For A Different Democracy (Part 3)


Atta-ur-Rahman, FRS, N.I., H.I, S.I., T.I

Pakistan is plagued with two closely inter-connected problems: (1) Massive illiteracy which allows corrupt persons to be readily elected, and (2) the stranglehold of an archaic feudal system that has been responsible for rampant corruption at all levels, and ensured that education is never given a high priority in the national schemes. These two factors have contributed to repeated military interventions to prevent the country from completely destruction.
There are three main forms of democracy prevailing today: (1) Direct Democracy (2) Presidential Democracy and (3) Parliamentary Democracy. In Direct Democracy, as exemplified by Switzerland, the President is appointed from among the Federal Ministers for a specific time period. All the major political parties are involved in the formation of the government and the Parliament cannot be dissolved but it must fulfill its legislative duration. The Federal Ministers may not be appointed from the Parliament but are usually appointed directly by the Prime Minister. Regular referendums are carried out to determine the will of the people in respect of important individual national issues before the laws are approved and promulgated. This can create hurdles for implementation of new ideas and concepts quickly but has the advantage that technocrats form the Cabinet, and the quality of governance is excellent.
In the second Presidential form of Democracy, as exemplified by USA and France, the President serves both as the Head of State and the Head of Government. The President is directly elected by the people and he then selects the Federal Ministers who are usually from the Parliament. This gives him the freedom to choose the most eminent persons in their respective fields who would otherwise normally not be inclined to fight in an election and become members of Parliament. The President may or may not belong to a political party but he is elected for his knowledge and abilities usually after a series of public debates on the national television where his views and knowledge on key international issues are severely tested before the general public. The position of the President is a powerful one as he has the legal right to block a law through his veto power.
In the third Parliamentary system of democracy, as practiced in many Commonwealth and other countries the President (or King/Queen) has a symbolic function, with the Prime Minister as the head of Government. The Ministers are appointed only from the Parliament, and if the main political party has a majority, or if there is a weak opposition, then there are hardly any checks and balances against corruption and wrong doings.
Pakistan must change directions if we want to progress, The steps needed are:
1) Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah through a personal note in his diary had favoured the Presidential form of government as he was apprehensive of the negative role that feudal landlords would play to undermine the government for personal gains. In one of his speeches he said “I should like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists who have flourished at our expense by a system which is so vicious, which is so wicked and which makes them so selfish that it is difficult to reason with them. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lessons of Islam”.(Address, All India Muslim League Session, Delhi, 24 April 1943). Changes should be brought into the Constitution so that the nation should directly elect the most outstanding person available as the President. Before a person is allowed to contest for this key position, he/she should first be vetted by a “ Council of Elders” appointed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (comprising reputable retired judges of the High Court and Supreme Court and other eminent citizens with impeccable character) in respect of his/her suitability for the post before being allowed to contest for this top position. The President should then select the Cabinet Ministers from the best persons available in the country, and NOT from the Parliament. They should be persons of spotless character, who should also be vetted through the “Council of Elders” prior to appointment.
2) The role of the Parliament should be limited to law making and oversight of national affairs. The Parliamentarians must be highly educated. In the Islamic Republic of Iran they need to have at least a Masters degree to be even eligible to be considered. A similar system needs to be introduced in Pakistan.Election to the Parliament should not be allowed unless the candidates have been vetted and found suitable by the “Council of Elders”.
3) One reason for the failure of democracy in Pakistan is illiteracy. When the majority cannot read or understand the different policies of the political parties, they can be easily manipulated and exploited. As a result, a new class of so-called “electables” has emerged who are thoroughly corrupt but wield huge power in their regions. It is they that are sought after by different political parties, and later end up as Ministers in the government. They need to be rooted out of the system before Pakistan can progress. It is important therefore to limit the voting rights to persons who have qualified with at least secondary school level education.
4) The Secretaries must be specialists in their respective fields and not persons with just a general educational background. Each Secretary must be supported by a powerful Think Tank comprising the best professionals available in that field who could support the efforts of the Ministry in tackling the problems at hand and planning for the future in a very professional manner.
5) To curb terrorism and corruption the justice system needs to be completely overhauled with the addition of at least 10,000 additional judges on contractual basis with a regular check on their performance and productivity.
6) A major factor for the rapid deterioration of our institutions such as NAB, FIA, FBR, PIA, Railways, Pakistan Steel and others is the appointment of cronies as heads of such institutions and as members their governing bodies, thereby breeding corruption. These organisations must be made completely autonomous with the heads and members of their governing bodies being appointed by their respective governing bodies after screening by the” Council of Elders”.
7) In order for Pakistan to emerge from its present depths of ignorance and poverty, and migrate to a Knowledge Economy, a National Educational Emergency should be promulgated and the constitution modified to guarantee that at least 7% of GDP is set aside for education, science and technology and to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.
Radical changes in the Constitution, to incorporate the reforms described above, are needed if we are to emerge from the present mess. The proposal made above requires a new constitution and a new mind set. The changes in Constitution will need to be done by an interim government of technocrats with the support of the judiciary, the military and enlightened politicians. Such a government will need to be put in place for at least 5 years so that the proposed reforms can be carried out and firmly integrated into the governance systems. The system of democracy being practiced in Turkey serves as a good model as powers have been effectively transferred to the grass roots through the formation of 1397 Municipalities. Pakistan too should have about 15 provinces and about 4,000 Municipalities
In a speech Quaid-i-Azam had warned against the powerful corrupt who could subvert the nations, in the following words: “Corruption is a curse in India and amongst Muslims, especially the so-called educated and intelligentsia. Unfortunately, it is this class that it selfish and morally and intellectually corrupt. No doubt this disease is common, but amongst this particular class of Muslims it is rampant”.(M.A. Jinnah to Ispahani, 6 May 1945). Jinnah realized the key role that education had to play in nation building. In one of his speeches he said“Without education it is complete darkness and with education it is light. Education is a matter of life and death to our nation. The world is moving so fast that if you do not educate yourselves you will be not only completely left behind, but will be finished up. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) had enjoined his followers to go even to China in the pursuit of knowledge. If that was the commandment in those days when communications were difficult, then, truly, Muslims as the true followers of the glorious heritage of Islam, should surely utilize all available opportunities. No sacrifice of time or personal comfort should be regarded too great for the advancement of the cause of education.”
Alas history has shown that the worst fears of our Quaid came true. The nation was taken over by the most corrupt as rulers, particularly after the mid-1980s, and today stands at a precipice with poverty and illiteracy at alarming levels and with some 50,000 billion rupees piled in foreign assets by corrupt politicians who are determined to cling to power at any cost.
The time to act is now!
The author is Co-Chairman of UN Committee on Science, Technology & Innovation for UNESCAP, former Federal Minister of Science & Technology and former Chairman Higher Education Commission.