Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

Bangladesh, Italy, or early elections? Daily Times, 21/7/12

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OVER A COFFEE Bangladesh, Italy, or early elections?—Dr Haider Shah

Given proper time, political parties can steer the country out of the difficult phase of history that we are in today

Pakistan today stands at a crossroads, where any adventurous move on the part of the major decision makers can put the country on a road that can plunge it into an abysmal future. The Pakistan People’s Party-led government thinks that, like Samson’s hair, the power and soul of the constitution lie in its single Article 248 that mentions immunity for the president and governors from criminal prosecution.
While the Supreme Court is enforcing the rule of law in a country where there are few such traditions, there is a risk of overheating within the judicial machine itself. The judiciary has an important watchdog role in all democratic countries as it facilitates the smooth running of the system. It, however, cannot transform a society on its own and its supporting role does not allow it to assume the role of a reformer or a messiah. This role remains reserved for a political party alone in any form of democracy. Some comfort was therefore drawn from the unequivocal resolve expressed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan in his recent speeches that the judiciary would not allow any adventurism that was not sanctioned by the constitution. Many commentators have feared a Bangladesh-style interim government, which will have the backing of both the military and the judiciary, to hold accountability of corrupt politicians and then hold elections. Such a move would not only amount to tampering with the constitution but may also withhold gradual maturity of the political system. The evidence of Bangladesh itself is also not very convincing as the same political parties define the political contours of the Bangladeshi political system today. In the case of Pakistan, the fault lines are quite different and run much deeper and wider. From ethnic warfare to radical extremism, our plate is full of all imaginable problems. There is no easy quick fix solution to such diverse and complex problems and all forced solutions in the past have only aggravated the situation. Political parties represent the viewpoints of different warring groups and are best trained to deal with complex issues. Given proper time, political parties can steer the country out of the difficult phase of history that we are in today. Anyone else, if promising a quick solution, either does not understand the nature of complexity or is simply lying like a cunning salesperson.
Fully advocating the cause of democracy and continuity of a constitution-based system in Pakistan, I am also alive to the fact that a democratic order survives when it delivers. Turkish democracy is still in its infancy but as the government of Erdogan has established a good governance record, it has wrested power from the powerful military. When economic indicators are down and the governance record is poor, mere sloganeering cannot prove a sufficient guard against outside intervention. This is not specific to fledgling democracies like ours but even the European democracies are not immune to it. Otto Dettmer, writing in the November 2011 issue of The Economist, sums up his analysis of the rise of a technocracy in the following words: “History suggests that technocrats do best when blitzing the mess made by incompetent and squabbling politicians.” In Italy, we saw that after remaining in the midst of economic turmoil as it registered sluggish economic growth and a spiralling public debt for a long period, Mario Monti, an Economics professor, was made a life senator. Then within a week, he was invited by the president to form a new technocratic government following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi. A similar pattern was seen in the case of Greece more recently, and both internal and external stakeholders welcomed both the developments.
Dettmer in his analysis is doubtful about the ability of the new leaders of Greece and Italy to fix the problems as according to him the mistakes made by unelected experts in Brussels “will take many years, far longer than technocrats’ usual political lifespan. And it will need more than just brains and integrity.” This conclusion is in line with my earlier disbelief in quick-fix solutions for Pakistan as the source of many problems lie in the levers controlled by the non-political players in the decision making process. The recipe of change has to be found within the existing political system. We do not need messiahs but a political party or a coalition that must have the following attributes. One, it must have a clear national leader, with an appeal in most of Pakistan and who is ready to become the chief executive, i.e. the prime minister of Pakistan to restore it to its glory and power. Second, the leader and the party must be able to assert authority so that like the Turkish case, civilian authority becomes supreme. Third, the party must be sensitive to issues like governance and the rule of law and have a good record of responsiveness to public opinion. Fourth, the leader of the party must enjoy the respect of nationalist leaders in the troubled province of Balochistan so that a new process of national integration can be initiated. Fifth, the leader must be pragmatic in dealing with the main powers of the world today.
As neither the Bangladesh nor Italian models would work in Pakistan, the best option is to go for early elections in November this year. The US elections are also scheduled for the same month, therefore it would be a good coincidence enabling the new administrations in both countries to rethink and re-establish their relations for the next four to five years period. Hopefully, the judiciary, government and opposition parties would give a serious consideration to this prospect.

The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com

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Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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