Constitutional Rules of Game Needed to reduce Political Polarisation and improve Quality of Democracy in Pakistan

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January 07; In a PILDAT dialogue on how has democracy fared in 2020, it was agreed that quality of democracy in 2020 has been far from perfect and that Constitution must be the guiding principle in setting rules of the game to address rising political polarisation and improving democratic governance in Pakistan.

Panellists at the PILDAT Virtual Forum on How has 2020 impacted democratic governance and quality of democracy in Pakistan which was streamed live across PILDAT’s social media pages on YouTube, Facebook  and Twitter, included Mr. Javed Jabbar, Former Senator; former Federal Minister for Information and Media Development, Syed Talat Husain, one of the leading Broadcast Journalists in Pakistan, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President and founder of PILDAT and Ms. Aasiya Riaz, Joint Director PILDAT.

Prime Minister Imran Khan must attend 80 to 90% of the sittings of Parliament,” said Mr. Javed Jabbar while answering what is the way forward to improve democracy and democratic governance in Pakistan in 2021. “It is the responsibility of the PTI government in centre and in Punjab and in KP set the tone for democratic engagement and democratic governance,” he believed.

Conventional wisdom says that if the pitch is imperfect, the batsman must refrain from experimental shots and must stick to the basics,” said Syed Talat Hussain in answering question on way forward for democracy and in ending political polarisation. “The Government must go back to the basics to provide good democratic governance according to the Constitution of Pakistan,” he believed.

“Our history has taught us that no matter how much a party tries to obliterate the existence of another party, it is unable to do so. Both PPP and PML-N have learnt that lesson the hard way,” said Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob while answering the question on reducing political polarisation in Pakistan. “PTI must also learn the same lesson that it can put opposition behind bars but can not remove the existence of other political parties. If this lesson is not learnt soon, Pakistan may have to face a bigger crisis,” he said.

Earlier, the panellists addressed questions on whether the quality of democracy in Pakistan has improved or deteriorated in 2020; What have been key developments seen in democratic governance by the elected Executive in centre and in provinces; how have Parliament and Provincial Assemblies performed in 2020; what has been the role of Judiciary and whether political parties have contributed to strengthening or weakening of democracy in 2020.

In setting stage for the conversation, Ms. Aasiya Riaz said that 2020 has been a year of global chaos and uncertainty due to coronavirus pandemic. Where the world has seen autocratic tendencies in many democracies, Pakistan too has seen institutionalisation of its hybrid governance model be it in the shape of NCOC, elimination of locust threat or polio vaccination. Parliament and Provincial Assemblies have scarcely been able to resolve any political crises in the past and have left much to be desired in the role played by them in strengthening democracy in 2020. Judiciary which has had many questions on its role of encroaching into the domain of other State institutions as well as accepting pressure from others has displayed much the same tendencies in 2020. While generally political parties in Pakistan are criticised for being weak in policy formulation and in internal democracy, many also believe that parties cannot be democratic in the absence of democracy in Pakistan. To many citizens vying for stability of democracy and democratic governance in Pakistan, the birth of PDM as an alliance by opposition political parties appears as the only silver lining for democracy in 2020.

Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob believed that quality of democracy in Pakistan has deteriorated in 2020. Parliament and Provincial Assemblies have not played the required role of oversight especially in managing the impact of coronavirus. A Parliamentary Committee formed on COVID-19 highly underperformed. Lack of effective local governments across is another weak link in Pakistan’s system of democratic governance. The case of PTI’s foreign funding remains pending at the Election Commission pointing to another weakness. He quoted the criticism by the higher judiciary on the partisan accountability system in Pakistan and termed it as a failure of political parties to arrive at a consensus on instituting a system of credible accountability. Citing the Judiciary’s rejection of Justice Qazi Faez Isa case as positive, he termed it as favourable for quality of democracy in 2020. He also believed that it is the first time that hybrid regime in Pakistan is being challenged by political parties which is a positive indicator for democracy in 2020.

 

Syed Talat Hussain said that all international indices on democracy, justice and media freedom in 2020 paint a bleak picture of quality of democracy during the past year. In addition to indices, anecdotes also paint a picture of democracy that is not pretty. The case of Justice Qazi Faez Isa showed how he and his family had to go from pillar to post to get justice. How little attention Prime Minister has given to Parliament and how much Federal Government has relied on ordinances in 2020 instead of legislation also points to deteriorating quality of democracy. While kidnapping of IG Sindh presents a picture of rule of law in Pakistan, the abduction of Journalist Matiullah Jan shows the freedom of media and expression in the country. Citizens of Balochistan who are protesting and refusing to bury their dead shows another aspect of trust of citizens on the State.

Mr. Javed Jabbar said that he endorses the point on absence of effective local governments as a major weakness of the system of democracy in Pakistan. However, that shows the near consensus by political parties on not moving forward to put in place empowered and effective local governance system in Pakistan. He believed that quality of democracy in Pakistan can not be understood without looking at the international picture of democracy. While military’s role in politics is criticised, even if it were to be removed, Pakistan’s administrative structures are so weak that democratic governance cannot be improved without major reforms. These reforms are required in political parties, by institution a Commission on Political Parties, by introducing compulsory voting and by bringing reforms in media.

Multiple rounds of questions were posed to panellists on models of democracy Pakistan might look at, at what is the central issue weakening democracy in Pakistan, role of political parties, political polarisation and the possible way forward for improving democratic governance in Pakistan.

Watch the complete video of PILDAT Virtual Forum to get all details.


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