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> Patience and Persistence required for a stable democracy in Pakistan
   
 
Discussion with Dr. Ashraf Choudhary
December 25, 2004
Hotel Pearl Continental, Lahore


Discussion with Dr. Ashraf Choudhary | 
   

Introduction

Dr. Ashraf Choudhary, Member of New Zealand Parliament delivered a special talk on the topic of “Strengthening Democracy in Pakistan in the light of Global Parliamentary Experiences” under the auspices of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency – PILDAT on December 25, 2004 at Hotel Pearl Continental, Lahore.

The session was chaired by Syed Fakhar Imam, Former Speaker National Assembly of Pakistan while Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director PILDAT was the moderator. Prominent amongst the discussants were MPAs, MNAs, Senators, Intellectuals and Media persons.
 

Introduction of the Speaker

Dr. Ashraf Choudhary is the first Pakistani, South Asian and a Muslim Member of New Zealand’s Parliament. He belongs to the ruling Labour Party and is currently a member of Education and Science Committee, Local Government and Environment Committee and Chairperson of Education and State Caucus Committee of the Parliament. Originally belonging to a village on the India-Pakistan border near Sialkot, Dr. Choudhary is an Environmental Scientist by profession and taught at the Massey University of New Zealand before his induction into the Parliament. Dr. Asharaf Choudhary is also one of the 9 members of the International Network of Legislators of Pakistani Origin created by PILDAT.

 

Views by Dr. Ashraf Choudhary

Dr. Ashraf Choudhary welcomed the opportunity to share his views at the PILDAT forum. Beginning his talk by giving an introduction of his adopted homeland, New Zealand, Dr. Choudhary said that known as the country of ‘long white cloud,’ New Zealand has an agriculture-based economy. A country of 4-million people and 40 million sheep, Parliament in New Zealand is the master of its own destiny. New Zealand has the longest democracy in the World and has celebrated its 150th year of continued democracy this year. It is the first country of the world which gave the right to vote to women in 1897. Population of New Zealand comprises 70 % of British, European origin people; 15 % indigenous people, 7 % Asian including 120,000 Chinese, 80,000 Indians and Pakistanis while there are 30,000 Muslims in that population. Rule of Law is supreme in the society of New Zealand, added Dr. Choudhary, with the result that often one hears that ministers and MPs are also caught and dealt with by law-enforcing agencies if they are involved in breaking the law in any way.

Dr. Ashraf Choudhary explained that the basic role of Parliament in New Zealand is legislation. About 100 pieces of legislation are passed by the Parliament in a year. Legislation or bills are moved by the government mostly, however, there is also a provision for Private Members’ Bill for back-benchers and the opposition MPs. Approximately 5 out of a 100 pieces of legislations are generated through private members’ initiatives and mainly deal with morality or issues of ethics. New Zealand does not follow a written constitution and legislation mainly consists of amendments into earlier conventions and laws. He highlighted that in legislation, major emphasis is placed on public input into bills which is invited from all over the country when a bill is in committee stage. Select Committees seek written or oral public opinion and views on a bill under scrutiny through announcements and notices in the media. The process of public input spans roughly over 6 months and 99 % of the bills are changed in the light of public views and input before they are presented to the Parliament for adoption. Throwing light on the role of caucus committee, one of which he chairs, he said that bills are presented to the relevant caucus committee before they are presented in the Parliament so as they are discussed keeping in view the party’s ethos and MPs’ thinking on those.

Throwing light on the research support and remuneration packages provided to MPs in New Zealand, Dr. Choudhary said that being an MP is a full-time job and hence compensation and remuneration packages take care of that completely. Approximately NZ $ 145,000 a year are paid to each MP. In addition a staff of two persons, one based at the MP’s office at Parliament and one at his/her constituency are provided to MPs, appointed by MPs and paid for by the Parliament. There is strict control on election spending and candidates can not spend more than NZ $ 20,000 on his/her campaign. Labour Party spent close to NZ $ 3 million in the previous elections, he added, quipping that his personal spending on his election as MP was NZ $ 600 only. There is also public funding for elections which is paid to political parties on the basis of percentage of votes of each party in the previous elections. Big businesses and lobbyists do not have a large role in financing elections and instead parties like the Labour ask public for regular donations and contributions to the party. Parliament has a term of three (3) years while discussions continue in the society that this may be increased to the term of four (4) years, he added.

