- The importance of a functioning Parliament
As enunciated in my column last week, I had stated that for a sanguine security and Law&Order situation there are four sub-systems that need to work in tandem; namely the parliament, the police, the courts, and the prisons. Social Scientists term this as the ‘Systems Approach’, as opposed the ‘Phenomenon Approach’. Advanced governance paradigms generally agree that networked and ‘on the same page’ institutions are the surest way to a safe, free, and fair society.
This page looks at the Pakistani parliament as a player on the Law&Order vista. As the expression of the collective will of the people of Pakistan, and as keeper of their fundamental rights to living a decent safe and fruitful life for themselves and their loved ones, parliament is the most important player in this game. Parliament is mandated by the people to legislate needed laws, oversee the institutions of the state, watch government’s income and expenditure, ensure justice, ensure national security, make certain that each citizen irrespective of ethnicity, language, or religious belief gets a level playing field to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ Clearly, that is not happening in today’s Pakistan.
A study of economic growth in the rich countries illustrates beyond doubt that periods of growth have only blossomed when there has been a strong central authority, be it Japan, South Korea, or more recently, China. All these countries, and many other members of the G20, have what constitutional experts classify as ‘rigid’ constitutions.
The basic reason for this sad state of affairs is because our Senate and National Assembly derive their legitimacy from the 1973 Constitution which is one of the most flawed documents on earth. This is not an off-the-cuff generalization but based on reasoned objections. Firstly, this booklet was produced not by a constituent assembly mandated by the people to draft a fresh social contract, but by a group of MNAs, who, in retrospect, have been found to be responsible for the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of a hostile Bangladesh; Secondly, the adoption of the British Parliamentary system in a poor, semi-literate country, when that system was being trashed all over the world, leads to a lot of suspicious questions of intent by the makers. Thirdly, it was so poorly conceived and drafted that there have had to be twenty-three amendments since. Fourthly. How much respect may one give to a constitution which can be transformed from parliamentary to presidential by addition of a sparsely worded Article 58 (2) B.?
It is patent to all analysts of Constitutional Law that the 1973 constitution was carefully crafted to prolong the stranglehold on political power by the feudal elite. This and the subsequent Electoral Laws enacted since have all strengthened the status quo. Te only evolution during this period is the addition of the urban nouveau riche to the previously ruler feudal classes. Together these two self-seeking groups have played such havoc on the people of Pakistan that today we are on the tipping point of plunging into the rank of failed states.
Wags and the chattering classes, in their cynicism, laugh and say that this fear is endemic to the history of Pakistan. They claim that we have always lived from crisis to crisis, ever since we got quasi-independence in 1947. May be so, but the national debt in 2020 is unsustainable when you look at the income of the state. And at the end of it all, it is the strength of the economy which can be the saving grace, and ensures peace and security. And although so-termed dictators namely, Gen Ayub, Gen Zia, and Gen Musharraf, are the butt of criticism by the wags and the chattering classes, the cold facts are that it was in their tenures that the economy of Pakistan grew between 6 and 10 percent, without any dip. And the miserable performance of our political governments, including the present set-up is for all to see. Inflation in the sensitive price index in the last decade has so broken the back of even the middle classes that they do not even have the strength left to protest. Suffice it to say that most of us are living hand to mouth; but for how much longer. Hyperinflation is on the horizon, followed closely by a failed state.
A study of economic growth in the rich countries illustrates beyond doubt that periods of growth have only blossomed when there has been a strong central authority, be it Japan, South Korea, or more recently, China. All these countries, and many other members of the G20, have what constitutional experts classify as ‘rigid’ constitutions. Most of these have the ‘Presidential’ form of government. All our economic growth has been under Presidents; our Prime Ministers are noted for other achievements which are not worth mentioning in any decent discourse.
In traditional Islamic society, there were four pillars of state; the Ameer, the Army, the ‘Qazi’ and the ‘Bazaar’. The Ameer was the unquestioned authority. He appointed the head of the army, the Chief Justice of the state, and his court was full of traders and merchants who counseled him on economic policy. If the Ameer ensured peace and plenty, he was loved and honored. If he failed the public weal, he was overthrown, and if that was not possible, assassinated. At the end, it was public weal which prevailed.
This Moslem model of governance was so successful that the Moslems remained the predominant power over the known world from the 7th to the 17th Century. Science, architecture, education, medicine, and culture all progressed under the Emirs of yore. This model was later adopted by the West as the Presidential form. It is the democratic model of choice today.
In Pakistan, there is an ongoing conversation which avers that the present constitutional dispensation has failed to ensure a safe, economically vibrant, and progressive society. It is argued that all our members of Parliament, whether national or provincial, were voted in by a minority of their constituents i.e. that they did not secure more than fifty percent of cast ballots. Also that this ‘first-across-the-line’ system does not reflect the true ideology of the unit’s electorate, which would become patent if there was a run-off between the two most popular candidates. Tied to this is the truth that because the member knows full well that he has been rejected by the majority, he has no great feeling for the citizens of his constituency and forsakes contact with them. How democratic is that?
The 1973 constitution stipulates that the cabinet would be selected by the PM/CMs from the elected members only. Thus, non-political experts and professionals are excluded from formulating national policies. This is a self-evident loss to the nation, it is argued.
The conversation promotes the thesis that the Parliamentary model that has failed, should be replaced with the Presidential form which historically has been seen to be more beneficial to the people. Also, there needs to be electoral reforms to give proportional representation to the political parties. Numbers polled; proportional numbers of members.
Such basic changes in our body politic seem like a pipe dream today because of the large number of entrenched stake-holders, who are enriching themselves and their families like there will be no tomorrow; but if the approaching hyperinflation sets in there would be a groundswell for change. We are in a classic catch-22 situation.