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After Two Years In Office PTI Should Improve Governance & Stop Blaming Previous Governments

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PTI’s “Naya” Pakistan has completed two years. There has been much fanfare in government circles and the media about the welfare state model that the PTI government claims to be in the process of attaining.  It is claimed by government ministers that PTI is well on its way to rooting out corruption, creating massive employment opportunities, constructing housing for the homeless etc etc. Alongside these grandiose proclamations, the PTI has also reopened the debate about presidential rule, dismantling the 18th amendment and generally centralizing power at the federal level.  This style of government has been favoured by all the dictatorial regimes of the past.

This article, therefore, attempts to examine what is different about this new Pakistan from the old Pakistan.

Before undertaking this exercise let us refresh our memory as to how democracy is defined: Democracy embodies responsive and responsible governance, rule of law, human rights and civic participation guided by a constitution, to which parliamentarians swear allegiance.

It is government by the people, in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by their elected representatives through a fair and freely administered electoral system followed by a peaceful transfer of power through electoral processes.

However once again attempts are being made by PTI supporters to usher in a presidential system.  A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking direction to the prime minister and the cabinet for holding a referendum about the establishment of a presidential form of government.

It is important to be reminded that many failed experiments of different forms of government have already been carried out in and on Pakistan. The Constitution of 1956 mandated a parliamentary system but this was suspended within two years.  Then we had General Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1958 and Ayub Khan’s presidential system in 1962 taking us to 1968. By then the rot had already set in leading to the breakup of the country in 1971.

Soon thereafter Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was declared the first elected Prime Minister of a truncated Pakistan. By 1973 a constitution was agreed upon by all political parties and the foundation of a democratic system was finally laid. However, this didn’t last long and the democratic system was dislodged by Zia-ul-Haq in 1977 and his dictatorship ended in 1988.

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From 1988 to 1999 Pakistan lurched through an alternative period of elected civilian rule by the PPP and the PML(N). None were allowed to complete their tenure, by a president who had the power to dissolve parliament and send the prime minister packing. It was not unlike a musical chairs game for elected civilian governments. They would get removed under charges of corruption and poor governance albeit without substantial evidence. Culminating this process came martial law in 1999 by General Musharraf, derailing the democratic system for almost a decade.

Since 2008 however there has ostensibly been a smooth transfer of power, two consecutive elected governments completing their terms (even if their premiers were not allowed to complete theirs).

Historically speaking, over 73 years the role of the judiciary has been as a complacent and compliant facilitator to dictators. Compromising on its basic duty of safeguarding the constitution, it has instead endorsed military rule, engaged in judicial activism and ignored fair judicial practices for delivering justice to the masses.

An absurd example of judicial activism is a suo motu case against a TV actress who was booked for carrying two bottles of wine, as she flew back into the country.  It took 9 years for her to get acquitted of the charge.

More often than not, the judiciary has interfered with the executive and legislative domains, usually at the behest of the military. It has even been used to muzzle the media, and generally acted as handmaiden to undemocratic forces. It has been unable to make any progress on the issue of enforced disappearances. Matiullah Jan’s and Sarang Joyo’s abductions are the most recent examples of this.

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Freedom of speech and expression is the essence of democracy, particularly on societal and political issues. A democratic government is supposed not to restrict dissenting voices, opinions and contrarian ideas on public and political issues. Yet PTI’s promises of allowing freedom to the media have turned out hollow. In the last two years censorship and restriction have increased at all levels. Many journalists have lost their jobs and many face threats to their life and person if they speak out against unfair policies, or don’t self-censor.

Trolling and on-line harassment of journalists (in particularly women) has increased. PTI supporters have encouraged the culture of bullying, and harassment against those who are critical of PTI policies. State protection of minorities is nonexistent. Enforced conversion of minor Hindu and Christian girls continues unabated.

On the economic front an estimated 4,000 factories have closed down with 1.2 million people having lost their jobs and Rs11.3 Tr has been added to public debt. Under the rubric of accountability, political rivals are arrested with impunity on flimsy grounds. They are held without charge for long periods whilst convoluted legal charges are drawn up.

The sugar, flour, oil or drug price increase scandals have eroded all credibility of PTI stalwarts whose hubris has prevented the development of a working relationship with the opposition. In KP, PTI has its own government and so too in Punjab (albeit with a razor-thin majority) and in Baluchistan a wobbly coalition. The only robust opposition resides in Sindh.

Avowedly the PTI has been an advocate for devolution of power and strong local government but it hasn’t yet come up with policy decisions for local government elections in its party-ruled provinces of Punjab and KP. In Sindh, it sides with the MQM and endorses its demands of centralizing power in Karachi. The next 3 years will be tough for people if PTI government doesn’t improve its governance and comes out its habit of blaming previous governments.

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