In discussing New Zealand’s relations with Pakistan and the perception of people about Pakistan as it exists there, he said that New Zealand is weary of dealing with despotic and dictatorial regimes. People of Pakistan are considered to be very smart and crafty and the perception in New Zealand is that most of the trouble in this region originates from Pakistan. Government of New Zealand also has a strict stance against nuclear proliferation. Kashmir is considered a flashpoint in the region and we urge both Pakistan and India to resolve this issue for the sake of prosperity of the people of the two countries, he added. Answering a question about his country’s stance over holding plebiscite in Kashmir, he replied that his government was what he termed as ‘agnostic’ about it although it generally follows UN’s stance on issues, adding that it is difficult for other countries to push for a stand when there is a movement away from it on the part of parties in a conflict.

In response to another question of whether he and other legislators of Pakistani origin would like to move forward and act as a mediatory between military and political forces for a sustainable democracy in Pakistan, he said that legislators of Pakistani origin in other countries were ready to play such a role if they were asked to do so. He praised the role of PILDAT in thinking of and creating an International Network of Legislators of Pakistani Origin, of which he was a member, and said that the network will be willing to help strengthen democracy in Pakistan. In addition legislators of Pakistani origin were willing to share their expertise with Pakistani legislators and the government on issues of mutual concern provided such a need was felt in Pakistan. He believed that in order for new and young legislators to perform their duties in a befitting manner, their technical orientation and exposure to developed democracies and Parliaments was needed. Such an exposure, especially in the area of parliamentary ethics, could be made possible through close interaction of Pakistani legislators with those of their counterparts in other Parliaments through week-long study visits.

In answering a question about what is his recommendation about strengthening democracy in the country, he believed that it was an issue that needed to be tackled by the people of Pakistan. As long as people show willingness in accepting dictatorial regimes, democracy will not flourish in the country. New Zealand played its role internationally in encouraging the growth of democracy in Pakistan however the onus lies on big international powers and their preferences of whether they would like to deal with an individual or a public democratic government in Pakistan.

Answering another query about his country’s stance on US invasion of Kuwait, Dr. Ashraf Choudhary said that New Zealand considers pre-emptive strikes and unilateral decisions to be immoral and unethical.

Discussing the role of women in New Zealand’s governance system in response to a question about gender and governance, he said that New Zealand is run by women; Prime Minister, Governor General, Attorney General, Chief Justice are women and soon the Speaker of Parliament will also be a lady. There is no discrimination in the name of gender, religion, sexuality or culture in New Zealand, he said, adding that New Zealand is a country at peace with itself. September 11 did not have a direct impact on New Zealand; however some necessary anti-terrorism laws were introduced into the country. Inter-faith dialogues also continue ensuring greater harmony into the society, he said.

New Zealand only spends 1 % of its GDP on defence; military is mainly contributing to international peacekeeping while there is virtually no air force in New Zealand, he responded to a query. There is absolutely no influence of military or any other agency or force over Parliament or governance structures. In fact no western democracy runs under the influence of military which, like any other institution, is democratically controlled, contrary to public perception in Pakistan, he said.


Synthesis

Commenting on Dr. Choudhray’s discussion, Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi believed that people of Pakistani origin in significant positions overseas can not only lobby for the goodwill for Pakistan internationally but can also communicate the importance of stable democracy and good governance to Pakistani government and leadership in a non-partisan manner.

Syed Fakhar Imam, the chair of the session, believed that Pakistani nation needed to resolve its own issues in the light of the three principles of Mr. Jinnah which included representative governments, constitutionalism and egalitarianism.

In the end, Mr. Mehboob thanked Dr. Ashraf Choudhary and together with Syed Fakhar Imam, Senator Pari Gul Agha and Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi presented a PILDAT memento to Dr. Ashraf Choudhary as a token of thanks for his presence and sharing of views at the forum.

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
     
 


(From Left to Right) Syed Fakhar Imam, Dr. Ashraf Choudhary, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob and Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi

 
     
 


Syed Fakhar Imam, Senator Pari Gul Agha, Dr. Ashraf Choudhary, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi and Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob on the occasion of presenting PILDAT memento to Dr. Choudhary