For a different democracy | Dr Atta-ur-Rahman

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Pakistan has been struggling to establish a suitable system of democracy since 1947. The advantage of a presidential system is that the president can choose the federal ministers from the best brains in various fields in the country. These include people of international eminence who would otherwise not want to contest elections. However, under the parliamentary system, a drawback is that the ministers must be appointed from within parliament.

The quality of the people who fight and win seats in parliament can be gauged from the fact that about 200 lawmakers have been identified under the previous government for forging their degrees to become eligible for elections. This would never have come to the fore had the HEC not been ordered to undertake this exercise by the Supreme Court. The Election Commission of Pakistan had completely failed to identify these candidates and had allowed them to contest elections without properly screening their documents. This was because the ECP is not seen as a neutral body. A majority of its members are allegedly politically nominated.

Another reason for the abject failure of the present system of democracy in Pakistan involves the reluctance of political parties to hold local bodies’ election and subsequently transfer power and funds to the grassroots level. This reluctance has been motivated by corruption as the provincial ministries want to exert complete control over funding so that they can do what they like with them without any accountability.

Funds are then generally spent on large infrastructure projects – such as transportation schemes, roads and the energy sector – where the chances of corruption are high. As a result, the expenditure on education and health is grossly neglected. According to a petition filed by Qadir Bhatti – a senior lawyer in the Sindh High Court’s Larkana bench – officials of the Sindh government bungled a large sum of Rs80 billion from the funds allocated for the development of Larkana between 2008 and 2015.

It is clearly not in the interests of the ruling elite to change the present system as it allows them to loot and plunder at will. The justice system is largely ineffective as the judges are often ‘bought’ – particularly in lower courts. Corrupt politicians can comfortably relax in this environment which they have created while they benefit from huge kickbacks as the legal system is unable to catch and punish them.

In this connection, plea bargaining should be banned as there should be no escape route for the corrupt. The plea bargaining conducted by NAB multiplies corruption as it allows crooks to return a part of the stolen funds and get away scot-free.

The spirit of democracy lies in empowering the people by transferring authority and funds to local bodies. For instance, in Turkey, a country with a population of about 70 million – one-third of Pakistan’s population – there are 1,394 municipalities headed by mayors who have the powers and funding to meet local needs. Pakistan should also follow a similar model. Divisions should not be made on the basis of ethnicity to ensure a better mix of different cultures. We should create about 4,000 municipalities to empower democracy at the grassroots level.

The focus of our government should be on promoting the manufacturing and export of medium and high-technology products. The opportunities created by CPEC should be used by creating industrial hubs with 15-year tax holidays to attract China’s private sector to undertake industrial projects in Pakistan in partnership with local companies in various high-tech fields.

Establishing such industrial zones should be accompanied by high-quality technical training institutions so that the trained manpower required by the industries in these zones is locally available.

A democracy can only function properly if its people are well-educated and can distinguish between the manifestoes of various political parties. Unfortunately, the feudal stranglehold of successive governments has not allowed the literacy rate to increase and about half the population of Pakistan cannot read or write.

Fresh elections would only result in the same people entering parliament. Such a situation necessitates the setting up of a technocrat government after thorough screening of ministers for a temporary period of between seven and 10 years. This will ensure that the highest priority is given to education, science, technology and innovation to enable Pakistan to make a transition towards a knowledge economy.

So how can Pakistan rid itself of the stranglehold of the corrupt and make progress? The only hope is if Articles 62 and 63 of our constitution are enforced in letter and spirit. The constitution also needs to be changed significantly to accommodate a presidential system of democracy with proportional representation so that the number of people from a political party who are elected is proportional to the number of votes cast in favour of that party. This is not the case at present. The presidential system of democracy exists in about 90 countries of the world and we should also adopt it.

Pakistan stands at a crossroads of history. We have a unique opportunity to make a new beginning. The interests of the people of Pakistan must come first.

The writer is chairman of UN ESCAP
Committee on Science Technology &
Innovation and former chairman of the HEC. Email: ibne_sina@hotmail.com