Puzzled Pakistanis are asking why the government took an untenable action regarding superior courts judge’s appointments that led it to eat humble pie so quickly. Anybody with an ability to read the constitution and the judgments related to this issue was quite clear that the position taken by the government would not stand the test of the existing law.
For the time being the government has resolved the crisis by stepping back and accepting the public pressure –that’s the beauty of democracy. Remember Musharraf didn’t blink in spite of the best of civil society efforts. But is the final of the government and Judicature match over? I doubt. Already the judiciary is being goaded by some towards hammering down the President’s constitutional immunity. Trust me media does have an influence which is not ignored by all the political institutions, judiciary included.
The debate that the constitution and the subsequent judgments gives arbitrary powers to the Chief Justice of Pakistan is healthy but can be held at the parliamentary forum. The Charter of Democracy which has been signed by the major parties has touched this issue in detail and has suggested an alternate process of appointments. But till the government and opposition amend the constitution the existing law laid has to be followed whether one likes it or not. PPP ex-senator Taj Haider is hopeful that this issue would be resolved by the 18th Amendment which is being worked out by the parliamentary committee for the last two years. He is sure that the amendment would be put before the house on 23rd of March this year. If the PPP felt that it was an urgent issue it should have moved on with the agreed clauses of COD first and then worked on another amendment which could have taken care of contentious issues. Some members of the committee feel that lumping of provincial autonomy issues with this amendment has dragged the decision. While the opposition calls the inclusion of contentious issues as deliberate delaying tactics, the smaller provinces representatives are of the view that they can wrangle out more autonomy in the same amendment ‘NOW’ from the Punjabi establishment. “Right now they need the amendment so it is the time to strike a bargain,” a Baloch nationalist leader confided.
If all this is so simple then we have to revisit the first question that why the government took the plunge to bite the bullet. Why every time when the government struggles to gain more political space from other apparatuses of the state, the politicians loose? History of political parties in Pakistan is witness to the fact that right from the very beginning civil and military bureaucracy and judicature has dominated them. In Pakistan the growth of political parties has been retarded because of a pre-dominant role played by other more organised institutions of the state. Frequent interruption of the democratic process by these institutions in collision with each other and their mastery in intrigues when a political government is in power has resulted in this retardation of the political parties and political process in the country.
On the other hand the political parties of Pakistan represent the quasi-feudal social structure, which is in line with the demographic profile of the country. In sharp contrast the civil-military-judicial bureaucracy has grown as the apparatus of a modern industrialized society. The growth of these institutions of our polity has been uneven, that is what gives an upper hand to the establishment over political parties. While the subject of changing role of political parties has been scrutinized closely by the political scientists in the Western democracies, this subject has received not much attention in ‘third-wave democracies’ like Pakistan.
Many agree with political scientists Mainwaring and Scully’s contention that Party System Institutionalization (PSI) is important for the consolidation of democracy. Nonetheless, the precise nature of the relationship between political party systems and democracy has been difficult to distill. Indeed, scholars have made contradictory claims and reported contradictory findings regarding the effects of the different dimensions of political party systems on the consolidation of democracy.
Pakistani experience shows that our major political parties fair well when they are in the opposition and perform poorly when they are in the government. Why? To investigate this riddle, political scientists should undertake research work. There are a number of reasons which have not allowed our political parties to grow to meet the challenges of the 21st century and acquire a dominant policy making role in a democratic polity.
But we can discuss briefly a few here. Let’s take the two major parties – PPP and PML (N) – first. Major support of PPP has traditionally come from the rural areas and to some extent from the urban lower middle class. Because of the predominant role played by the rural politicians the party has not developed a strong intellectual base. Many middle class intellectuals do get attracted to this party, because of its left-of-the-center programme and Bhuttos’ spoken radicalism, but they have always been kept at the periphery of the party. Their views are heard but given no weightage. Those who manage to get close to the leadership are mostly those who are intellectually dishonest. Such time-servers always give advice to the rulers what the party leader wants to hear. The party has no think-tank to discuss and prepare position papers which can provide clarity of thinking. As a matter of fact all political parties have failed to change to meet the needs of the information and knowledge age. They are still reeling with their quasi-feudal hangover and aiming to fight the modern state apparatus which has constantly kept political parties embroiled in one issue or another.
PML (N) is the right-of-the-center party which has attracted mainly businessmen of urban Punjab. But again the party structure and its functioning are suffering from feudal value system hangover. The leadership is as autocratic as that of PPP. PML (N) has also no think-tank, but has some able technocrats to its credit.
Another major reason for these parties inability to claim their due space from the developed state apparatuses is that they cannot meet the high aspiration level of people who want an advanced democracy, over-night poverty alleviations and modern infrastructure. These aspirations have been built up by the information explosion. People of emerging countries want to be like a developed Western country now. No government can meet this expectation level. Hence there is a wide demand and supply gap in the political market. The political parties that are ill-prepared, power centric, self-seeking and have failed to fathom the change cannot meet this yawning gap. Their change and growth is quintessential for a democratic Pakistan. (firstname.lastname@example.org)