VIEW: Mid-term elections: is it the answer? —Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi - Thursday, December 30, 2010

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Mid-term elections or an interim government are not the solution. The fixing of the system will start from an individual who decides that he will not allow corruption or engage in corrupt practices. We have to become a nation from a chaotic crowd to be able to gain the dignity and sovereignty that we so much crave for

It seems democracy is feeling the heat from citizens around the world. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi barely won a vote of confidence. French President Sarkozy is still recovering from allegations of bribery on the sale of submarines to Pakistan. British Prime Minister Cameron faced violent student protests after the increase in the tuition fees. US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, lost congressional majority to the Republican Party. The Irish government is facing a loss of mandate because of the economic crisis.

For established democracies in the west, change in public opinion is not a new thing. Over the course of two centuries, they have developed checks and balances between various state institutions that may get rocked in turbulent times but survive and continue in the end. In Pakistan, on the other hand, democracy has always been on a shaky ground. In its 63 year’s history of statehood, intermittent elected governments have been dissolved frequently by military rulers thereby hampering the development of a democratic tradition, which is the bedrock of stable institutions. Time and again, elected representatives proved too weak to steer the democratic ship in storms created by vested interests and non-democratic forces. The most important reasons for unstable democratic institutions in Pakistan are undemocratic parties, unskilled politicians, allure of the establishment to find partners in crime, too many parties in parliament reducing the national debate into small regional interests and masses that do not understand the power of their vote.

Since the formation of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government after the 2008 elections, there have been many occasions when it seemed that it will not be able to survive but it did. In the latest crisis, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) announced parting ways with the coalition government and decided to sit on the opposition benches, while the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) resigned from two ministries at the Centre. As soon as this was announced, the multitude of rumourmongers and conspiracy theorists started concocting all kinds of scenarios to emerge from this. The most talked about are two, i.e. an interim government of technocrats that would stabilise the country before the next elections in 2013 or that mid-term elections should be held for a fresh mandate.

Mid-term elections will just be a game of musical chairs between the existing cadres of leaders but will cost the nation a lot of money and loss of productivity in the economy. There are only two years left in the term of the current government, which is not a long time to wait. During this time, the local bodies’ elections should be held so that an institution for future leaders is reinstated. These elections will be a litmus test of the nation’s choice for the next government in the province and Centre.

But the real question is the structure of our government and how various institutions should behave to create a stable environment for the nation to thrive. Bureaucrats run the real government; a minister is supposed to provide a policy direction based on the ruling party’s ideology. It is never a good idea that a minister gets involved in actual, operational decision-making, which becomes a breeding ground for corruption and cronyism. It undermines the authority of the bureaucrats and damages merit by appointment of choice candidates to facilitate corrupt transactions.

The military establishment has controlled the strings of government directly or indirectly throughout the history of Pakistan. A soldier or policeman without legal authority is no different from a criminal. When a general captures power from civilian rulers, he is undercutting his moral authority thereby damaging the institution that is held in high esteem by the nation. The military today does not enjoy the same moral ground in Pakistan that it used to just 20 years ago. People have realised that the military rulers have done more damage than the combined damage of all politicians.

The social fabric of a nation cannot survive when the judgements of courts are considered unfair or when the state instruments are not able to implement them. Judges who are honest succumb to pressures, if not for money, then for the safety of their families. The judiciary cannot be independent without providing them protection and considering merit in the appointment of judges. It seems that in Pakistan there is no fear of law among people that are rich, influential or part of a religious extremist network. Despite many arrests in terrorism cases, not a single culprit has been brought to justice to pay for their crimes against society. This has emboldened the terrorists to commit more acts without any fear of being punished.

The final blame for the desperate state of affairs in Pakistan lies with the whole nation itself. How is it possible that without the consent of the masses, bad leaders come to power either in bureaucracy, politics, military or judiciary? Imran Khan, chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), has made compassionate appeals for amendments in the Election Commission regulations to make in holding elections more independent and transparent. No rule or law can ensure fair elections until the people engaged in running the elections feel the responsibility for it. Elections are organised by over 20,000 officials and supported by an even larger number of soldiers and policemen. If not a single person among these have the courage to stand up to the rigging of elections then the nation cannot blame internal or external forces for a bad government. It is the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies and common citizen to protect election whistle-blowers from vengeance.

Corruption or an uncivilised society does not result from a handful of bad apples; it is the deep-rooted corruption of all. Mid-term elections or an interim government are not the solution. The fixing of the system will start from an individual who decides that he will not allow corruption or engage in corrupt practices. We have to become a nation from a chaotic crowd to be able to gain the dignity and sovereignty that we so much crave for. God has instructed us unambiguously in the Holy Quran (13:11) “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”

The writer is the president of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA. He can be reached at

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