pakistan, however, the role of LGs in the roll-out and administration of cash transfer programmes has been not systemically thought through. One of the key reasons for this is the evolving and expanding nature of the Ehsaas or Benazir Income Support Programme and the uncertainty about the continuance and longevity of LGs.
However, now that LGs seem to be back in fashion, steps should be taken to make them a permanent feature of political representation and service delivery chains. Only when the LG system is allowed to put down roots and firm up its uninterrupted presence can we begin to think about ways to shoehorn social protection programmes into LG structures for ease and confidence of its beneficiaries.
As the Ehsaas programme expands, LGs can provide it with a firm foothold, acceptability and greater reach among the public. Pakistan should definitely learn from the pragmatic fusion of local bodies and social protection programmes for better service delivery and generating wider public involvement (and hence support) at local levels. Political parties also need to change course and see LGs as the permanent enhancer of representative and service delivery aspects of democratic governance rather than as competitors of established local elites. In the longer term, there is also a long-overdue requirement for conducting research into how the absence of LGs has contributed immensely to the crisis of democratic governance and falling standards of centralised service delivery that we see today.
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