Reforming the legislators

Published: July 1, 2010
The writer is consulting editor, The Friday Times (

The writer is consulting editor, The Friday Times (

The debate on fake degrees has captured the middle class imagination of Pakistan’s mainstream media. True that lying and misrepresenting facts is not acceptable. Yet discriminatory laws against the political elite are not kosher either. The debate on the issue remains sensationalist, purist and devoid of the larger context of Pakistan’s democratic history. Each era of our existence has witnessed such campaigns. In the 1950s laws to screen out corrupt politicians were launched with much fanfare. It was a tool for the unelected institutions to tame and manipulate the political class. The establishment continued the policy throughout the 1980s and we witnessed the growth and proliferation of politicians who were absolutely wedded to the fortification of Pakistan as a national security state. In the 1990s, such games continued and we have cases from that decade which are yet to be adjudicated. The state has used these as bargaining chips. This is why the debate on NRO is complex and its moral simplification becomes a historical act in itself.

The new wave of politician-watch is now emerging from mainstream media which has tasted an unprecedented spurt of power during the anti-Musharraf movement in 2007. Arguably, that was a fascinating moment in our history; however, its long-term ramifications are yet to be assessed. The narrative of the lawyers’ movement places it above the ‘dirty politics’ of the political parties. Symbolically, the elections of 2008 — with fairly legitimate results — were boycotted by the lawyers. Civic action is the backbone of functional democratic polities. However, the media and civil society activists are not elected. This is the plain truth without casting any aspersion on the motives behind the current umbrage on fake degrees of over 150 legislators across the country. The interesting part is that there is less focus on madrassa degrees which are as irrelevant as a spurious degree. After all, who regulates and ensures the quality of madrassa instruction in Pakistan? No one, except the sectarian heads of such seminaries. The reluctance to take on the madrassas also displays the general reticence of the media to confront with political Islam that is inextricably linked to the national security paradigm of the state.

More dangerously, the current debate ignores the wider agenda of electoral reform that remain unattended. The issue of submitting degrees cannot be divorced from other oaths and declarations that the legislators have to provide at the time of contesting elections. The efficacy and capacity of the Election Commission is also a huge challenge that remains ignored. What we need is a comprehensive package of an electoral reforms agenda agreed by the political parties. The Charter of Democracy has pointers that can be expanded further. We don’t want witch-hunting and further defamation of the politicians at a time when the democratic system faces formidable dangers and the might of the unelected remains supreme over the elected. Democracy does not become functional, moral and competent in two years after a decade of dictatorship.

This is why the out of focus shrill on the fake degrees contains the seeds of political instability. Already there are predictions and endless talk shows on the possibility of mid-term elections. Is it not a democratic norm to let an elected government complete its tenure? Even if hundreds of legislators are disqualified by the Election Commission, by-elections can be held within 90 days and the issue will be resolved. Political parties should be pressurised to deliver on their internal accountability and transparent management of party structures. But they should not be hounded and discredited so soon. We will have to choose what we want to be: an autocratic banana republic or a democratic polity. If we choose the latter then we have to be fair, democratic, and not so ready to dismiss the electoral process altogether. Reforming the institutions is far more rewarding than abolishing them.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2010.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Jul 2, 2010 - 1:48AM

    The writer gives the viable suggestions to reform the institutions and political process.Recommend

  • Jul 2, 2010 - 9:02AM

    Very good article and arguments, Raza. It appears that ‘systemic failure’ which direct and indirect rule of non-elected institutions have caused, is the normal (with its weaknesses and strengths) functioning of democratic governance. With near-religious belief in the social engineering capacity of military/bureaucrat apparatus, much damages has been done to political system. In addition, this trend has shaken the federal foundations of the state since local thugs have been incorporated in the governance structure in the name of national integration and owing to political alignments with the ‘non-elected’ establishment. You suggestion is absolutely correct: instead of threatening with mid-term elections, the ‘aligned-politicians’ should clear their ranks from foul. Recommend

  • Sharjeel Jawaid
    Jul 2, 2010 - 11:09AM

    Sorry Rumi Saheb, I do not agree you defence of psuedo democrats.

    How can lying to gain public office be condoned.

    Futhermore during the so called democratic interludes in our recent history, we have witnessed legislators carring out executive functions outside their mandate.

    Lastly the performace of our law makers considering their principle function [law making] has remained pathetic.Recommend

  • Yasir Qadeer
    Jul 2, 2010 - 1:42PM

    Well said Raza. This line of your’s “We will have to choose what we want to be: an autocratic banana republic or a democratic polity”, is what will lead us to resolve our conflicts locally and globally.Recommend

  • Malik Rashid
    Jul 2, 2010 - 4:48PM

    Only the continuity of democratic process could educate Pakistani legislators. Recommend

  • cmsarwar
    Jul 4, 2010 - 12:25AM

    Though in the context of fake degrees debate Raza has highlighted issues of much broader and crucial national importance.I would allocate priority number one to fundamental and comprehensive electoral reforms.Election Commission of Pakistan ,in its present setup,does not ensure representative elections.It needs a complete overhaul.Perhaps our politicians want to retain an Election Commission,and the resultant electoral process,which can be easily manipulated.Therefore,reforms in electoral process is not the priority of any political party.Furthermore,before the general elections all political parties should complete the process of internal elections instead of the present practice of arbitrary nominations at all levels.
    I do not agree with Raza that the results of 2008 elections were fairly legitimate.Murder of BB,absence of level playing field for all the political parties,partial bycot and a pliant Election Commission rendered the whole exercise abnormal producing huge distortions at national and provincial level.Not to speak of provincial governments the federal government itself is sustained by unnatural and unprincipled partnerships resulting in a huge cabinet of ministers and advisers.
    I agree with Raza that fake degrees are not the problem.It is the symptom of overall decay in our systems.Dasti and Jat are back in the assemblies much to the joy of our beloved President.(May Allah bless him and give him Khizer’s life.How desperately this nation needs him.)Therefore,focus on fake degrees is only scratching of the surface.More drastic changes in electoral process are needed and urgently.
    I also think mid-term elections are,after all,not a very bad idea.This happens all over the world in counties with vibrant and functional democracy and produce an alternate civilian set-up if the government in power is found to be deficient.In the current situation I think it is the best strategy to forestall any attempt to impose a non-civilian and unrepresentative arrangement in Pakistan.One can very well understand why people like Malik Rehman and Babar Awan would not like this idea.A few immediate steps to overhaul the electoral process followed by free and fair mid-term elections is what this country needs before the existing so-called democratic set-up damages the nation further.Recommend

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