Blindly following the Constitution

Published: November 13, 2014
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The writer is a defence and security analyst, chairman of the Pathfinder Group and director of the East West Institute

The writer is a defence and security analyst, chairman of the Pathfinder Group and director of the East West Institute

Some petitions contesting the veracity of the 2013 elections were dismissed recently in the courts for various deficiencies. Interestingly, just before the 2013 elections, the Supreme Court ordered defective electoral rolls to be corrected. Because of time constraints, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was instructed to go ahead with the elections and the verification of voters was mandated for Karachi only. On March 19, 2014, the Supreme Court ordered that long overdue local bodies elections be completed by August 18, 2014. Only Balochistan complied. Almost three months after that timeline has expired, feudal pressure has kept democracy from functioning at the grass roots level.

Just before the dharnas commenced in August 2014, the National Assembly speaker appointed a 33-member (including 11 senators) Parliamentary Committee for Electoral Reforms in consultation with the senate chairman “to evaluate the shortcomings in the present electoral process and make recommendations thereof to hold free, fair and transparent elections”, tacitly accepting that the electoral system as flawed. Meeting recently for the ninth time chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, men of some substance were appointed to a subcommittee mandated to come up with definitive recommendations.

If the subcommittee abandons the ‘filibuster’ mode, some reforms are easy. Indirect elections to the Senate, our ‘democratic’ version of the British House of Lords, is a shameful disgrace.  The ‘auction’ for senate seats in some cases an insult to the name of democracy. ‘Majority Vote’ and ‘proportional representation’ are the basic requisites of any democracy. Without 50 per cent plus one vote, giving absolute majority in any constituency, run-off elections between the first two candidates and proportional representation are necessary mechanisms to unite the community in countries beset with religious, sectarian and ethnic schisms.

Impacting beyond the boundaries of a single society, sociopolitical issues require ethical and responsible solutions. National security can be undermined if an adverse sociopolitical environment prevails over values, ideology, economy and the decision-making process. The government’s constitutional obligation to correct socio-economic inadequacies fails when the mechanism for administration and law enforcement is diverted for crass political motives. Those fixated on making money for themselves will invariably manipulate the system to enhance their own rule by delaying the reforms process. Endemic bad governance endangers the state and adversely affects the safety, comfort and welfare of the people.  Without a transparent and effective electoral system, honest and capable leaders will never emerge.

Plenty of rhetoric about morality notwithstanding, nations and individuals are selective about applying their conscience. The US would normally condemn it as being morally repugnant in other cases what it accepts as civilian collateral damage in its own offences. The necessity for holding the perpetrators of the 9/11 atrocity accountable overrides such qualms. Applying the ‘doctrine of necessity’ for taking the evil out from its roots makes it justifiable under Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s concept of combatting “clear and present danger”, correctly inculcating the spirit of the law rather than blindly adhering to its wording. Similarly, can one give blind adherence to the Constitution when the camouflage of democracy is used to deliberately criminalise society? Is it not only dishonest to take refuge in verbatim interpretation of the words of the Constitution but cowardly, too, as one’s duty and obligation is to do what is morally right for the nation and its people.

Listen not to Imran Khan but the former chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, asking the students of the National Management Center in mid-2013, “Do we reward merit and hard work? Are the term’s principles of the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution being strictly enforced? Do the citizens of the country trust the system and think it provides them fair opportunity to realise their dreams in a transparent manner? Does the present system have the capacity to discourage the corrupt? Do we have a system where civil and property rights are protected and contracts are fully enforced? The answer to the above questions is no, the system is distorted and does not provide a level playing field to the people to achieve in life whatever they are capable of.”

How does the military interpret ‘aid to civil power’ when mob violence makes it impossible for civilian rule to function? In such a case, it readily accepts power as a necessary tool to restore the rule of law.

Derived from the 1776 US Declaration of Independence (holding true for all democracies everywhere), the First Amendment to the 1789 US Constitution states: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

When bad governance makes democracy delusional, applying common-sense logic to conscience someone must find the moral courage to cross the hypothetical fail-safe line to save the country from the predators in control!

Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Ahsan Abdullah
    Nov 13, 2014 - 2:13AM

    The author should have mentioned running for multiple assembly seats is a major loss to the exchequer and should be banned. A candidate should be confident of his/her support in a constituency and remain focused on it. By the way 2013 elections were one of the fairest given 2002, 1997, 1990, 1988, 1986, 1977, 1971 and 1965 elections.

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  • Malik
    Nov 13, 2014 - 6:25AM

    Countries where Constitution is followed have Rule Of Law and justice prevails, while the state takes care of welfare of needy. On other countries where Constitution is subordinated to the will of individuals, especially those paid servants of state carrying arms, they end up in lawlessness, insecurity and chaos. Men like Saigol just need to ponder and give a thought why we have degenerated into a lawless society, while countries once notorious for being Wild West or that part of Europe where Vikings ruled through brute force are today considered safe heavens even by those who having violated constitution in their own country of origin, consider safe to migrate, knowing that they have destroyed moral fibre of their own societies. Pakistan was created not through an armed struggle, but a constitutional struggle and its Father of Nation very clearly stated that our salvation and survival vests with our adoption of modern welfare parliamentary democracy system.

