If the trend of using the violation of human rights as a basis of litigation continues, it wont be long before blackmailers, kidnappers and thugs will be asking for their basic rights to be guaranteed in court. The right of being a turncoat, or as we call them in Urdu vernacular: a lota, is also one of these so-called basic rights. Some people have brought the case to court which argues that their party leaders have stripped them of their basic rights by asking them to adhere to party discipline and regulations. This means that the members of Parliament are asking for the right to openly hawk their vote to the highest bidder after they have succeeded on their partys ticket. There are many in third-world democracies that manipulate the doctrine of human rights for unfair personal profiteering. This means that the assemblies are never free of the scourge of political two-timing. The incentive for under-the-table negotiations and defection is ever-present. This problem is intensified in a coalition government where a party can buy off another partys member to influence majorities and undermine the ruling government. The market of MPs is constantly abuzz and their vote is for sale to the one who offers the highest price. We have witnessed a lot of drama and intrigue in Pakistan because of this trend.
These whistle-blowing tactics were present in Pakistan even before 1958, when making and breaking a government was childs play. One prime ministers tenure lasted all of three months. These make-and-break tactics facilitated the armys hold over power. The ease of buying and selling votes made it easy for the agencies to continue with their power play. Both the big two parties i.e. the PML (N) and the PPP have experienced this firsthand. This experience led to the constitutional restraint against voting against your party. If a member now votes against the party, the party leader can expel him from his seat and the party. Some vote-hawkers call this clause a contravention of their basic rights and dictatorship of the party leaders. But if you join any organization voluntarily, is following the rules and regulation of that particular organization opposed to freedom of expression? The creation of such associations and organizations is constitutionally allowed and there is no social organization that does not have a framework of rules and regulations. This constraint was implemented with the consensus of the political parties in Pakistan whereby any member of the assembly would be bound by the discipline of the party whose ticket he was elected on. No party forces anybody to become its member. Whenever somebody joins a political party, he willingly submits himself to that partys code of conduct. More so, if he uses that partys ticket to get elected. He has to forego certain liberties for the privileges that the party ticket entails.
There is no doubt that the right to vote is a basic right of every citizen. An independent candidate is free of such constraints. The person who has enough political capital to succeed without the backing of a party also has the freedom to vote howsoever he please once he is in parliament. But when a party gives somebody the might of its backing through their ticket, they expect him to toe the party line. This is an open trade. If you got the partys backing, it wants your backing to consolidate its position. No person has the right to use a partys mandate for personal gain. A representative of a party in the assembly is the guardian of that partys vote bank in the assembly and if somebody votes against the party, it amounts to defalcation of this guardianship.
As far as the dictatorship of party leaders is concerned, it is a power that he has on the basis of the publics mandate. A political leader has no personal power to create a dictatorship. His only reserve of power is the support of the people and every popular leader turns this support into party policy as per his discretion. All of Pakistans political leaders reached an agreement to stop this buy-and-sell of votes by imposing party discipline. If somebody defies this, there is no punishment; just the right of the leader to take away the vote-bank, whose guardianship the member was entrusted with and violated.
Pakistan is more victimised than other emergent democracies in this regard. It was the target of the repeated attempts of covetous army generals to capture power. They wreaked havoc with the internal structure of political parties by constantly defeating them. They weakened the political parties by inviting their members to defection and corruption. This prevalence of corruption in the Parliament emboldened the bureaucracy. These members blackmail the government after selling it their votes. This is a black trade. The constraint of party discipline was imposed to stop this contrabanding of votes. If this restriction is removed on the basis of any justification, it will open the doors for political corruption again in Pakistan. The continuation of this ban is in the interest of political stability in the country. I think that even simple violation of party discipline, not just voting against the party, should be a punishable offence. For example, the ban as it currently stands is only effective when a member votes against his party in the house. It is ineffectual if a member tries to sabotage his party by wheel-dealing and trying to bring the minority into power. There should be a prescribed punishment for this as well. Like the PML (Q) was in a position to form a coalition government in Punjab with the PPP. But a very big group in the party rebelled against its leaders and supported their opponents hence stripping the PML (Q) of the ability to form a government. These people were neither voting against the party nor were they within the sphere of the party. But the party leaders couldnt lay a hand on them. All the avenues for buying and selling votes should be closed. The demand to repeal this constraint is nothing more than an attempt to turn the assemblies into an open market for votes.
The writer is one of Pakistans most widely read columnists.