– Compiled using evidence and reports provided by the Free and Fair Election Network, Ghulam Dastageer, Maqbool Ahmed, Moosa Kaleem, Abid Hussain, Faridullah Chaudhry and Shafiq Butt. Our readers can find details and scanned copies of cited evidence by visiting our website.
Scores of women, wrapped in big chadors and holding photos of young men, shout at the top of their voices in the main bazaar of Balochistan’s Turbat city on a hot March afternoon. They want Baloch nationalist parties to boycott the upcoming general election, and instead support the separatists waging a bloody war against security forces. The women include mothers, sisters and wives of the young Baloch men who have either been found dead or have gone missing over the last few years.
Besides public agitation, separatist militants sometimes also use violent means to stop the nationalist parties from taking part in the polls. Similarly, security forces and intelligence agencies want to restrict the activities of the nationalist parties. When it comes to dealing with Baloch nationalist parties, both the intelligence and security apparatuses and the separatists appear to be on the same wavelength, although for different reasons, a political analyst tells the Herald in Turbat. Both want the nationalists to stay away from the election, he says without wanting to be named due to security reasons.
The separatists, according to him, interpret the participation of the nationalist parties in the election as a means to strengthen Islamabad’s writ over Balochistan. This, he says, also weakens the case the separatists are trying to make before the international community; that the Baloch people want Balochistan’s secession from Pakistan. The separatists know well that once the popular Baloch nationalist parties reach the parliament and manage to either form or became a part of the provincial government, armed struggle for Balochistan’s independence will lose sympathies and dissipate with the passage of time, he explains.
On the other hand, the analyst says, the election of popular Baloch nationalist parties into power will weaken the security forces’ grip over the affairs of the province. He claims that security and intelligence agencies prefer working with non-nationalist Baloch politicians who, like ministers in the outgoing provincial cabinet, connive with security forces in perpetuating the status quo — in return, benefitting from the illegal trade of petroleum and other goods from and to Afghanistan and Iran. These ministers, he says, have never raised their voices against the killing and kidnapping of young Baloch men or of political activists. The security and intelligence agencies want to maintain this situation as it exists now even after the election and this could be possible only if parties such as the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNPM) and the National Party (NP) either boycott the polls or are not allowed to carry out proper electioneering, the analyst adds.
These two parties indeed have paid a high price for sticking to electoral, democratic politics in the face of twin threats: The scores of party workers and leaders killed in the last few years and the steadily shrinking political space for the middle class from Makran, Kalat and Quetta divisions in the largely tribal and feudal society of Balochistan.
In the province, the situation on the ground is hardly helpful for these parties. Major cities in the Makran division are chock-a-bloc with graffiti appealing the masses not to cast their vote and threatening candidates that they could be killed for taking part in the poll process. A huge swathe of south-western Balochistan, comprising 14 predominantly Baloch districts of the province, don’t even get television coverage of the polling exercise going on elsewhere in the country. A cable operator in Gwadar city, who does not want to make his identity public due to security concerns, tells the Herald how, in early March, separatists sent written messages to all cable operators in the area instructing them to stop relaying Pakistani news channels. Some who ignored the directive saw their houses attacked, he says.
A week after the operators had blocked Pakistani news channels, the members of a hitherto unknown group, Gwadar Youth Force, approached them and demanded that they also block all Indian entertainment channels and stop airing Indian films on cable networks. Again, those who did not heed the demands of the group faced attacks on their houses, the cable operator says. Everyone knows that the security and intelligence agencies are behind organisations such as Gwadar Youth Force, he adds. In some areas, journalists associated with television channels, and even those working for local and national newspapers, have been told both by security agencies and separatists not to report negatively about their activities. Many news correspondents in Makran, who until recently would happily discuss the political and security situation in Balochistan with visiting reporters from Karachi or Islamabad, now avoid even seeing reporters.
Yet, the Baloch nationalist parties are determined to contest the upcoming election, unlike in 2008, when they decided to sit out the election process in protest of the military operation being carried out in parts of Balochistan. On March 26, two days after returning from self-exile in Dubai, Akhtar Mengal, the BNPM president, headed a long meeting of his party’s main leadership in Karachi. Mengal told the media, after the meeting, that his party had decided to contest the coming polls. He said BNPM will use the election as a means to highlight “apprehensions about the rights of the Baloch people”.