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  • Nov 13, 2014 - 8:33AM

    Good article but the religion is eating Pakistan alive. Change the constitution to keep religion out and things might improve.

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  • MA
    Nov 13, 2014 - 9:32AM

    Where did you get the first amendment to the US constitution that you listed? Whatever you wrote is just garbage.The people of your generation ruined Pakistan. Now please move over and let the young make something out of it. This generation knows that you have to start with some rules of the game and then improve on those.

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  • tahironly
    Nov 13, 2014 - 9:51AM

    I dont think It is constitution we should blame, constitution is not purely implemented. Malpractice of constitution and ammend constitution for personal/party interests and focusing on beneficial part of it are the factors that made us worst.
    If you want a Govt. Job in a city you need a domicile/PRC for that district/city, for get admission in govt. college/university you need a domicile/PRC for that district/city. BUT You can participate in Election from anywhere without domicile/PRC from that area.

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  • Kksr
    Nov 13, 2014 - 11:27AM

    Military did not “accept” power, but it grabbed power by subverting constitution.

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  • Kksr
    Nov 13, 2014 - 11:33AM

    @Malik:
    Could you explain how you can term Jinnah’s struggle as “constitutional”? Constitution of which country allowed partition?

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  • KHK
    Nov 13, 2014 - 12:54PM

    Dear columnist!
    Now at this age accept democracy and stop egging your former institution. When would you people start respecting democracy, BTW? We have lost everything because of this mindset; let democracy flourish.

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  • Reality Check
    Nov 13, 2014 - 3:47PM

    Usually i read the comments and I am baffled about the people commenting.. my faith in Pakistanis progressing has been restored somewhat. Whatever change we need will now come through the ballot box, we as a people need to learn to use our strength and support the established rules of the game so we can get out of this rut. Commendations have to be given to the present chief for staying out of politics thats what we need professionals not power hungry idiots.

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  • Ishrat Salim
    Nov 13, 2014 - 6:05PM

    I am baffled at some of the comments who criticizes without understanding what the authors is trying to say…he is not trying to patronize any particular group nor against democratic system, but how to get the system work for the betterment of our countrymen. Just because of his background, we cannot rule him out. At least, I have not read one good article from none of our present politicians…who could have suggested solutions to our present impasse.

    Some are so obsessed with our military adventures of the past, they seem to be having nightmares…come on wake up ! get system check, monitor & see if it is functioning as it should be ? NO, because unless we get rid of waderas, feudalism, distribute land to landless haris, educate the majority of population as per constitution, separate religion from politics, register madrassas & monitor them, de-politicize police & bureacrats, focus on merit…every thing will fall in its place, but then who has the will to do that ? we can keep on singing & dancing, but we forget that the rural population constituting 53 % of the population is the one whose votes is important then we the literate class & the rural vote bring into power who wants to be in power….period. These poor people are held hostage by the wadera class & this wadera class are the one who has the whip in his hand….we can keep on criticizing people like Mr Saigol & numerous others like him, but we forget to look beyond our nose….we do not like to see the positive aspect of what message they are trying to deliver, but since we remain under perpetual state of denial, we just brush aside their well intention advice under the carpet & this attitude has brought this country to where we are in TODAY….

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  • Dr. Abid Shah Mashwani
    Nov 13, 2014 - 7:36PM

    @MA – open your mind and read carefully to understand. It came from delcaration of independence “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” But here it doesnt matter where it came from but what it says does make sense.Recommend

  • Mahad Farooq
    Nov 13, 2014 - 11:00PM

    I have read a lot of articles by this author and he is promoting strengthening of democracy through his writings. in this article, he has identified the loopholes in current system of democracy, but some comments simply do not have any substance but mere provocation.

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  • Umair Tariq
    Nov 13, 2014 - 11:07PM

    @MA It came from the declaration of independence which can be found everywhere on the internet if you would have bothered to see.
    I really hope we do not have many ill-mannered people like you in our new generation which I am a part of.

    Umair, Brighton, UK
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  • ihsan ullah khan
    Nov 13, 2014 - 11:12PM

    People of a certain country delegate the government. Government is a mere representation of people. Its the people who are sovereign. If someone argues in favour of conceding this certain fact its an objective reality. But we as a nation fail to understand so, we are to obsessed to follow our current power echelons. So its people’s prerogative to make such decisions, and if they do so than they its right because power rests with them.

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  • Kashif
    Nov 14, 2014 - 3:31PM

    Without a doubt, local government is most essential for democracy to function but in our country, locally elected representatives with leverage empower the masses.. the same masses that are repressed by the bureaucrats under overt political approval and oversight. So it happens to be conducive to the ends of both the politicians as well as bureaucrats to continue their negligence and repression over the population.

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