Let democracy breathe -by Senator Taj Haider

How long shall we remain stuck night and day with dramatic events and avoid a deeper analysis of what really ails our democracy and electoral system? The time for being ‘clever’ is up. An objective diagnosis of the real causes behind the frequently appearing symptoms is long overdue.
It was sad that both the PML-N and the PTI opted to bring religious extremist and militant groups in political mainstream through the 2013 elections. In urban Sindh, ethnic militancy — which remains at loggerheads with religious militancy — repeated its old role and blocked fair and free elections. It is a welcome sign that the present leadership of the armed forces has overcome the reluctance of the previous high command in launching an operation against religious militants in North Waziristan. Both the PML-N and the PTI were pressing for a negotiated settlement all along which gave these militants all the time and opportunity to regroup and rearm themselves. Be it misplaced judgment or a return of the favours extended on the part of these two parties, there is no room for any private armies in our Constitution.
There has to be a clear consensus between all political parties, civil society and the institutions on the containment of militancy of all kinds without which free and fair elections shall remain but a dream. The spirit of the Charter of Democracy was to prevent the meddling of the Pakistani Establishment in political arena. The mandate of all political parties had to be respected. When we voted for the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution during Mian Sahib’s government of heavy mandate in 1997, the idea was to send a clear message to the Establishment that the practice of horse-trading and breaking up of political parties should stop. Old habits die hard. Instead of working with the Pakistan Peoples Party government in 2008 (it was former president Asif Ali Zardari who had persuaded Mian Sahib not to boycott the 2008 elections), Mian Sahib once again sought the alliance of the Establishment.
It was this dependence on the Establishment that became the biggest hurdle to the inclusion in the Eighteenth Amendment of some of the agreed provisions of the Charter of Democracy. The formation of a Federal Constitutional Court, agreed procedures for appointment of judges and the election commission were blocked on the threat of withholding support for the Eighteenth Amendment. The saddest part was that a provision was created in the Eighteenth Amendment that Article 63A shall come into effect from the next general election. Under this proviso, Mian Sahib bifurcated the PML-Q which harmed democracy. I readily admit that governor’s rule in Punjab, after Mian Shahbaz Sharif had been disqualified by a court, was a mistake. The mistake was immediately realised and corrected. No attempt was made by the PPP in Punjab to divide the PML-N in the Punjab Assembly by taking advantage of non-operation of the same proviso.
The reliance of the PML-N on the Establishment and its efforts to destabilise the PPP government created space for the Establishment to maneuver the electoral ‘success’ of PML-N in the 2013 elections. It is no wonder that Makhdoom Amin Fahim congratulated the agencies on the floor of the National Assembly for electoral victory in 2013. Perceptions are important in politics. The people of Pakistan are very politically conscious. The overwhelming perception about the PAT and PTI dharnas is that these are creating a much larger space for the Establishment and the real centre of power is shifting from Islamabad to Rawalpindi. No wonder that the Parliament, the civil society, almost every other political party and group is unanimous in condemning the PTI and PAT dharnas in order to defend democracy. Everyone is holding the election commission responsible for the rigged elections. No one is trying to find out what went wrong and why a widely trusted and respected chief election commissioner failed to perform.
I was meeting the chief election commissioner very regularly to take up issues which PPP candidates in Sindh were facing. I can say with all responsibility at my command that while the commissioner was most sincere in holding fair elections, he had been rendered ineffective by forces both outside and inside the commission. The five members of the election commission had been divided. Three members were acting like partisans and not like judges and they were in majority. Decisions contrary to law and precedents about seats in Sindh were being taken by this three-member majority, none of whom belonged to Sindh. Directives given to senior officials of the commission by the chief commissioner were being openly flouted. The law about majority decisions needs a review.
It is not at all difficult to evolve an electoral system which does not give any space to anti-democratic elements to rig elections. Most modern technology had been put at the disposal of Nadra and the election commission by the PPP government. Our communications with the election commission were solution oriented. Most of our proposals were discussed and accepted in large multi-party meetings where relevant institutions were also represented. Notwithstanding the present confusion, it is still fairly easy to evolve an efficient system. However, containing militancy, keeping the Establishment at bay and correction of law remain a prerequisite. Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2014. Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
By Taj HaiderPublished: August 30, 2014
Source : Tribune Pakistan

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