Ghafoor Baloch, a senior nationalist leader, says that nationalist parties have held lenghty sessions to weigh the pros and cons of both participating in the election and boycotting it. During these discussions, he says, the parties analysed threats from militants who call themselves the “Sarmachars” – a Balochi word for freedom fighters – and who have particularly targeted Makran division and its nearby districts of Khuzdar and Awaran. The participants of these meetings have also discussed why violence against political activities and security forces is low in districts where the sardari or tribal system is very strong. According to him, both separatist militants and the security forces are targeting political workers of left-leaning, liberal political forces. Other political parties have also announced that they are contesting in the election and running their election campaigns but their workers are neither being targeted by militants nor by security and intelligence apparatuses, Baloch claims. In such a situation, he says, poll boycott is a relatively easy and safe option for the nationalist parties. But he raises a question: “Will poll participation make the situation worse for liberal Baloch nationalist parties than what they have faced during the last five years?” If the answer is no, he says, then why not contest the election and at least make an effort to change the situation without bothering much about the results and the future?”
A senior BNPM leader confirms this when he tells the Herald that his party has decided to participate in the election despite having reservations about the establishment’s meddling in the political affairs of the province, as well as opposition from Baloch militant groups. The leaders of both BNPM and NP also say that they are holding talks with each other as well as with other political parties for possible election alliances and seat adjustment. But they also point out that fear of violence is holding them back from launching their mass contact activities in the run-up to the election to convince the electorate that parliamentary democracy is the best way to promote the Baloch cause.
Muhammad Yousuf, a senior journalist and the president of Gwadar Press Club, believes that threats of violence will force electioneering in the province to remain a low key affair, keeping public participation and voter turnout poor. In urban areas, he says, candidates may bring the voters out but it will be extremely difficult in rural areas where distance between the villages and polling stations is normally 20 to 30 kilometres. In the presence of the clear and imminent danger of militant attacks, there is little chance that voters will be willing to risk their lives to reach polling stations, covering such long distances. This, Yousuf says, may leave a serious question mark over the legitimacy of the next election which will then be seen as unreflective of the will of the people.
Away from Baloch nationalist hub in Makran division, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), is all set to launch its election campaign, in contrast to its decision in 2008 to boycott the polls. Based in the north of Balochistan and popular among the mainly Pashtun residents of the province, the party is wasting no time in debating the costs and benefits of its decision against participation in the previous election and is, instead, focusing its energies on the coming election, says its provincial president, Usman Kakar. Expecting that the Baloch nationalist parties will also participate fully in the May election, he says: “We are looking forward to making seat adjustments with liberal and progressive forces in both provincial and national elections.” Without naming any parties or groups that PkMAP would like to ally itself with before or after the election, Kakar says that during the formation of the next government his party will prefer joining hands with progressive and liberal forces “instead of those who support the armed forces’ role in politics in one way or the other”.
As the nation gears up to vote, it’s worth remembering the legacy of this half-decade of democracy. Born of the mistakes and excesses of a dictator who wore out his welcome, birthed with the tragic loss of a feisty matriarch of the only truly people’s party and endured during the alarming loss of state writ to religious nihilists, in retrospect it is hard to know what this government stood for.
Sure, there was the 18th Amendment, the National Finance Commission Award and a few token half measures. But what it truly did well, ironically, is reducing the language of sacrifice to elaborate kitsch.
When the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) started out this term in 2008 it had a mandate from the public but despite that remit it operated with a trust deficit — or more tellingly, Asif Ali Zardari did. To obviate his own lack of currency, he quickly mastered the trait of rhetoric culled from the archives of the PPP playbook which had a trove of tragedy in the service of democracy, including that of his own with the loss of Benazir Bhutto.
The party, long a source of adding to the national lexicon of political phrases and terms (such as ‘long marches’, ‘roti’, ‘kapra’ and ‘makaan’) coined a new phrase, marshalled out as its operating philosophy, “Democracy is the best revenge.”
A good start – as far as defining what PPP 2.0 stood for – but the promise was soon to be sunk by the government’s unmoored performance in governance. Democracy became directionless accommodation, and cripplingly so. With an absence of tangibles in the service of the electorate, the past was bandied as citizens looked to the government to deliver in the present tense.
Having been told that the PPP’s promises were not inviolable, it moved self-preservation above delivery, permanently. After losing an ineffectual prime minister to the overreach of the courts, it chose one of the few men with less credibility to replace him. Gaffe prone ministers can be a national treasure, like Lalu Prasad or Boris Johnson, but to have one in charge of our collective safety is egregious at best.
Listening to the PPP, especially in the past two years, it’s obvious that what it can be remembered for is cheapening its formidable legacy. Their ministers operated in a surreal world of verbal impunity, using mighty language and the history of sacrifice to be devalued into a baroque camp.
