The prime minister must talk to the opposition
Ensuring rule of law and upholding sanctity of the Constitution is as imperative for the rulers as it is for the opposition parties. In a democratic dispensation the ruling party and opposition are two sides of the same coin. Though opposed to each other politically, they work for the common objective of promoting national interests and the wellbeing of the masses. That necessitates cooperation between them on constitutional issues and running the affairs of the state.
Unfortunately, what we are witnessing at the moment is a culture of burgeoning confrontation between the government and the major opposition parties to the extent of violation of the Constitution without any remorse. The case in point is the appointment of the two ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan in place of Abdul Ghafoor Soomro and Justice Shakeel Baloch, who retired on January 26. According to the Constitution the replacements for the retiring members must be made within 45 days. As such new members should have been appointed by 12 March. It is now three weeks since the deadline expired.
According to the Constitution the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have to arrive at a consensus on three names by personal interface, which are recommended to the parliamentary committee for approval and confirmation of one of suggested names. In case they do not agree on the three names then they have to send three names each to the parliamentary committee. But the problem here is that the Prime Minister is not willing to meet the Leader of the Opposition no matter even if it runs the risk of a constitutional crisis. The approach therefore is contrary to the democratic norms. Personal enmities and vendettas have no place in democratic entities. The onus of maintaining working relation with the opposition and its leaders rests with the government.
Yet another manifestation of personal ego by the Prime Minister came when the security establishment held an in-camera briefing session for the political leadership of the country on the security situation emerging in the backdrop of the Pulwama incident. The Prime Minister, who should have been there to receive the leaders of the opposition, did not attend the meeting just to avoid interfacing with the opposition leaders. Again, regarding inviting the opposition for a briefing on NAP, it was the Foreign Minister who was asked to send the invitation letters to the opposition leaders. Briefing on NAP fell in the domain of the Interior Ministry, and not the Foreign Ministry, and Imran Khan being Prime Minister and Interior Minister was supposed to hold that briefing. His ego again prevented him from showing the required courtesy to the opposition leaders and he asked Shah Mahmood Qureshi to perform the ritual. The opposition has rightly refused to attend. If the Prime Minister has an ego, they too have it.
There is no wisdom in remaining stuck in the past and jeopardising the process of badly needed reforms to satisfy the personal ego of a ruler
The attitude of the Prime Minister towards the opposition can be likened to that of an angry schoolboy to his teachers. He must realise that he is now Prime Minister of the country, with the responsibility to run the affairs of the state in a constitutional manner. Remaining the prisoner of his personal ego, he will not only harm the national interests and land the country in a constitutional crisis, but could also undermine his own stature as a political leader. The opposition parties, like his party, represent the masses. They have won the franchise of the people to be there and need to be given the respect that they deserve. Any approach to the contrary constitutes an insult to the masses which elected the opposition members as well as undermines the authority of Parliament. It is really a negation of democracy that the opposition leaders were also not invited to the Pakistan Day Parade and the awards ceremony held at the Presidency.
Imran Khan also needs to be a little more circumspect about the accountability being conducted through NAB. Through his statements and reaction on developments in this regard he is sending a very wrong message which many people construe as government pressure on NAB for a witch hunt of the opposition leaders. The other day he showed displeasure at the way NAB was conducting itself and reiterated that it should net the big fish. That nullifies the repeated rhetoric by him, as well some of the ministers acting as town criers, that NAB was an independent body. The verdicts given by the LHC on the bail applications of the accused, including Mian Shehbaz Sharif in the Ashiana Housing Scheme and Saaf Pani Company cases wherein NAB has been accused of acting with mala fide intent, do explode the myth of NAB being independent. The verdicts implied that NAB was acting on behalf of the government. That is a matter of great shame.
Nobody in his right mind can take an issue with the need for accountability, provided it is across the board and is conducted by a body whose credentials as an independent entity are beyond reproach. People have seen similar initiatives in the past when the opposition leaders were subjected to accountability selectively. The military dictators also held similar accountabilities for political engineering. Therefore the accountability, for which Imran Khan tries to take credit from every convenient roof-top, has no credibility. The vendetta-driven initiatives could ultimately create a situation where the government might become dysfunctional.
If Imran Khan and his acolytes think that by raising the crescendo of sham accountability they could divert the attention of the people from the failure of the government to resolve the more pressing national issues, they are sadly mistaken. The honeymoon period is already over and people have now started questioning the ability of the PTI government to deliver on its promises. People cannot be fed on promises for an indefinite period. Therefore, Imran Khan must change his attitude towards the opposition. The reality is that no reforms are possible in the system of governance without the cooperation of the opposition.
The country does need a system of governance free of the culture of graft and entitlement, premised on a constitutional mechanism to plug the avenues of corruption and across-the-board accountability. Here again it will require the cooperation of the opposition because of amendments which will have to be made in the Constitution.
The unpalatable reality of our political fabric is that there are people with questionable pasts on both sides of the aisle. Can Imran Khan honestly claim that his MPs do not have any skeletons in their cupboards and they are not beneficiaries of the corrupt system prevalent in the country? Surely, he cannot. So, there is no wisdom in remaining stuck in the past and jeopardising the process of badly needed reforms to satisfy personal ego of a ruler. Perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the pattern of South Africa is the way forward.