Democratising Pakistan? | Dr Ejaz Hussain

Opinion, Pakistan,

This last part of the article will explain the post-1985 (democratisation that engulfed electoral politics in the 1990s and 2000s. In particular, the means and ends of democratising Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf will be central to the analysis. In addition, a critical view of the general elections in 2013 and the 2015 local bodies will also be taken into account to analyse future of democracy in Pakistan.

To begin with, in the post-civilianisation period, the ‘Ziaist’ military was able to institutionalise its rule in terms of the Eighth Amendment i.e. 58 (2)(b), which empowered the office of the president to dissolve parliament and provincial assembly athis discretion. In order to run the façade of democratic structure, ZiaulHaq appointed a compliant Prime Minister (PM), Mr Junejo, from Sindh. The latter, while not learning the art of working under a powerful military, adopted a different approach with regards to the appointment of ambassadors, government secretaries and even heads of intelligence agencies. The PM believed in austerity and, in this respect, on the floor of parliament, he vowed to “put generals into Suzukis”.In addition, the PM differed over weapons’ procurements and the Afghan jihad.From the military’s perspective, such an approach was deemed detrimental to the armed forces’ interests and Junejo’s government was dismissed by President Zia in May 1988. However, before Zia could choose another pliant PM, he died in an air crash in August the same year.

In the following months, electoral politics were at their peak in Pakistan. To counter the popularity of Benazir Bhutto, the post-Zia military top brass cobbled ananti-PPP alliance called theIslamiJamhooriIttehad (IJI). The army produced Nawaz Sharif who was part and parcel of IJI activism. Nevertheless, when the electoral results came out, they stunned not only the IJI but also its patron. The PPP won 93 against the IJI’s 55 out of 205 seats. Though the military did try to factionalise the PPP in terms of engaging Amin Faheem, its efforts bore little fruit. On her part, Benazir Bhutto, as a result of her strategic interaction with the military top brass, chose to assume the premiership. Importantly, the former had a desire, if not design, to replace the ‘super bureaucrat’ president, Ghulam Ishaq, with a PPP-man but momentarily thought it rational not to create an issue since the president had good ties with the GHQ. However, within a couple of years, civil-military relations were ruptured. Ms Bhutto found the president to be authoritarian. The army viewed her intervening in ‘internal matters’ related to promotions, transfers, foreign policy etc. Hence, the president having operationalised 58(2)(b) dissolved the National Assembly (NA), on August 6, 1990, on stated charges of corruption, failure to maintain law and order, bringing harm to the country’s integrity and meddling with civil services and the judiciary etc. As a result, the PM and her cabinet ceased to hold office forthwith. Subsequently, elections were held under a caretakergovernment in 1990. This time around the IJI won 105 seats against People Democratic Action’s(PDA’s) 45 out of 207 seats.

The PDA did not accept the results and alleged that the president and the Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI), along with the caretaker set-up, had played a conspiracy to keep the PDA- especially the PPP — out of parliament. Indeed, the Mehran Bank scandal further substantiated this. However, the president neither ordered an inquiry into the financial corruption related to the Mehran Bank nor called for re-elections. Hence, the president of the IJI, Nawaz Sharif, was able to form a government at the Centre. Though the PM walked cautious, he could not resist the power tussle initially with President Ishaq and ultimately the officer cadre over, for example, perks and privileges. Ultimately, his government was dismissed through 58(2)(b). Interestingly, the apex judiciary restored his government yet Sharif resigned, thus paving the way for fresh electionsto be held in 1993 in which Bhutto’s PPP grabbed 86 to the PML-N’s 73 out of 202 seats. The PPP government now believed in privatisation, which created differences among various stakeholders including President FarooqLaghari who, while in strategic understating with the principal military, dismissed the Bhutto government in November 1996. Another caretaker setup was formed that held elections in February 1997. Expectedly, the PML-N won the elections massively (134 seats against the PPP’s 19 in NA) with the result that it formed a government in the Centre and provinces. Though, as per norm, the PPP alleged the elections to be rigged, nothing changed. Being blinded by power, Sharif crossed the red line by, for instance, interfering in the officer cadre and foreign policy domain. They had to pay a price: they were packed to Saudi Arabia through a military coup in October 1999. General Pervez Musharraf ruled the roost with the help of a compliant judiciary. For political legitimacy, Musharraf’s team was able to factionalise the PML-N one way or the other.

Hence, the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam or PML-Q, led by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, became the king’s party. In addition, the military resorted to institutional measures to strengthen its hands. In this respect, a National Accountability Bureau (NAB)was established to arrest, punish and disqualify the guilty of holding public office and contesting elections. The chief beneficiary of this‘NABization’ was the PML-Q whose members were cleared of corruption. Moreover, the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB)planned theLocal Government Plan (LGP) 2000, under which non-party local bodies’ elections were held accordingly. The nazim system not only intrigued the civil bureaucracy but also helped Musharraf win the presidential referendum held in April 2002. In October 2002, general elections were held. Expectedly, the PML-Q got 118, PPP-P 80, MMA 61 and PML-N 19 (out of 342). Anti-PML-Q parties termed the elections as rigged. Nevertheless, the Q-League formed coalition governments with the MMA and MQM.

In October 2007, through the National Reconciliation Order (NRO), Musharraf was re-elected as president. However, the military man’s re-election from expired assemblies was challenged in the country’s Supreme Court (SC). The latter was dealt with on November 3, 2007 through another coup. OnNovember 8, 2007, Musharraf announced that the elections would be held by February 15, 2008. The opposition parties, especially the PPP-P, pointed to the regime’s bias towards the PML-Q and MQM. However, the PPP-P itself was criticised for the NRO. TheSharifs were allowed by the military to participate in the elections too. Resultantly, the PPP-P won 88 seats and formed a coalition government that completed its tenure by sacrificing a PM. The last general elections were held in May 2013 in which the PML-N outdid its rival parties. Interestingly, Imran Khan’s PTI alleged the Sharifs to have rigged the elections in connivance with the judiciary. This led to the sit-in politics of 2014. A judicial commission ultimately resolved the matter. In 2015, the country went through electoral politics at the local level. The PML-N won convincingly in Punjab. In interior Sindh, the PPP carried the day. The MQM held sway in urban Sindh whereas the PTI stood out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Punjab.

In conclusion, Pakistan has only experienced defective democracy where political parties lack internal democracy. The voter does not matter after the poll and military produced politicians lack a democratic mindset. Pakistan’s ultimate future lies in liberal democracy, pluralism and tolerance.


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