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November 9, 2017

‘Nothing is going well’


November 9, 2017

Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani is above partisan politics and says things that are usually most warranted. Unfortunately, nobody – with the exception of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – including his own party leadership, is listening to him. Rabbani, along with some senators of the PPP-P, continues to raise politically right issues, but he and his colleagues are not being entertained by the politics of expediency, which may end up costing the system and democratic transition quite dearly. In fact, his ideas represent the true spirit of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) that both the PML-N and the PPP have been betraying by rotation.

Chairman Rabbani is of the view that “nothing is going well” in the ‘land of pure’ and that the “institutions of the state must stop unconstitutional interventions” – that is, judicial over-reach and dominance by the military. Reiterating the supremacy of the constitution and the trichotomy of the power-structure, he has called for a decision on what is supreme – the elected parliament of the people or un-elected judicial or military institutions. While emphasising again the need for an intra-institutional and intra-party national dialogue, he has rejected the notions of a technocrat-government or direct or indirect military rule or granting exception to any sacred cow from the purview of an even-handed and much-needed accountability of all. He has taken serious exception to the continuing efforts at frustrating the democratic and federalist intent of the 18th Amendment.

These days the Senate of Pakistan is grappling with these vital issues. But the mainstream of our politics and media is obsessed with mundane polemics around whether former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is guilty or not-guilty, even though the mockery of the accountability of the top 200 by NAB has been exposed by the investigative reports of Umer Cheema in this newspaper.

At his end, the speaker of the National Assembly is trying his best to find a breakthrough on the issue of the re-demarcation of NA constituencies on the basis of the provisional results of the National Census 2017. Despite a 57 percent increase in population since the last census in 1998 (130 million), the liberal democratic PPP is ironically insisting to ignore the 77.8 million additional people and hold the elections on the basis of constituencies drawn by General Musharraf on the basis of the 1998 census. As an alternative, the PPP has suggested taking the matter to the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to address Sindh’s reservations about under-numeration.

The share of the province in the divisible pool is indeed very important, but putting timely next elections in jeopardy is not good politics at all. Let the prime minister immediately convene the CCI meeting to find a way to address Sindh and others’ reservations about the crucial census and ensure that the next elections are held on time and on the basis of the provisional results of the new census. There could be sample surveys to verify numerations without any bias. If the PML-N and the PPP won’t break their deadlock, the matter could go to the Supreme Court and the elections could be postponed, an uncertain scenario both parties rightly dislike.

Fortunately, almost all parties agree on holding the 2018 elections on time, with the exception of the PTI which is for early or maybe delayed elections – as and when it suits it. If the ball is to be kept in the realm of parliament, the matter must not be delayed for other institutions to intervene. Let parliament take all the required measures to hold the elections on time – and on the basis of the new census. Even if the CCI meeting is to be convened, Sindh is not a loser in terms of NA seats as compared to Punjab which is set to lose nine NA seats to KP and Balochistan (the latter would be too happy to gain a few more seats). A lot is being said about the mandate of this parliament, things that don’t stand the scrutiny of the constitution or democratic principles.

Indeed, the 2013 electoral-mandate has been adversely affected as a consequence of the controversial disqualification of yet another elected prime minister by the Supreme Court. The PPP has been pleading for amending the Article 184 (3) and plug other loopholes that allow the ouster of an elected government on one pretext or the other. Even though the CoD had also called for the assertion of legitimate civilian supremacy or parliament, Machiavellian politics hinder the democratic and egalitarian vision of the chairman of the Senate.

Raza Rabbani is at the peak of his political career. Being the custodian of the house of the federating units, why doesn’t he take a practical initiative and turn the whole Upper House into a committee for constitutional reforms, and thereby let the political parties come clear on their democratic credentials? Let the Senate review the whole scheme of the constitution and undertake constitutional reforms to strengthen parliamentary democracy, elected institutions, local government, civilian supremacy, a transparent system of all-sided accountability and equal rights for all the citizens without any discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity and gender or sexual orientation.

Indeed, the PPP is not ready to provide any relief to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N would like its chief to escape his disqualification. These are the expedient issues that could be set aside to work together for a bigger cause that both parties can agree to pursue together in parliament while fighting against each other in the broader political spectrum of electoral politics.

The only spoiler, besides other unseen trouble-makers, is that the PTI is not ready to sit with those it has so effectively tried to morally demolish. Imran Khan has run a very effective campaign against almost all adversaries and has taken a lot of political mileage out of his persons-specific anti-corruption tirade. It’s time for him to lay down his own scheme of all-sided accountability and systemic reforms to eradicate corruption. Ignoring other challenges, including the removal of institutional obstructions in the way of popular elected leaders in the implementation of their respective agendas, will haunt him if and when he is elected as the next leader of a country where almost all popular leaders have met a tragic end. This is not the time for his adventurous moves, which may also cost him his political career. This is the time for all parliamentary forces to go back to parliament and listen to what Senate Chief Raza Rabbani has been repeatedly saying.


The writer is a senior journalist. Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA


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