Roti, kapra aur makaan was once the powerful elixir against whatever opiate the masses were taken in by. Today “sasta tandoor” and “sasti roti”, however awkwardly named, have more pulling power. The ‘long march’ has been appropriated by the Sharifs, the very party it was originated against. (Even Canadians own it with greater legitimacy.) So much so, that a word for a force of nature that only brings devastation in its midst, the ‘tsunami’, sounds like a word of hope — even after our successive floods.
Ever vigilant to an opportunity for grandstanding, in the final days of this government Rehman Malik announced that the government, with his able stewardship, had defeated the terrorists and restored law and order. Had he been truthful and instead said awe and disorder, one would have believed he was actually eating a banana.
Revenge they took without doubt. But what remains to be seen is if there will be Schadenfreude on election day. If not, a Darwin Award is in order.
In the 1970s, its manifesto helped propel Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to popularity and power, firmly entrenching its slogans into the electorate’s hearts and minds. Military regimes that followed put a halt to democratic process and, along with it, sloganeering and all that comes with it. As the May election approaches and many major parties release their manifestos, aimed at swaying undecided voters, the Herald takes a closer look at how closely promises made in these manifestos reflect civil society’s concerns.
Party manifestos are a legitimate part of the democratic process
Yes, for the most part
There is a perception that parties produce manifestos and other policy documents simply because it is a routine exercise to do so, not as a serious undertaking in explaining their positions on important issues. The chequered history of the implementation of manifestos is, indeed, a comment on their effectiveness as policy documents. The parties seem to release manifestos because they are expected to do so by the media and civil society, not because they feel that such policy documents are important. But, regardless of their importance and effectiveness, manifestos still form a part of the democratic convention of campaigning and, therefore, have to be given due respect as manifestations of a party’s programme.
In the wake of the impending election, political parties have been under pressure from civil society groups and activists to include in their manifestos proposals on pressing issues, such as transparency and fairness of the democratic and electoral process, good governance, women’s rights, minorities’ rights, freedom of expression and the right to information amongst others. The roots of the emphasis on such democratic values and principles can be traced back to the lawyers’ movement during the governance of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, in 2007, that created a new awakening within the civil society about its own power to make itself heard. The movement shifted substantial political space towards civil society members which, helped by the media, started assuming the role of a legitimate fourth pillar of the estate that could challenge the political elite, and create an impetus for political and democratic accountability. In such a scenario, manifestos have become vetting stones to measure policy proposals and agendas of political parties in terms of the aspirations and expectations of civil society. This is where the current legitimacy for manifestos and the need to put them right stem from.
Civil society has a role in policymaking
Yes, but the media must also help
It is only civil society organisations and activists who can remind political parties that, as contenders for power, they have certain social and humanitarian commitments under international laws and agreements. These may not get the parties more votes but, nevertheless, require addressing due to obligations under the United Nations charter and conventions. For instance, Pakistan is committed to protecting child rights under the United Nations covenants so any party aspiring to come into power in the country must be aware of and follow through with such commitments.
But civil society can convey its concerns, expectations and demands to politicians and political parties only through the media. “The media reports on policy documents prepared by civil society activists, in the hope of acquiring the support of political parties,” says Fasi Zaka, one of the main authors of the Education Emergency Pakistan, a report prepared in 2011.
But I A Rehman, senior journalist and the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), argues: “Media is not committed enough to democracy or to people’s rights. Its claim to sympathy is only skin deep.”
Do parties adhere to civil society demands when constructing their manifestos?
Yes, but only partially
Ahsan Iqbal, the deputy secretary general of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) – one of the individuals responsible for his party’s lengthy manifesto released on March 7 – explains how the document was more than a year in the making. “Consultative meetings with experts and members of civil society were held for months, before ideas and scenarios were fleshed out.”
Anis Haroon, a former chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women and now the head of the Aurat Foundation, agrees that parties are taking note of civil society’s concerns while writing their manifestos. She tells the Herald how Aurat Foundation has been consulted by different political parties for its expertise and input regarding women’s rights but she cautions that there still is a vast disconnect between political officials and civil society demands. “We have to remain vigilant and active to see through the change we are working towards,” Haroon says.
Zafarullah Khan, executive director of an Islamabad-based independent think-tank Centre for Civic Education, says the problem lies with the non-institutionalised way the manifestos are written and released. “How many parties have institutionalised the process of building and maintaining specific manifesto cells where experts are brought in to discuss and advise on issues of real concern to voters and civil society members?” he says.
