COMMENT: Collectivities and governance -Anwar Syed - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Source :\11\30\story_30-11-2010_pg3_3

Political parties are in the business of contesting elections. They hope to form a government or become partners in one that another party or coalition has formed. Party leaders need an intermediary between themselves and the voters, and that role is performed by the party workers

We often hear political commentators say that the people will do this, that, or the other. It is said also that parliament will take such and such measures. These statements are more misleading than accurate. The people as such, when persuaded to act, can destroy an existing arrangement of affairs but they do not build anything to replace it. They may become instruments of change when they are led by a party and its leader who has a vision and a plan for creating a new order.

Parliament in Pakistan is sovereign. It is the governing body that makes laws which say what a citizen may or may not do in interacting with others. Thus, it gives substance to the notion of a good society. The executive is a committee of its own members designated to implement the laws it has made. This committee, known as a cabinet, consists of a prime minister and his associates. It is answerable to its parent — parliament — for the adequacy if its conduct. It serves during parliament’s pleasure and may be discharged if it does not meet the latter’s expectations.

Curiously, parliament is a sovereign that cannot act on its own volition. It needs somebody to hold its hand and guide it to where it is to go. That somebody is the head of the executive, namely, the prime minister. He and his colleagues are the ones who create its business. It is noteworthy that the prime minister is the country’s virtual ruler. He can dismiss a minister in his cabinet if he does not approve of the latter’s performance. He can dissolve parliament and call for new elections.

It follows from the above that neither of these collectivities can do anything constructive by itself. The people can destroy but not build unless moved to action by a leader. Parliament needs a manager who will put it to work and give it a direction. Another similarity between the people and parliament may be noted. Neither of them takes its existence and function seriously. Only about 40 percent of the eligible voters in Pakistan turn out to cast their ballots on polling day. Members of the National Assembly come every day that it is in session, sign in, sit in the House for a few minutes, and then go out to chat with colleagues and friends in the lobbies or the cafeteria. Some of those who remain in the House have been found snoring instead of listening to the presentation being made.

We may now turn to another collectivity in the system of governance, namely, the political party. Political parties in Pakistan have several commonalities in terms both of their officially advertised organisational structures and operational styles. They all have offices and organs such as president/chairman, general secretary, treasurer, and a central executive committee. Many of them, especially those at the provincial and local levels, are appointed by the top party leadership. None of them, except the Jamaat-e-Islami, maintains updated lists of party members who may vote in the elections at the ward or mohalla level. There is an element of hereditary succession in the making of top party leaders. It goes something like this: PPP: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal; PML-N: Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Hamza and Abbas (waiting in line); PML-Q: Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his cousin Pervaiz Elahi; ANP: Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan), Abdul Wali Khan, Asfandyar Wali Khan; JUI: Maulana Mufti Mahmud and his son Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Altaf Hussain has been the chief of the MQM since the day it began its career and he has no apparent intention of retiring.

It is hard to say to what extent the internal management of the political parties in Pakistan is democratic. Mr Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP’s co-chairman, does periodically call meetings of his central executive committee. It may be assumed that the items he brings up are discussed but it is unlikely that the issue in discussion is put to a vote. The greater likelihood is that he has the final say and no member tells him that he is wrong. The same may be true of Mr Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in the PML-N and PML-Q respectively. Haji Bashir Bilour in the ANP appears to be Asfandyar Wali Khan’s co-equal. I understand that matters are discussed in the MQM’s coordination committee, but its members and other party notables give Altaf Hussain unquestioning obedience.

Political parties are in the business of contesting elections. They hope to form a government or become partners in one that another party or coalition has formed. Party leaders need an intermediary between themselves and the voters, and that role is performed by the party workers. They are party loyalists, and in some cases the party’s employees, who convey its message to the folks in their area of residence. They recruit persons as party members, collect funds, organise party meetings and assemble audiences for their leaders to address. If they belong to the party in power, they may be rewarded with jobs. The jobs in question are essentially superfluous positions, involving no real work to be done. This practice will sometimes create ugly and morally reprehensible situations for the government that resorts to it.

The PPP has had an interesting career in this country’s politics. Founded in December 1967, it functioned as the ruling party for about five years between 1972 and 1977. Its government, headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was not believed to be corrupt or incompetent, but some of its economic policies may have been misguided. It survived intense persecution during the regimes of General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf. Its government during Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s two tenures (1988-90 and 1993-97) was believed to be both corrupt and incompetent and was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and President Farooq Leghari on these grounds. The party’s present government has the same reputation.

What shall we then say about the PPP as a political party? It has organisation and varying degrees of support throughout the country. It is a national asset, and it is hard to understand why its managers have allowed it to fall to depths of decay. It is not likely to be returned to power in the next election. Mr Zardari must take his large share of responsibility for its degeneration. But it is puzzling why men and women of good intentions and high capability in the party’s executive committee have not voted him out of office.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics

No comments:

Post a Comment