By Mazhar AbbasOctober 20, 2016Print : National
One of the reasons why democracy could not take its roots in Pakistan is the lack of democratic values within the mainstream political parties. It has gradually stopped the growth of political culture which could provide dedicated workers and leaders to steer the parties. Today's politics revolves around legacies and personality cults rather than making the parties strong enough to choose their leaders.
The political parties lose their case while defending the 'democratic system' when they themselves fail in evolving the same in their own ranks. The manner in which the parties select their leaders in the name of elections only helps create undemocratic values in the society.
In the absence of a true democratic culture, negative tendencies have also griped other institutions like trade unions and student unions. These two are considered nurseries for a healthy political environment. Keeping the control of political parties in 'few hands' seems to be a deliberate attempt.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday missed an opportunity to make something different in our weak political culture.
Irrespective of how the party 'elections' were held, if he himself had stepped down as party chief and proposed any other senior member for the top slot, he could have set a good precedent that could have increased pressure on his political rival Imran Khan. The PML-N intra-party elections must be analyzed against this backdrop. There were a lot of senior leaders in the party and trusted aides of Sharif. Most the parties including the PML-N and the PPP claim that the party should be separated from the government, but it only remains on the 'paper'.
Besides elections, what else came under discussion at this highest forum of the PML-N? The party elections are supposed to be held every year, but they were last held in 2013. Was any annual report or any audit report of accounts presented? Was there any critical debate, etc?
Like the PML-N elected or selected Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-Q also got Ch Pervez Elahi and Mian Zaheeruddin, unopposed, as its president and secretary general. Soon we will hear similar news about the PPP and the PTI as well. It is a test for the Election Commission of Pakistan to assess such elections and procedures. Political parties can fight against undemocratic elements when they themselves are on a strong footing. The PML-N has certainly failed in creating healthy democratic values within the party. Mian Sb should have presented himself for 'internal accountability'. He has fought a long battle against Musharraf's military rule and played a historic role in the lawyers movement and creating a healthy political atmosphere in the country. But, on the other hand, he should have satisfied his own party over issues like Panama Papers and offered himself for accountability within the party.
But, this is not confined to the PML-N. Sharifs’ rival Imran Khan's case is not very different. He has been the president of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf since its inception in 1996. The PTI held its lone party elections in 2013, just before the general elections. Despite allegations and counter allegations, it was a positive start of the new PTI. Yet, when its own election commission started giving verdicts on petitions and disqualified some of the leaders, Imran intervened that ultimately led to disbanding the PTI EC. PTI Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Wahjiuddin first resigned and later quit the party. The PTI elections were never held after that but another EC Chairman Tasneem Noorani also resigned, which raised questions about the validity of the present PTI.
Imran should have gone for elections instead of taking shelter behind the 'Panama movement'. How can he bring a change in the country when he cannot bring a change in the party, through democratic means? Yes, there is no chance of family legacy in the PTI, but does it mean that one person should be allowed to be the party chairman forever.
In PPP's case, it is even worst as it would celebrate its 49th foundation day next month. The PPP constitution suggests party's separation from the government, but this clause was never implemented. When Bhutto was in jail, he made Senior Vice-Chairman, the late Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, acting chairman, but, at the latter’s request, the late Begum Nusrat Bhutto was asked to lead the party. She led the party well under crisis due to Zia's martial law. But the way she was sidelined by none other than the late Benazir Bhutto was something which disappointed many party leaders.
However, Benazir, after her return to Pakistan, tried to hold party elections in 1987, but her 'ill-advised advisers' scared her by saying that 'progressives' and anti-establishment people would take over the party.
Elections in the PPP were never held, but, when, in 2002, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf tried to get Benazir disqualified, the party formed the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians and Makhdoom Amin Fahim became its president. He led the party well till his death and never showed disloyalty towards Bhuttos or the PPP.
It was a window of opportunity for the PPP to continue with this practice, but PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, instead of holding party elections, decided to take over as PPPP president and Bilawal Bhutto became chairman while Faryal Talpur was given the slot of President, PPP Women Wing. All in the family, long live democracy! He also ignored suggestions from veterans like Ch Aitzaz Ahsan, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Nadeem Afzal Chan to step down or become Rahbar.
The Jamaat-e-Islami has some very good traditions of holding party elections, but, at the same time, has given some 'dictatorial powers' to its Ameer. With a limited number of voters, around 40,000 to 50,000, it is easy to manage the party elections as everyone cannot become its member without screening. Its Ameer has unprecedented powers and can continue as Ameer for unlimited terms. Except Syed Munawar Hasan, all other Ameers have enjoyed long tenures. But in the 2013 elections, something unprecedented happened in the JI when its Karachi Ameer Mohammad Hussain Mehnti ignored the Karachi Shoora's decision and without taking anyone into confidence announced boycott of elections in Karachi. It created a lot of discomfort for JI members and leaders. Later, the party took disciplinary action but the boycott had had negative impacts on the JI.
The Awami National Party held elections, but when Asfandyar Wali completed his two terms and should have stepped down, he and his team allegedly manoeuvred and got the party constitution amended. I once asked him in an interview whether his decision was 'democratic', in an unconvincing answer, he said, “it’s up to the general body.”
The crisis which the MQM is facing today is mainly because of such similarly undemocratic practices due to strong likes and dislikes of the Quaid-e-Tehreek. It is true that due to 37 years of martial law and the establishment’s interference in politics, the party saw divisions, but it does not give an excuse for not even trusting your aides to lead the party. Worst democracy is better than dictatorship, but sham democracy is another form of dictatorship and is certainly not acceptable as democracy.
The writer is a senior analyst of the Geo News, The News and daily Jang.