Even when there is an agreement between civil society and politicians on a certain issue, there are plenty of roadblocks that prevent policy documents from entering the stage of legislation. Zahid Abdullah, the programme manager at the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives who has been working towards building a model law on the right to information, says how protecting civil rights while negotiating the parameters of the proposed law was a challenging task. “When lists of exempt, sensitive information were drawn up, our team had to convince political leaders how it should be a public right to access certain information, as per international mandates.”
Iqbal Ahmed Detho, the national manager for the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, a child rights group, also claims that efforts for mobilising support for rights-based initiatives dissipates often due to a lack of political will, rivalries within the ranks of a political party, or a simple lack of understanding regarding issues.
Khan offers a solution. He wants party manifestos to reflect the aspirations of the entire country rather than the ideals and visions of a few in the party leadership. “Manifestos need to have a consensus of opinion, rather than voicing the ideas of one or a few individuals. They should include considered views, involving debate and discussion instead of echoing a single individual’s ideological viewpoint,” he argues.
Rehman believes that manifestos as they exist today are only compilations of promises made by members of political parties in order to garner votes rather than being serious policy documents. But he expects this to change if democracy in Pakistan moves ahead unhindered. “As democracy develops, however, this process is bound to evolve.”
Political developments impede the implementation
True, but parties need to think ahead
Political analysts point out how Pakistan is entering into a political phase where coalition governments will be prevalent in the foreseeable future. How do the imperatives of remaining in power then force parties to amend their manifestos in accordance with coalition pressures?
Khan is of the view that manifestos become a stumbling block in such a scenario and parties, therefore, need to come together and set a common minimum agenda within which to implement their policy proposals and programmes.
Raza Rumi, director at the Jinnah Institute, a think tank in Islamabad, blames the inability of governments to implement what they have stated in their manifestos on the very nascent process of democracy in Pakistan. He refers to other military-dominated countries such as Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia which have experienced similar problems within a fledgling democratic process. “We need to give more time for democracy to develop before we can begin to start holding governments accountable for their policies,” he adds. Rumi also points out how “parties do not have internal mechanisms to track manifestos and their successes.”
Should parties invest in sectors with no immediate electoral dividends?
Yes, of course, but they generally don’t
The dividends from educating a child accrue decades later — after he or she is able to join the workforce and contribute to the economy. Even then there is no guarantee that the children of today, when they grow up, will remember and vote for the parties whose policies have benefited their educational careers.
The need for a long-term commitment to issues such as education, health, women’s rights and child protection is what holds parties back in investing political capital in them. To put it mildly, says Rehman, “those who do not count in vote banks, are of no interest to politicians.” This, he says, is the reason why women and children are voiceless. “They are not able to bring a political party into power. They, thus, remain marginalised.”
Rather than focusing on addressing policy and structural issues on areas such as education and health, parties instead focus on using them as a means to generate employment opportunities for their voters. “That is why Pakistan’s largest cadre of civil servants is teachers and ghost schools flourish because giving voters jobs as teachers is the most popular way for an elected politician to give back to his constituency,” says Zaka.
To rectify the situation, politics and policy have to been seen as distinct from each other, he says and adds: “Once politics and policy can be distinguished, the whole system will fall into place.”
Cries about change and a “tsunami” of young voters overrunning all else revive memories of a different era of political activism, calling to mind the lost fervour of the student and youth movements of the late 1960s, mobilised by the revolutionary sloganeering of Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung. The impact of those charged days was evident in Pakistan too, with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto first riding in on the crest of youth activism in 1968-1970 and then falling victim to it in 1977.
As much as mainstream political parties in Pakistan try to revive that lost era of youth mobilisation today, their efforts appear to fall short, leaving many in the media to speculate that the so-called “youth vote” in Pakistan is more a mirage or an illusion, rather than a reality.
On paper, the youth bulge is undeniable. The latest electoral lists contain 83 million registered voters, of which 47 per cent are under 35 years of age, coming to about 40 million people. Voters falling in the 18-25 age bracket alone are a little more than 16 million — about five million more than the number of votes polled by the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 2008 elections. The Herald looks at how this demographic development will impact the upcoming general elections.
The parties weigh in
Some political parties have aggressively campaigned to gain the attention of young voters over the last 12 months or so , with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) taking the lead. Being a relatively new addition on the political scene, it has built a more extensive ‘fan’ base in the youth-dominated sphere of cyberspace than any other party in the country by utilising avenues that others have not yet explored. With its Facebook page boasting 350,000 (and counting) “likes” and a separate youth page, the PTI is targeting these young individuals as the core focus of its election campaign. Besides public rallies, the party is also employing personalised telephone messages and videos disseminated through social media networks, all in an effort to mobilise the youth.
