Saturday May 28, 2022

A different democracy

April 19, 2017

On July 10, 1947, a little more than a month before the birth of Pakistan, Quaid-e-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah wrote in his diary that a presidential system of democracy was more suited to Pakistan. He also wrote that the British parliamentary system had not worked well anywhere except in England.

In one speech our Quaid had this to say about the feudal system that existed: “I should like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists who have flourished at our expense by a system which is so vicious, so wicked and which makes them so selfish that it is difficult to reason with them. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lessons of Islam” (Address, All India Muslim League Session, Delhi, April 24, 1943).

Alas he did not live long enough to transform his vision into reality and we soon became hostage to feudal landlords whose clutches have a stranglehold on the ‘feudocracy’ that we have created. We have witnessed the reluctance of provincial governments to hold local body elections and pass the power and funds to the grass roots. This has resulted in a mockery of the very fundamental principle of a true democratic system.

There are four key elements that need to be in place for democracy to work. The first and most important of these is the rule of law so that all citizens have quick access to justice, their rights are protected, and the corrupt are punished swiftly for their misdeeds. This has been a colossal failure. Due to the deliberately manipulated poor prosecution or the threats to witnesses and judges, criminals go scot free for their crimes.

The second cornerstone of democracy is education. Unless the public is equipped with the ability to read and understand the manifestoes of the different political parties, the process of voting becomes a sham. In Pakistan there has been a deliberate policy to keep about 100 million people illiterate so they could be herded like slaves to the ballot boxes and made to cast their votes under pressure from their lords and masters. We spend only about 2.4 percent of our GDP on education. This means in terms of expenditure on education, we rank among the bottom nine countries in the world.

The third element of democracy is a free and fair system of elections so that people are allowed to vote for leaders of their choice. In this connection, the system of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is a huge failure with four of the five members being nominated by the two major political parties. Such a partisan body can never be fair and neutral.

The members of the ECP should be appointed by the full bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan from the most respected and eminent citizens, and not by the political parties. Moreover, an electronic system of voting should be adopted with suitable safeguards to avoid manipulation. This will prevent the stuffing of ballot boxes during the night after the elections.

The fourth important element of democracy is to have a political system in place for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. Here again we have failed badly as the interim governments that come into power temporarily to conduct elections are invariably themselves corrupt – having been chosen by the corrupt politicians.

To change the present system of ‘feudocracy’ we need to take the following steps. We must introduce a presidential system of democracy so that the president is elected directly by a general vote and he/she is the chief executive. About 90 countries have such a system. We should transfer powers and finances to the grass roots after the local body elections. We need to abolish the four provinces, and instead create about 4,000 municipalities with mayors running these (Turkey has 1,394 municipalities with a population of 76 million).

The president should directly appoint top technocrats in the country as ministers and each ministry should have a powerful think tank of the best experts. A ‘proportionate representation’ system of elections should be introduced (the representatives in parliament should be proportional to the votes cast). The elections must be held by electronic voting to avoid the illegal stuffing of ballot boxes. The role of parliament should be confined to law-making and oversight of national affairs. This will dissuade the greedy and corrupt from contesting elections. A ‘committee of elders’ should be constituted by the Supreme Court to carefully screen the credentials of presidential candidates, ministers, governors, secretaries and other important government officials to ensure that only people of character and competence are eligible for appointment.

At least 80 percent of the members of parliament must have a first class career throughout with at least a Master’s degree (in the Islamic Republic of Iran 100% of members of parliament must have a Master’s degree). This will ensure that they are qualified to properly discharge their primary function of oversight and law-making. The members of the ECP should be appointed from people of unquestionable integrity and without any political affiliations by the full bench of the Supreme Court. The ECP should then appoint the returning officers.

Organisations such as the police, the FIA, NAB, the FBR, the FIA etc should be made independent, with their own board of governors and with no representation or say of the government. In this way they will be able to catch and punish powerful crooks without any fear or prejudice.

A national education emergency should be declared, educational governance reforms should be introduced and the education sector should be allocated at least five percent of the GDP. Primary/secondary education should be declared compulsory and government employees should be required by law to send their children to the nearest government school. Jail sentences should be given to parents who don’t send their children to school. A national education service requiring two years of mandatory service for all graduating students should be introduced.

The justice system should be revamped so that all cases are decided in three to six months. Moreover, all back log cases should be cleared within 12 months. ‘Corruption’ should be included within the ambit of military courts because corruption and terrorism are interwoven. Laws should be changed so that capital punishment becomes mandatory for those involved in corruption above Rs10 million. Plea bargaining by NAB should be banned and strict punishments should be meted out to the corrupt.

Genuine land reforms should be carried out and agriculture tax introduced to increase tax collection. The army should be given a formal role in the national government, as was done in Turkey, to avoid repetition of martial laws. This will also introduce discipline in running the affairs of the country.

To execute this agenda, the Supreme Court and the political parties will need to join hands through the formation of a technocrat government that can then implement the vision of Quaid-e-Azam for a genuine presidential system of democracy.


The writer is chairman of UN ESCAP Committee on Science Technology &
Innovation and former chairman of the HEC. Email: