This year we have noticed that whenever we accuse the government of incompetence and corruption, we are accused of being an ineffective opposition. Perhaps it’s time we did a selfcritique to improve the quality of our opposition.
Under the current coalition scheme of federal/ provincial governments there is no party that can truly claim to be in opposition — other than the PML. We are not in the government anywhere. Balochistan doesn’t count because even if those members were elected on our ticket they joined the government and stopped following our policies. So that makes us Pakistan’s only opposition. However, are we effective? In the National Assembly attendance is often low so we can’t be a solid opposition bloc. This acts as a major hamper to any strategy and those present have their own priorities. What Pakistan needs is not just a media that keeps a check on the government but a real united opposition in and outside parliament.
We need a parliamentary party bloc that views itself as the opposition all the time, not just some of the time, and a steering committee that negotiates agenda-setting with the business advisory committee and doesn’t bow down to the government. We also need a shadow cabinet – an idea that has been discussed but not implemented due to ego issues – led by a shadow prime minister and the leader of the opposition of the party. We should have a shadow quick response team which alerts the government of incompetence and national security issues immediately, and activates shadow ministries.
We then need a basic party structure which will give backup support to the parliamentary structure described above. Firstly, a research team or subject-specific think tanks are required to provide secretariat support to the parliamentary shadow cabinet. This would not only track government hits and misses but would have a panel of experts capable of providing constructive alternatives. Secondly, a ‘road team’ is required which takes the debate on the streets — awami issues and solutions at your doorstep. If organised well this can outweigh drawing room negotiations which can be compromised.
To gauge the progress of these parallel intertwined processes what is required is a mechanism which lets the public decide whether the efforts of the opposition are satisfactory. All efforts must be effectively communicated to the public through bulletins. And their approval ratings checked through surveys and polls. This structure is simple, effective, tried and tested in mature democracies. However, in Pakistan where politics is not a disciplined science such structures are not welcomed — thus the current state of opposition. I have no doubt in my mind that if such a structure is diligently implemented the government would not get away with looting the country and being ineffective for the common man. It’s a road-parliament structure which is the only winner for Pakistan.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 26th, 21010.