Principle of democracy

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Friday urged the political class to stand united, “protect yourself...protect parliament”, because otherwise there will either be “democracy or there will be dictatorship in the country”. Mr Gilani made this appeal on the floor of the National Assembly, giving a clear signal to the anti-democratic forces that the government will leave no stone unturned to unite the parliamentarians in the face of adversity. A resolution to this effect was tabled by ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan. The resolution reiterated that “the future of Pakistan and wellbeing of its people lies in the continuation and strengthening of democratic institutions and constitutionalism...all state institutions must strictly function within the limits imposed on them by the constitution...sovereignty lies with the people of Pakistan and parliament is the repository of the collective wisdom of the people.” The wording of the resolution is interesting. It seems that due to the mild tone of the resolution, there are more chances of a consensus across the board. There is not even an implicit mention of the judiciary or the army. If the government had attempted to get a vote of confidence, apart from the opposition, some of its allies might have proved to be ‘slippery’. Thus, to garner support for the democratic system, the government is trying to forge a collective parliamentary show of strength. No parliamentarian in his/her right mind would think of opposing this resolution as it is talking about the basic principles of democracy.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), on the other hand, is flexing its muscles to oust the government. It is considering three options. One, resignations from the National Assembly — this option is a nonstarter because unless en masse sufficient resignations take place to render parliament non-credible, the government can always hold by-elections on the seats vacated by the PML-N parliamentarians. Can the PML-N afford this? And if it does not participate in the by-elections, it will be out in the cold. The second option is that of a no-confidence motion. This again is a nonstarter given that the PML-N does not have the desired number of votes to make this bid successful. The third option is that of a long march. The PML-N’s earlier tries of starting a countrywide agitation on issues such as gas and electricity load shedding bore no results. The public is annoyed with the government but perhaps not yet to the point of a mobiliseable critical mass. For a long march to be successful, either there has to be a groundswell of opposition to the sitting government and/or the backing of the establishment. The PML-N should assess its chances. Extra-constitutional steps are problematic for all democratic forces while the prospects of bringing about a change through democratic steps look dim till the next general elections. Any unconstitutional step to oust this government will make the PPP go back to the people as ‘victims’, which is certainly not what the opposition forces want.

It is important for the entire political class to actually believe in the democratic process instead of only paying lip service to the principle of democracy. In the past, whenever some politicians felt that actually existing democracy does not suit them, they went running to the military establishment to oust a democratically elected government, which kept bringing us back to square one. Political ad hocism is not a viable option. Unity amongst the ranks of the political class on the irreducible foundations of democracy is what is needed to bring stability in Pakistan.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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