Mansoor Akbar Kundi
IMRAN Khan’s statement in which he cursed Parliament appeared a shocking statement with dismay for many like me who know role and importance of legislatures in the promotion of democratic and public values. Imran might have uttered remarks in political or personal anger about his political adversaries who either hold majority or stand minority in either or both of the houses, nevertheless, his words reflected a negative impact on the image of a leader and even his party whose manifesto claims louder for the promotion of a viable democratic order. PTI is one of popular political parties with considerable number of seats in Parliament. It has following in all provinces. It is ruling in one of provinces where it claims to have brought positive changes in its political culture.
Parliaments are sacred. The word “Parliament” came out of the French word Parlement. It meant “to talk”. It dated back to 11th century when Europe was plunged into darkness and ruled under absolute rulers without any human and public values. It was in the mid of 14th century when in England the word assumed a political connotation with little right to speak against the ruler. The means and deeds of parliament grew as the societies entered enlightenment and raised the banner of political values as human and liberal. And with the rise of democratic values Parliament (name referred to the both houses of British legislature) became stronger and conspicuous. Parliament was generally assumed an association of King’s and public’s representatives to discuss and agree upon the matters by negotiation and debates, and not by cutting one another’s throats. Democracies strengthened under the supremacy of parliament. The more liberal was society in pursuit of democratic values and parliamentary debates the stronger became the roots of democracy with parliament as its nucleus of public representation. Nations since the beginning of 20th century run under democratic setup progressed in human values and dignity with more economic and political development than the ones without. They were/are known as parliamentary democracies with the supremacy of parliament as a sovereign entity. The minute number of democracies grew by years and years with parliament assuming the role of a “symbolic, sovereign and prestigious” body.
Democracy has little experience of success in Pakistan. A sad tale of its existence is that neither parliament nor parliamentary practices have been not much valued by either its political leaders or praetorian rulers. Had this country been allowed to run under the parliamentary values from very beginning the situation would have been different. The founder of the Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a parliamentary leader and believed in the supremacy of Parliament. Nevertheless, the events soon after his death showed that his dream was not fulfilled by his successors with no respect for parliamentary spirit. The first Constituent Assembly (1947-54) was Parliament and embodiment of a viable representative system in the newly created country. It was dissolved by Ghulam Mohammad in the capacity of the Governor General unconstitutionally on 24th October 1954 by remarking as inefficient and incompetent at the time when it had completed the already delayed legislation of constitution making. Had he respected it by not dissolving the political scene of the country would have been brighter. As Allen Mcgrath writes in his book: The Destruction of Democracy in Pakistan that it was “wiped off from the country’s political map of as one wipes spilled milk from a table”.
Parliament was supreme and respectable under the 1956 Constitution when dissolved by a military coup on October 08, 1958. Ayub Khan spoke to the nation on radio on October 8, 1958 and referred it as den of “disruptions, political opportunists, smugglers, black marketeers, and other such social vermin, sharks, and leeches.” He did not curse Parliament directly but his words were tantamount to it. The Constitution he made in 1962 was a Presidential one with a unicameral legislature whom members were elected by Basic Democrats indirectly. It comprised 156 members, including six women. The number was later raised to 218 through a constitutional amendment. It was a weak parliament but was symbolic and constitutionally effective to frame important legislation. The system Ayub Khan gave to the nation could continue had he himself not abrogated and handed over powers the Speaker of the Assembly, Abdul Jabbar, an East Pakistani. President Ayub handed power to his protégé General Yahya Khan on March 24, 1969.
Parliament was not respected and honoured in the wake of the general elections in 1970. The struggle was for power in which East Pakistani leadership stood parliamentary justification since the Awami League had secured majority. Parliament could unite both of the wings democratically and mutually, but no respect was shown for Parliament as the session of the National Assembly to be held in Dacca. It was rather political leadership of the West Pakistan who disregarded majority in parliament and decided not to attend it. What the difference it would have made had Z A Bhutto had uttered a sentence of his handing power to East Pakistanis under an established mandate. In wider analysis Pakistan would not have disintegrated. And assume it had integrated, the history would have been witnessed that parliamentary spirit was respected by West Pakistanis.
The country could have achieved democratic spirit had parliament been not disrupted by military take over in October 1999. The democracy was called a “sham democracy” which a military general was not going to allow. Practically parliament was dishonoured. Countries have achieved under democracy and democratic values with respect for parliament. Leaders play a role in the promotion of democratic values verbally and in action. Noise and indiscipline of democracy in longer run is better than the silence and discipline of dictatorship. Let the democratic culture flourish in the country by respect for parliament.
— The writer is Professor, Dept of Politics & International Relations, International Islamic University, Islamabad.