For a Different Democracy (Part 4)


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

The dismal failure of the so called “democracy” in Pakistan was largely due to the hijacking of the Parliamentary system of governance by feudal landlords and “electables” who looted and plundered freely whenever they came into power. The law was helpless as heads of NAB and other investigative agencies were cronies, appointed by these very corrupt persons in power and danced at their tunes. In previous articles I have advocated for the establishment of a different form of Presidential democracy which was preferred by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, as evident from his hand-written note in his diary. In this connection a good model to follow will be that of our close brotherly country, Turkey.
Founded in 1923, Turkey faced similar political difficulties as Pakistan. Three military coups took place between 1960 and 1980. In February 1997, the military engineered a change of government, termed a “post-modern coup” since no soldiers were involved, and the political system of the country has developed under a Parliamentary system of democracy which is now in the process of migrating to a Presidential system. The military has had a formal but diminishing role in national affairs. Since 2002 the moderate Islamic Adaletve Kalkýnma Partisi (AKP) has ruled successfully, in spite of a failed attempt to overthrow President Racep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016.
After the elections in November 2019, the role of the President of Turkey will no longer be a ceremonial one. Under the new Constitution, the role of the Prime Minister will be scrapped, and the President will become the Chief Executive as well the head of State. He may continue to be linked to a political party, he will head of the army, and he will have powers to appoint Ministers of his choosing, choose the senior judges and prepare the budget. The President will be appointed for 5 years with the possibility of a second 5 year term.
The local government system in Turkey deserves special appreciation. Turkey resisted all attempts to grant autonomy to the provinces and maintained a strong central authority. There are 1394 municipalities in Turkey. All provinces with a population in excess of 750,000 have a Metropolitan Municipality. These have a “First Tier status”, and there are 30 such Municipalities (such as the Istanbul Municipality) in Turkey. In addition there are 51 Province Center Municipalities (Second Tier status), 919 District Municipalities, and 394 Town Municipalities each with its own Mayor. Liberal funds are made available to the Municipalities so that democracy truly works at the grass roots. In Pakistan the feudals ruling over us have resisted transfer of funds or power to the grass roots with the result that we have a sham “pseudo-democracy” designed to facilitate the loot and plunder of those in power while the people are helpless with no proper facilities in the form of schools, hospitals, clean drinking water or proper sanitation facilities. An exception is seen in KPK where there have been positive reforms. Lahore has also developed well in Punjab but many other areas of Punjab are severely neglected. Sindh is a complete disaster with most of the funds ending up as foreign assets of corrupt politicians.
While the army has no formal role in the government in Turkey, it still yields much power. The National Security Council (NSC) has an advisory role but in practice it sets guidelines for the government to act on, and it can issue warnings to the Turkish government against foul acts. The National Security Council also exists in Pakistan but it has been largely inactive since 2008, with the Defence Committee of the Cabinet fulfilling the role of the National Security Council.
Pakistan stands at a cross-roads today. A military government is not an option. The present Parliamentary system of democracy has also failed, benefiting only the corrupt rulers as evident from all major indicators on which the progress of a country is measured (growth in exports, national debt, industrial growth, poverty levels, literacy levels etc). They are all very negative. With about a 100 million below the age of 25 we have a tremendous potential of growth as this places us at a huge demographic advantage as compared to many advanced countries that have ageing populations. However in order to take advantage of this window of opportunity, we need to divert our resources towards, education, science, technology and innovation in order to empower our youth with the latest knowledge and technologies. This window exists only for a short period of about 20 years before the opportunity changes to disaster with massive joblessness and poverty, if we do not correct our national directions. Today tiny Singapore has exports of Rs. 330 billion while we, with a population 40 times greater than Singapore, have exports of only Rs.21 billion, indicating the terrible state of governance since 1985.
According to independent estimates over 50,000 billion rupees (about $ 500 billion) have been looted from Pakistan by the rulers in the last 10 years. In 2006 the Rental Power Project was exposed in which several powerful Ministers and the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf were allegedly involved, which earned him the name of “Raja rental”. Massive corruption was detected in PMDC in 2010 and over 150 cases of fake registrations of doctors and medical colleges were identified. However due to powerful connections, the persons identified by the Court were acquitted by NAB. There are numerous other cases of mega-corruption including those detected in FBR, PIA, OGRA, Pakistan Steel Mills, NATO container case, the ephedrine quota case involving Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani’s son Ali Musa Gillani, mediagate scandal involving the son of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, and NICL involving the politician Makhdoom Amin Fahim and his family. A $ 16 billion deal was signed by the Petroleum Minister (now Prime Minister) Shahid Khaqan Abbassi for purchase of LNG from Qatar with the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani witnessing the ceremony. The opposition parties have alleged that this was done in a non-transparent manner and that huge corruption is involved. After the removal of Mr. Nawaz Sharif by the unanimous decision of 5 Supreme Court judges, NAB has initiated an inquiry against Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for corruption of an amount of Rs 220 billion. The case was registered against him in 2015 by NAB regarding the award of the contract of liquefied natural gas but it seems to be difficult for NAB to proceed against a sitting Prime Minister.
All investigative agencies including police, NAB and FIA must be made completely independent of the government. The President should be appointed by a direct popular vote and select his own Ministers who must be eminent experts in their respective fields. The role of Parliament should be limited to law making and oversight, and members should be elected through proportionate representation. Members of Parliament should not have access to any public funds so that corruption can be eliminated from their ranks. All persons appointed in the Parliaments, in the Cabinet as Ministers, as President, and as heads of different key national institutions must be carefully screened by a “Committee of Elders” appointed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan with regards to their integrity and competence. Capital punishment must be introduced for corruption with no opportunities of plea bargaining. The Constitution should lay out that maximum national priority should be given to education, health, science, technology and innovation. All government servants must be required to send their children to the nearest government schools. A National Education emergency should be declared and major governance reforms implemented. These and other such measures can lift the country from the depths to which it has sunk.
A wise man once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. “. The Parliamentary system of democracy has failed in Pakistan in spite of the tall claims. Continuing on this path is insanity. It is time to change the Constitution and bring in a Presidential system of democracy with checks and measures to prevent corrupt persons coming into power again, as indicated above and in my previous articles.

— The author is former Federal Minister of Science & Technology, former Chairman Higher Education Commission and Chairman of UN Committee for Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP

Share this post

    scroll to top