Why Parliament is weak?


Mohammad Jamil
SPEAKING as the chief guest at a seminar held in the memory of 54 lawyers martyred last year in a suicide attack in Civil Hospital Quetta, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said the parliament had become weak and the most vulnerable institution of the country and called for inter-institutional dialogue to bring the country out of the prevailing crisis. The democratic forces struggled against a dictator and got Article 58(2) (b) removed from the Constitution. While referring to the recent disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister by the Supreme Court, he said new tactics are being used (through judiciary) to undermine democracy. This is an insinuation against military and judiciary, and exactly in line with the position taken by the PML-N leadership. As regards his remarks that Parliament had become weak, he should remember that when elected representatives and government fail to deliver, Parliament becomes irrelevant.
In his earlier statements, Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani used to mention Executive, Judiciary and the Parliament as the pillars of the state, and has been critical of military. Last year, while referring to decision to allow former president Pervez Musharraf to leave the country, Raza Rabbani had said that Article 6 of the Constitution once again turned out to be incapable of protecting the statute itself, parliament and democracy. He also called upon the federal government and the legislature to undo the provision by amending the Constitution. The question is what should be done about other articles in the Constitution about the fundamental rights of the people vis-a-vis protection of their lives of the citizens and providing education, health facilities and job opportunities to them. Since all the governments in the past failed in implementing these constitutional provisions, should those articles also be revoked? Anyhow, PPP and PML-N want to amend articles 62 and 63.
For a long time, the debate has been raging in electronic and print media about who is supreme, though Constitution has delineated the duties and powers of pillars of the state. In entrenched democracies, focus is placed on egalitarianism, safeguarding human rights and stipulating basic need oriented policies that give priority to development and socio-economic justice in the society. In Pakistan, members of the ruling elite try to concentrate powers in them. They consider members of civil and military bureaucracy as their personal servants. In their discourse they often conveyed an impression that members of armed forces have no say in the matters of security or foreign policy. Quaid-i-Azam had, of course, advised the civil and military bureaucracy to obey the government, but at the same time he had impressed upon the leaders and politicians not to interfere in their working or bring to bear political pressure upon them.
The Quaid was a visionary and he understood that without checks and balances corruption, bribery and nepotism would be rampant. Though the ‘leading lights’ talk about democracy, justice, rule of law and constitutionalism, yet their actions are at odds with their words. We hardly listen to the good governance, participatory democracy, and elimination of corruption. It would indeed be a welcome development if participatory democracy along with good governance becomes a key issue in the general elections next year and political parties outline their commitment to them in their respective manifestoes. It would immensely serve to restore the faith in the present system. Secondly, there has to be checks and balances, since institutions like FBR, FIA and IB etc. are controlled by the government, it influences the decision-making process though these institutions are supposed to play their role in eliminating corruption.
Democracy is a form of govt in which the supreme power is vested in the people, and exercised directly by them or by their elected representatives under a free electoral system. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as ‘govt of the people, by the people’ for the people’. However, he was candid when he said: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” Politics is the process through which communities and civil societies pursue collective goals and resolve the contradictions, disagreements and or socio-political conflicts. Civil society means accommodating plurality, establishing egalitarianism, safeguarding human rights and stipulating basic need oriented policies that give priority to development. In larger sense, civil society is rooted in democracy, constitutionalism and is based on supremacy of civilian-led institutions anchored on distributive justice.
System of electoral democracy empowers the voters to take away the powers of elected members, if they fall short of popular aspirations and or grossly violate fundamental ideology. While system adequately provides procedure to impeach the public office holders, elected representatives go scot free. Unfortunately Pakistani democracy depicts different ground reality, as voters after having elected their representatives virtually become subjects of powerful elite who ride a rough shod over them and shatter all hopes of voters by neglecting their problems, financial difficulties and psychological distress. Promises made during election campaign are forgotten, while perks of public offices are fully enjoyed. Irony of the fate is that same elite group gets elected over and over again and election campaigns are held as rituals, because political parties have become dynasties, and top leaderships of the parties have assumed unprecedented powers by amending the constitution through 18th amendment.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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