Democracy after the split

The inevitable has happened but perhaps much sooner than expected. Facts, perceptions and interpretations combine generating many stories on the causes of the break-up. The only obvious cause is the inability of the PPP to honour the PPP-PML-N written agreement of August 7 signed by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

By Nasim Zehra (Vantage Point)

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Published: Sat 30 Aug 2008, 10:13 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:11 AM

While the many explanations for the break-up and the 6-month long unique coalition experiment between Pakistan's two national parties are a window into the respective politics of these two political contestants, with the breakup of the coalition the battle-lines are already drawn between the PPP and the PML-N. Punjab is likely to be the principal battleground. While PPP will work to expand its influence the PML-N will fight for its survival.

Meanwhile the first battle over the presidency is also underway. Even if the election results are an almost foregone conclusion the three-way competition between three candidates with completely different backgrounds will make the run up to the competition interesting. The issues that will be raised during the campaign by Justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui and Mushahid Hussain will further expose the contradictions between the stated goals of politicians and between their practical politics. The debate will further reinforce the nation's demand for rule of law and for accountable exercise of state and executive power.

While exciting political times are guaranteed, there are four key issues that will determine how Pakistan's democracy will progress in the coming days and months. One, the question of concentration of power. With all the key positions including the President the Prime Minister, the national assembly speaker and generally PPP-indebted Chief Justice, the likelihood of institutional checks and balances on the exercise of power would be difficult.

Clearly, in a democratic set up members of the parliament and the senate would be able to critique unconstitutional exercise of power. Yet with all levers of power concentrated in the hands of one party, ensuring accountability would not be easy. In fact, not quite possible. Already the Senate and Parliament committees are in the PPP's control and therefore checking and preventing unconstitutional exercise of power.

Two, with the all powerful co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential seat, the likelihood the presidential powers being greatly reduced would be minimal. Even if Zardari was to surrender 58(2) B to the parliament, the other presidential powers outlined in the Charter of Democracy (COD) may not be removed as agreed while signing the May 15th 2006 COD. According to the COD 'the appointment of governor, three services chiefs and the CJCSC shall be made by the chief executive who is Prime Minister as per 1973 constitution.'

In a continuing environment of trust, the talk of balancing powers between the President and Prime Minister would have had different implications but now polarised and even maybe an embittered polity the debate maybe reduced to rhetoric and numbers game alone. Accordingly the debate on constitutional matter would be polarised along party line. Strengthening of the parliament and the Prime Minister remains key challenge.

Three, it remains unclear if Asif Ali Zardari will give up the party chairmanship while becoming the president. Media reports are already drawing comparison between Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Ayub Khan did not give up the Muslim League leadership while Bhuttto remained chairman of the PPP. These analogies are irrelevant to the present day Pakistan in which there is much greater consciousness of the need to keep state and executive positions apolitical and separate from party politics. Equally the people of Pakistan have experienced disastrous outcomes of concentration of power and politicisation the entire government institution. The decade of the nineties was instructive.

Four, given the likely concentration of power in the hands of the PPP without a truly independent judiciary, the lingering fear of the imagined or real Establishment within the this truly national political party, there is a strong likelihood that PPP would make the State apparatus and state resources largely subservient to party politics.

A party, despite its involvement in corruption and dynastic allegations, is one with a political history of martyrs, of long imprisonment, of political victimisation and of genuine peoples' support to its credit, may well be on the road to developing its new leadership cult. The cult building is political and legitimate too but with a cult and party expanding agenda and all levers of power in its control, it would take extra effort to ensure that the PPP-controlled State would serve its citizen in an unbiased way.

The only way to check partisan behaviours of THE state institutions would be the resort to an independent judiciary. That for now seems to be missing. In the environment in which such concentration of power is taking place, the role of the media becomes critical. Even if the media can be an effective narrator of the excesses committed by a partisan state against some if its citizens, it cannot necessarily provide practical respite.

The restoration of the judiciary will remain a critical issue whose outcome will influence the texture and strength of Pakistani democracy.

The damage to the coalition is irreparable. The challenge now will be to ensure the democratic system through these ups and downs strengthens and becomes relevant for the Constitutional rights, progress and protection of Pakistani people.

Nasim Zehra is an Islamabad -based national security strategist

Here's waht readers say...

The main parties should have fielded the following for presidential post. PPP - Makhdum Amin Fahim PML-N, Javaid Hashmi PML Q and Mushahid Hussain Syed as they have no corruption charges against them, have not looted Pakistan and are spotless.

- Badar Bukhari, Karachi, Email:

Pakistan will regret for its decision to oust Musharraf. The president in waiting should prove himself. Allah save Pakistan.

- Talha, Karachi,Email:

Pakistan is emerging as a banana state. There is no rule of law and foreign powers are dictating its leaders. Zardari says his foreign friends do not want the judges be restored while he told the nation that the promises and covenants made with others need to be kept, no matter written or verbal. Being as president Asif Ali Zardari would be making promises and what will be the outcome of those promises? Be Allah's mercy be there on the nation.

- Khurshid Ahmed, Islamabad, Email:

I think the people of Pakistan are responsible for the current state of the country. Because we are still banking on corrupt politicians who loot our nations wealth and people. Why we are giving them chances again and again? There is no politician or political party loyal to Pakistan or people of Pakistan. As a nation we should stand together to kick out these looters and save our country.

- Tahir Gulzar, Islamabad, Email:

Pakistan needs such leadership who can take the country forward and reinstate the judiciary for a better future of the people. Because without an independent judiciary, no nation can progress and real democracy can not be established. But we have Asif Zardari who has nothing to do with the people and the institutions of Pakistan. Asif zardari is a person who violated the agreements he made with Nawaz Sharif and the people of Pakistan. How is it possible that after becoming the president he will serve Ppakistan sincerely. He will just follow his vested interest.

- Mukhtar, Pakistan, Email:

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