While I fully support strengthening of Parliament, I am seriously concerned about the capacity of its members. For any nation to advance, civilian supremacy is essential, yet the Islamic Republic of Pakistan continues to struggle after over seven decades of independence. As I write this article, I am reminded of the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 and the actual murder of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, the two truly elected Prime Ministers of Pakistan. From the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan elected in 1946 to the current 15th National Assembly that took oath in August 2018 after the electoral contest of 2018, the democratic order remains threatened.
Both ZAB and Liaquat Ali led from the front in very able Parliament. While the 1946 elected parliamentarians formulated the 1956 constitution which was abrogated by the first dictator, the 1970 House enacted the unanimous 1973 document that continues to guide the democratic order till today. Ayub Khan very skilfully neutralised the political leadership to be replaced by a third-rate rubberstamp Parliament. ZAB picked up the pieces of what was left to re-enforce representative democracy together with very able and honest elected representatives of the people in Parliament. Khan Abdul Wali Khan as Leader of the Opposition was outstanding. The level of debates and legislation was unmatched. The military takeover in 1977, followed by partyless elections in 1985, again brought back the thugs and bounty hunters to the seat of power. Instead of a caring mother, the legislature started to behave like a stepmother. With ten manipulated elections between 1977 and 2013 and the disputed electoral exercise of 2018, the Parliament has no legs to stand upon.
Most of the time of the two Houses is spent in discussing corruption of the legislators. Out of a total strength of 446 members (342 National Assembly plus 104 Senate) hardly a handful of elected parliamentarians have been effective in leading the nation out of the crises that it faces. Those facing serious charges of impropriety are only interested in saving their skins by prolonging their cases. No one is focused on coming clean by presenting their defence or money trails.
Corruption is a menace which has to be dealt with. Elected representatives are required to work in common interests of the nation. An elected representative who is accused of indulging in objectionable practices, should come clean instead of hiding behind parliamentary privileges and production orders. No one should be spared. For the nourishment of the nation, the Parliament which is the mother institution has to be pure, otherwise impurities trickle all the way down.
The first step in strengthening Parliament is a credible and acceptable electoral contest. Disputed elections weaken Parliament. The 0pposition is openly calling the sitting PM selected, not elected. Those who were conceived and then launched by the establishment are now demanding respect for the vote while the voter continues to suffer. In best national interests Parliament must come up with the necessary reforms for a fool-proof electoral exercise. It is indeed a good sign that all nominees for the coveted position of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) have administrative experience. In the past members of superior judiciary were entrusted with this task, with disastrous results as elections have to administered not adjudicated.
Strength is like respect which has to be earned through performance which has been lacking in all the parliaments since 1977. Democratic gains have been repeatedly pushed back first in 1958 and then again in 1977. The quality of legislators has regressed, not progressed, over time. Most elected representatives are involved in advancing their own interests, while the nation is ignored. It is a perfect reflection of Nero’s fiddling while Rome burnt. Though the fires of terrorism have been put off, the heat is still around for the masses to recover and for the return to normalcy.
In the words of Apple founder Steve Jobs, “Either lead or get out of the way”. Till the time that the level of parliamentarians reaches the levels of the 1947 or 1970 Houses their strengthening may prove to be counterproductive. In the USA a term, ‘the blind leading the blind’ is used, which aptly describes our current state. Morons and their wisdom have to be contained for the nation to move forward by reversing the backward slide.
Certainly, the four martial laws have not helped. With only one indisputed electoral exercise of 1970, our democratic journey has been very bumpy. It is time to remove these bumps. The road to democracy has to be paved with another free, fair and acceptable election to strengthen Parliament. Character, honesty and integrity brings strength. Tainted people always cave in to save their loot. The recent compromises are a proof of vulnerability. There were no corruption charges against the elected parliaments of 1947 and 1970. Both the elected PMs who led these houses were eliminated by vested interests who desired to derail our march to glory and freedom.
Parliament is the mother of democracy and has to acquire motherhood qualities by owing not abandoning the nation it was created to serve. Politics is meant to deliver for the people by protecting their resources, it cannot and should not be mixed with business.
Since 1977 there has been a constant slide down which needs to be reversed. To shatter the status quo the PM needs the support of the Parliament, which has not been there. The spirit of sacrifice has to be restored to put an end to an era of ‘Muk Muka’ or ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ while the nation continues to suffer. For the sake of democracy, as a nation let us make a firm pledge to elect the ablest sons of the land to enter the Parliament as was done in 1946 and 1970. It is the best way to strengthen the democratic order. Strength of the parliament comes with true representation of the people they represent who then reciprocate by standing behind their leaders as was done for Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.