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> PILDAT Roundtable Discussion on State of Democracy 2008-2009

Weak Democracy and Poor Governance better than Better Governance and Strong Dictatorship

PILDAT Roundtable Discussion
April 03, 2009
Hotel Marriot, Islamabad


Islamabad, April 03: Weak democracy and poor governance are better than better governance and a strong dictatorships, agreed panelists and participants at the PILDAT Roundtable Discussion on State of Democracy in Pakistan 2008-2009 which was held at Hotel Marriott, Islamabad.


Upon the conclusion of the 1st year of the return of democracy in Pakistan after the February 2008 General Election, the roundtable discussion on State of Democracy was a PILDAT initiative to hold an objective and wholesome discourse on assessment of democracy, relationship between good governance / development and democracy and how the public has viewed democracy in its first year.


Speaking on the topic of State of Democracy: Overview of the Year 2008-2009, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Renowned Political Analyst, said that developments in both governance and democracy during 2008-2009 do not infuse confidence that Pakistan is moving towards secure democracy. The year has been marked by highly personalised governance – practiced both by Mr. Zardari and by Mr. Nawaz Sharif – as opposed to institutionalized approach to resolving issues. There have been political miscalculations on both sides and Parliament, they key representative institution, has not been able to assert a central role. He said that the restoration of the Chief Justice through the Long March indicates that key issues are resolved on the streets, which further weakens the relevance of Parliament. He said that the major challenge for the democratic dispensation is to create viable civilian alternatives to long traditions of authoritarianism in Pakistan.


Speaking on the topic of Good Governance, Democracy & Development: The Year in Review, Dr. Akbar Zaidi, Political Economist, said that the relationship between democracy and good governance is very complex; democracy is not necessarily required for good governance and good governance does not result into strong democracy. Looking at the performance of the first year of PPPP government, he said that there have been very clear governance failures at the macro level during the first year of government, where better and more effective management could have resulted in better policy. Giving the example of Swat, he said that politics rather than democracy, has influenced governance during the year. The fact that two of the most important ministries – finance and interior – are being run by non-elected advisors, is also a sad commentary on democracy and governance standards. Failures on the democratic agenda and promises, most importantly that of the repeal of the orders and amendments relating to the 17th Constitutional Amendment and the November 03, 2007 emergency, have made both governance and democracy weaker. Dr. Akbar Zaidi’s paper “The Politics of Democracy and of Good Governance in Pakistan,” was also shared at the roundtable discussion.


Sharing the PILDAT Score Card on the National Assembly of Pakistan developed through the Evaluation of the National Assembly using the IPU Framework, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director of PILDAT, highlighted that Pakistan is still a democracy in transition. PILDAT believes that the performance of Parliament is the most important indicator, though not the only indicator, of democracy. Sharing the result of evaluation, he said that the National Assembly of Pakistan received an overall 48 % score. This is the first time in Pakistan that such an evaluation was carried out using an international framework and this year’s evaluation is meant to serve as a baseline. The Representativeness of the National Assembly and the Transparency and Accessibility receive the highest score – 55% each; followed by Legislative Capacity scored at 53%; Effectiveness of Parliamentary Oversight over Executive at 49% the Accountability at 42% while the Effectiveness of the National Assembly's involvement in Foreign Policy was ranked the lowest at 37%. The weakest aspect of the Representativeness of the National Assembly was the near impossibility of a person of average Means to get elected to the Parliament. The question ‘How easy is it for a person of average means to be elected to Parliament?’ received 28 % score which is the minimum among the scores received by 9 sub-areas under the Representativeness of the National Assembly and also the minimum score of any question in the entire evaluation. Ample freedom to journalists in reporting on the National Assembly and its members has been rated as the strongest aspect of the transparency and accessibility of the National Assembly. The question ‘How free from restrictions are journalists in reporting on National assembly and the activities of its members?’ received the maximum score that is 76 % which is the highest score in the entire evaluation which underscores the freedom of the media in reporting on Parliament and Parliamentarians. Highlighting PILDAT recommendations based on the evaluation results, he said that the Institutions of State such as Parliament and the Election Commission, should undertake reforms to ensure a person of average means can get elected to the Parliament; Parliament’s Role in the Budget Process has to be made effective; Parliament should have a Role in Scrutinising Key Appointments such as that of the Chief Election Commissioner, Chief Justice of Pakistan, Chairman of Federal Public Service Commission, Auditor General, Chairman National Accountability Bureau; Systematic and Transparent Procedures for Consulting Citizens’ Groups and Experts while Framing Laws should be instituted; National Assembly should institute a programme to attract young people to the working of National Assembly; public should be involved in the Legislative Process; There should be a Register of Members’ Interests kept in the Parliament with a registrar notifying all such interests on the Assembly website and alerting the concerned committee about any possible conflict of interest; a System should set up to Monitor and Review Levels of Public Confidence in Parliament and the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs should Adopt a Pro-active Role in Formulating, Shaping and Overseeing the Foreign Policy.


Ms. Nabila Hamza, President, Foundation for the Future, shared her views on democracy promotion in the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) region. She said that participating in the roundtable was a very illuminating experience for her about the state of democracy in Pakistan. Democracy is not easy task to promote especially in a diverse region like BMENA. She also introduced the Foundation and its goals.


Senator Farhatullah Babar, Spokesperson of the President of Pakistan, shared his views on the Democratisation in Pakistan: Challenges & Opportunities; the PPP Perspective. He said that democracy is in transition in Pakistan; it is moving but moving slowly. He appreciated the efforts of PILDAT and panelists views and said that no party has a monopoly on intelligence and wisdom and the PPP appreciated objective review of the performance during the year. He said that sooner or later the undemocratic acts of November 3 will have to be brought before the Parliament.


Speaking on the topic of How the Public has Viewed the Year: A Survey of Surveys 2008-2009, Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani, Chairman Gallup, Pakistan presented his analysis of the various Public Opinion Surveys conducted during 2008-09 by Gallup Pakistan, the International Republican Institute (IRI) IRI and other polling organizations. In giving the analysis of surveys looking at the performance of the government during its first year and performance of the state institutions, Dr. Gilani argued that there seems to be emerging an interesting trend that “those of us living in Pakistan are beginning to experience a weaker state but perhaps a stronger nation.” The capability and authority of the government and by extension the state has faced serious set-backs. Alongside, however, the society is showing signs of greater cohesiveness through shared concerns and threat perceptions, as well as higher capability for social action resulting from a more vibrant civil society which is led somewhat amorphously by persons who are more numerous than in the past and come from a wider range of backgrounds and perspectives. At the same time they appear to be men and women of higher ability and integrity than Pakistani society has seen in the recent past. An increasingly empowered and more cohesive society finds itself at odds with the authority of the state. Trust in state institutions has declined while trust in civil society institutions including independent media has risen.


A large number of Parliamentarians, civil society representatives, analysts, media persons, diplomats and academics participated in the roundtable discussion.