Elections, democracy and reforms


Ikramul Haq
Pakistan is a strange country where heads of institutions keep on expressing helplessness about non-performance of their organisations and politicians ask the voters to elect them even when they are apathetic towards their manifestos. On a daily basis, we hear about the paralysis of all state institutions — legislative, administrative and judicial. People are told from rostrum to pulpit that existing institutions have miserably failed. However, nobody says how to fix them. Politicians, bureaucrats and judges, responsible for running the systems, openly confess inefficiencies.
On July 25, people will be going for polls but political parties are least pushed to tell them how they are going to address water scarcity, monstrous fiscal/trade/current account deficits, falling forex reserves, unemployment, dearth of educational and health facilities — just to mention a few. Political parties lack a culture of disagreement on the basis of arguments, reasons and logic. There is no inclination to secure consensus for a national agenda — no matter who wins.
Since 1960s all governments, civil and military alike, have shown apathy towards the weaker sections of society. The income inequalities in Pakistan have increased sharply since 1980s. The single most devastating factor for increased income and wealth inequalities is the regressive tax system. Since 1992, the incident of tax on the poor has increased substantively (35 per cent) while the rich owning 90 per cent of wealth pay less than one per cent of total tax collected. No political party is concerned with chronic economic disparities nor is there debate from any quarter on the ever-widening rich-poor divide.
Electronic media in Pakistan is sheer sensationalism. The all-knowing anchors employ great energies to embellish corruption and malpractices, make fun of all, manufacture news and invent analyses but they never invite representatives of political parties to present solutions and face informed questions from experts and the public at large. They hardly emphasise that our main failure is the absence of an efficient judicial system and enforcement of rule of law. Even the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) the other day admitted in open court that he had failed to reform the system he heads.
The media, hooked on “sensational news”, does not debate seriously, as to how we can ensure justice for all, rule of law, fairness and equity. The CJP is in the headlines on a daily basis. Media highlights and creates hype about their observations regarding crumbling institutions but not a single TV channel shows the plight of helpless litigants, waiting for hours and days outside the courts. Media exposes the mega corruption cases of politicians but never demands public disclosures of assets by generals, judges and high-ranking civil officials under Article 19 A of the Constitution.
Since many months, the country is in the grip of “suo motu blitz” on the plea that lack of governance attracts judicial assertiveness. Fine, then what is the remedy when the justice system fails to deliver? The judicial system obviously has to be fixed by legislators and judges and not by people in the streets.
We cannot set anything right unless we democratise our entire state apparatus. The existing system is inherently exploitative and anti-people — the ruling elites thrive on people’s hard-earned money using police force, taxation and judiciary to keep them under control for their vested interests. Political and economic empowerment of the people that is the essence of true democracy is the real challenge. For elites, this would be a deathblow. They are still preserving the VIP culture from the colonial era. Thus, through superficial actions, they want to divert the attention of the masses from their real issues. The militro-judicial-civil complex in Pakistan has been working for the rich and mighty but never for the helpless, hapless masses. They hoodwink common people by claiming, “We are the custodians of the system” and “we will reform” it for you. They know that perpetuation of the existing system, in which they enjoy unprecedented tax-free perks and perquisites and free plots, alone can help them keep the masses subjugated.
For democracy, the sine qua non is accountability — of all and not of political adversaries alone. Accountability must start from the judges who adjudge others. Judges must be above board — men of integrity, blameless, and free from all internal and external pressures. Since justice should not only be done but seen to have been done, the prime duty of a judge is to demonstrate this through his judgements and not by verbal exchanges in courts or statements on various occasions.
The politicians were never serious about ensuring accountability of judges and generals. Pakistan Muslim League — Noon (PML-N)’s law minister, in fact, rejected a suggestion by some members of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to include judges and generals within the ambit of the new accountability law. Now, PMLN leaders are facing the music on account of appeasing the militro-judicial-civil complex.