As the nation goes to yet another fateful election today to choose its rulers for the next five years, it must not forget the lessons of the last five years, if it has learnt any. This has, indeed, been the worst-ever period in our history in terms of failed governance, corruption and violence. The people hopefully will not make the same mistake they made in the February 2008 polls, and will be wise enough to vote for change, both in terms of quality and caliber of leadership.
But in our country, when it comes to choosing our leaders, we are invariably influenced by our mundane loyalties rooted in our feudalised political structure and societal factional system. No wonder, it is the people, not the rulers who will be on trial today. If history is any lesson, only a miracle will bring the change that we have been so desperately looking for since our independence. Unfortunately, ours is the story of a society that has been going round and round in aimless circles for 65 years. Absence of democracy, rule of law and good governance has been its running theme.
Instead of removing our systemic weaknesses and reinforcing the unifying elements of our nationhood, politicians have always succumbed to narrowly-based self-serving temptations. They rejected the popular will freely expressed in the December 1970 elections, and instead of exploring political remedies to the resultant crisis, went along with a military solution. The real Pakistan disappeared with its tragic dismemberment. And yet, we learnt no lesson from our mistakes. We are repeating the same mistakes.
Our problem is that the overbearing feudal, tribal and elitist power structure in Pakistan has been too deeply entrenched to let any systemic change take place. It doesn’t suit the politicians. They make amendments in the Constitution for self-serving reasons only. The main casualties have been the state institutions and the process of national integration. The country has still not been able to evolve a political system that responds to the needs of an ethnically and linguistically diverse population.
In today’s context, our country’s peculiar socio-economic and political culture, based on feudal and tribal structure, high rate of poverty and illiteracy, and inequality of wealth and power are symptomatic of a lopsided situation that warrants the beginning of an end to the current socio-economic disparities and political exploitation of the people by the privileged few of our country. This requires a holistic systemic change in our governance patterns.
The need for drastic change in our present anachronistic set-up is urgent to get rid of the same old usurpers of the country’s politics, outmoded social and political structures and elitist-led status quo in our country. But sometimes, when the gravest of problems stare us in the face, we choose to ignore them just because we find that we can’t do anything about them. And in most cases, we just ignore them and carry on with life, at times even ridiculing those who speak of the need to set things right.
As a country and as a nation, at this critical phase in our history, we cannot just leave ourselves to the vagaries of time or at the mercy of our corrupt and incompetent rulers. We can’t even innocently continue to believe that everything will be alright, magically or providentially. We are currently going through the worst governance crisis of our history. The gross inadequacies in governmental handling of serious problems affecting the common man, including unprecedented food and energy shortages, unabated violence and countrywide lawlessness, have never been so acute.
Our rulers have been amply tested and inspire no hope. The nation desperately looks for an alternative, someone with integrity and credibility and a well-defined blueprint with an able team to remake the state of Pakistan. But given our pathetic performance in our political conduct and discipline since our independence, we, like most developing countries, are perhaps not yet fit for the parliamentary system. Britain struggled for centuries to reach its current parliamentary status. For us, it would be too long and too arduous a journey to be indefinitely chasing illusory goals.
Temperamentally, we are a ‘presidential’ nation. It is time we abandoned the system that we have never been able to practice, and explored an adult franchise-based ‘presidential system’ suitably designed for and tailored to Pakistan’s needs. We must also adopt the system of ‘proportional representation’ that ensures representation of political parties in national legislature proportionate to the percentage of popular vote they receive. It will provide greater access to non-feudal, non-elitist educated middle class people in elected assemblies.
Also needed is rationalisation of our federal system by revisiting our current ‘provincial architecture’ looking for a pragmatic solution to the problems of regional disparities. Our Constitution does not provide a solution to the genuine concerns on the inequality of the size of provinces and lopsided sharing of political and economic power. Our present provincial set-up has long been the cause of political instability, with an ever-looming threat to the country’s very survival. It is not only fueling misrule and corruption but also aggravating the sense of inequality and deprivation among different parts of the country.
Lately, there have been demands for more provinces on ethnic or linguistic grounds. If this trend were to continue, we will be left with a loosely wired skeleton of a federation, with self-serving disgruntled and corrupt politicians continuing to play havoc with this country. The solution lies in appropriately recasting our federal architecture by redesigning the existing four provinces as states with a constitutionally redefined role and status and dividing them into administratively-determined provinces with no cabinets, chief ministers, assemblies or secretariats. The purpose should be to separate governance from ethnic-linguistic considerations and to eliminate a known tier of redundancy and dirty politics.
We must remember that the Pakistan of 1947 could not survive even for 25 years. Despite the 1973 Constitution, the remaining Pakistan continues to face the threat of further disintegration, mainly due to unaddressed concerns of different regions. To avert the vicious cycle of known tragedies, we need a serious and purposeful national effort involving a holistic review of our governmental system and a parallel discourse among major political stakeholders and key civil society segments, including the media and lawyer’s community, to explore and evolve a national ‘remedial and recovery’ plan before it is too late. Elections alone will not make any difference. The system itself must change.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2013.