Clouds hover over efficacy of Charter of Democracy

Pakistan has a democratic federal parliamentary structure but an autocratic character that prevents a full celebration of a long cherished national aspiration that is not quite fulfilled. The fact that this duality has held its ground for the past 40 years since the 1973 constitution articulated a national mission statement can be viewed with skepticism at best and despair at worst.

Skepticism because the state's autocratic streak underpinned by the powerful security establishment provides no guarantees that the tenure of an elected government will be completed. Despair because mechanisms to enforce the 1973 constitution have proven inadequate in translating ballot-based mandates to full maturity.

Those who see the glass half empty note with gloom that in this period one prime minister was hanged (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), another shot dead (Benazir Bhutto), two exiled (Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto), two forced out of office twice each by the military (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif), one disqualified in office (Yousaf Raza Gilani), four federal governments sacked (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif twice each) and only one government managing to complete its tenure (the PPP). By any measure this is a grim scoresheet for a democratic polity.

And yet for those who see the glass half full, the country has in the past four decades twice managed to force out military dictatorships (Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf), hold nine general elections despite belittling propaganda against participatory politics, completed the tenures of two parliaments (after 2002 and 2008 elections) and topped it off with the first democratic and successful transfer of power (after the 2013 election).

While the first 25 years of the country's existence were spent finding a raison d'etre for itself and searching for a consensus on a national mission statement, the next 40 have been exhausted in trying to implement it.

The mixed results more than amply demonstrate that the governance structure constructed in the early period aimed at a military-bureaucracy dominance of the polity and continues to outlive the later consensus at containing and eliminating it despite serious challenges mounted against it.

This is the reason why no government in the last four decades has started off its constitutionally guaranteed five-year tenure or even found solace mid-way through it that it will complete it. No wonder when the Pakistan People's Party-led government completed its five-year tenure in 2013, it was touted as its biggest achievement as opposed to being judged by its performance in any advanced democracy.

If the civilian-military imbalance is the root cause for Pakistan still in search of statehood normalcy, then what can change to change the imbalance? Arguably three things happened to fill up the glass by half: (i) a Punjabi prime minister's falling out with the military establishment in 1999, (ii) a Sindhi on the brink of prime ministership for a third time assassinated in 2007, and (iii) the two coming together in exile in between, in 2006, to set aside their rivalries in favour of a new compact that changed everything.

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — otherwise bitter political foes who even contributed significantly to the military-engineered deposition of each other's governments in the 1990s — sat down together in exile to learn the lessons from not just the successes of the establishment in holding sway but, more importantly, dissect the failures of the political forces in strategising a sustainable counter to this institutionalised harm to them.

The result was the remarkable Charter of Democracy (CoD), a document so profound in its vision, mission and strategy that it rivals the import of the 1973 constitution.

The legitimacy of CoD lies in the fact that its principal authors and signatories are Bhutto's PPP and Sharif's PML-N that between them had, until then, won six of the seven general elections — clearly their leadership had the backing of the majority of Pakistani voters from all provinces.

This legitimacy, and the endorsement of the CoD, has since been further reinforced by the subsequent two elections which were, again, won by PPP in 2008 and by PML-N in 2013.  

The mechanics of the 'policy of reconciliation' devised by Benazir Bhutto and the 'policy of respecting the electoral mandates of rivals' by Nawaz Sharif over the last six years are principally responsible for the PPP government completing its tenure.

But are these policies in themselves enough?
They are arguably not because the familiar footprints of the establishment are visible again behind the spate of uncertainties shaping into another question mark about the ability of an elected government completing its tenure.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely hers and not of Times of Oman.


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thnx a lot to the writer .. it really helped me to prepare for my debate ... :)