The biggest failure - S. Akbar Zaidi - 19th March, 2012

Source :

UNDOUBTEDLY, the biggest success of the present government as it celebrates four years in power is precisely that: it is actually in a position to celebrate having completed four years in power.
It is not simply the fact that a government has retained power and been in office for four full years that is momentous — the Musharraf-Jamali-Shaukat Aziz elected government was also in power for more than four years — but that the Zardari-Gilani government’s four years have actually strengthened democracy in Pakistan. And it might just be the turning moment where Pakistan emerges from the baggage of a praetorian state, and embarks on the path to democracy.
There is still a very long way to go, but such a possibility does exist and the incumbent government as well as the opposition deserve credit for making the transition a possibility.
Of course, there is, as always, a huge possibility of backsliding and regressing into different forms of non-democratic, non-electoral authoritarianism, but one can at least talk about the processes of democratisation today, possibilities that we could not have imagined even in the recent past.
This major success of the incumbent government has been achieved despite great opposition to the government as well as to democracy by the older forms of authoritarianism such as the military, and new forms of challenges in the guise of extremism and militarism, as well as the perhaps well-meaning but destabilising and threatening forms of judicial activism. To be able to ride out the storm of such pressures and intrigues goes to the credit of the government, the opposition and to parliament as a whole.
Of course, there are numerous other successes as well, such as the passing of the 18th Amendment, peace and economic measures with India, the National Finance Commission Award, and numerous other initiatives and measures over the last four years.
However, all such administrative and structural interventions, despite their tremendous importance and success, pale into insignificance compared to the continuation, strengthening and deepening of democracy.
Any military dictator could have taken administrative measures for better governance and delivery, as they have in the past, but democratisation usually takes place under the rule of electoral and democratic norms, institutions and actors, even though military dictatorships also play a role in instigating democratisation, as did the Musharraf government.
Nevertheless, despite some large and small achievements, there are, as one ought to expect, glaring omissions and failures as well. One could argue, perhaps overly optimistically, that the government has not further strengthened and deepened democratisation, that it has not been able to neuter the ISI and the military even though it had ample opportunity to do so.
Some critics of the government would argue that by not removing the military and the ISI from the political sphere completely, any talk of democratisation is empty, incomplete. While there is some weight in this argument, it ignores the complexities of a slow transformation in structural power relations in political transition.
Other failures which have been highlighted include the inability to leap on to a high-growth path for the economy, and the dismal resource-mobilisation efforts of the government, with the tax-to-GDP ratio now falling to a mere 8.6 per cent. While this government has not fared well in the way the economy has been managed, it has also not done as badly as many enthusiastic critics of the government continuously argue. Many of those who criticise the failed economic performance of this government were employed by the Musharraf regime as advisers and ambassadors, and have a politics perhaps not well-suited to the different norms of democracy and electoral politics.
Perhaps the biggest failure of this government has been its reluctance and inability to initiate and nurture an elected, decentralised, local government system. At one level, it seems surprising that a government committed to genuine decentralisation and to the democratic system would dither in taking democracy even further to the grass-roots, but the behaviour of this government only reflects that of almost all elected governments in Pakistan.
It is military dictators who hold elections at the local level of government, not democratically elected governments. Yet, if this particular government is being seen as the turning point in the consolidation of democracy in Pakistan, the absence of elected local government undermines a deeper and fuller process of democratisation.
As we have seen in the past, local governments are essential as a means for further democratisation, for better service provision and delivery and even gender emancipation. As many as 36,066 women councillors were elected or nominated in the local government elections in 2001, with 24,528 in 2005. As much research on local government in Pakistan has shown, elected local governments have played a pivotal role in the social, economic and political transformation in the country.
Of course, the federal government after the 18th Amendment would argue, correctly, that it has no role in determining local government elections in the country and that this is now — as has actually always been the case — the business of provincial governments.
There are numerous reasons why provincial governments are reluctant to hold elections at the local level, not least because this undermines the power, prestige and purses of the MPAs who contest all these with elected representatives at the lower sphere. Nevertheless, as the federal government has been successful in getting provincial governments to agree to numerous reforms, it should have played a more forceful role in getting agreement and commitment to decentralised, devolved, elected, local governments as well.
Is one of the biggest successes of this government — devolution under the 18th Amendment — responsible for its biggest failure, the absence of devolution under elected local government? Or, like agricultural taxation, which is also a provincial concern, is this just another excuse?
The writer is a political economist.

No comments:

Post a Comment