Muhammad Najeeb Haroon, a founding member of the PTI, confirms this when he says his party is committed to “addressing the concerns of the disillusioned youth, regardless of which background or stratum of society they come from.” Through promises of a better economic environment and increased job opportunities, the PTI aims at “providing youth with a place to voice their concerns, especially for those young adults who grew up in the tumultuous political environment of the 1990s,” he adds.
In another measure aimed at catering to the political ideals of educated, urban youth, the PTI is campaigning on a plank of openness and meritocracy. It is making its leaders declare their assets and has announced that it will give its members the final say in deciding who the party’s election candidates will be. How the party sells its ‘electable’ members such as Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi – who have been groomed in the very political values the PTI claims to eschew – to its idealist youth electorate will be one of the greatest electoral challenges it will face on election day.
Other major parties are also doing their bit to court this particular set of voters. Since coming into power in 2008, the PPP has aggressively been encouraging citizens to register with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and acquire Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs). The reasons are twofold: firstly, only a CNIC holder can benefit from public sector welfare schemes and bank and government loans which serve to motivate voters; secondly, without a CNIC a person can neither register as a voter nor cast a vote. The majority of new CNIC holders and voters are expected to belong to rural areas where the PPP believes itself to have a strong vote bank and where Nadra has more of a presence now than it did in the past. The majority could also be young people who need government documents for acquiring government jobs, grants, loans and other things more than the elderly do. This may point towards the PPP’s electoral strategy for the next election. The party also seems to believe that its new crop of leaders – Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa (children of Asif Ali Zardari), all in their early to mid-twenties – will be able to attract voters from their own age group in large numbers.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN) has launched Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, as the young face of the party. It is also trying to appeal to students and their parents by distributing thousands of laptops among position holders in school and college examinations.
Which way will the wind blow?
While almost every political party is doing its part in attempting to attract youth voters, the job of those in the opposition or those outside the parliament is easier than those in office. Those not in power can easily target the disillusionment of a young electorate, perturbed by ever-increasing lawlessness, corruption, the energy crisis and a general mismanagement of economic affairs. Whether their efforts will result in these parties winning seats in the upcoming general election is a question different people answer differently, depending on their political affiliation.
For Raza Rumi, director of Policy and Programmes at the Jinnah Institute, an independent think tank based in Islamabad, the next election will see a rise in voter turnout and increased participation by young voters, especially in urban constituencies. Yet, he says, the effect will not be huge. It will only create a ripple, “narrowing the margins by which mainstream parties will capture seats in the parliament.”
The known unknowns
A youth vote is easy to talk about in urban constituencies with high literacy rates and easy access to computers and the Internet; it is simple in such an environment to disseminate political messages through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. In more far-flung agricultural communities, the youth’s manifestation as a political phenomenon remains elusive. In rural areas, political parties, including the tech-savvy and slogan-heavy PTI, will rely as always on a combination of personality-driven politics and local development agendas. Given that 65 per cent of the population in Pakistan still lives in rural areas takes much wind out of the sails of youth mobilisation.
Another problem is the absence of comparable data from the past. The Election Commission of Pakistan does not collect and disseminate a break-up of polled votes on the basis of the voters’ age-group. Nobody knows how voters falling in the 18-40 age bracket, for example, have acted during polls in the last election; whether they turned up in large numbers at the polling stations or stayed at home for the most part is perhaps the best kept election secret in Pakistan. Consequently, as we do not know if youth participation was higher or lower in past election, there can be no definitive way of gauging whether it will increase or diminish in the upcoming polls.
There are no empirical studies interpreting voting patterns among youth, and no verifiable statistics concerning the possible impact of factors such as the media, peer and community groups or the political and educational environment on voter behaviour. Similarly, there is no research to understand how young people develop an allegiance to a particular political party or leader — is it because of party leadership, its policies or a combination of the two? These questions have never been studied in detail.
Whether political parties’ moves to attract young voters reflect a growing importance of youth in the national political arena is also not quite obvious. After all, in the run-up to the 2002 general election, the government of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 . The move was certainly not a result of domestic pressure from the country’s youth, instead, it came about as part of the electoral reforms Pakistan is committed to undertake because of international conventions.
The known knowns
Between 1997 and 2008, there have been 26 million new voters in Pakistan. Most, if not all, of this increase can be attributed to the fact that the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 in 2002. On paper, this suggests that there must have been a big increase in the number of young voters; yet there is no data assessing how many of these new voters went to polling stations to cast their votes in 2002 and 2008. Even if most of them did, their participation did not result in a large-scale shifting of political patterns — the beneficiaries of their votes remaining the same much-reviled dynasty-led traditional parties. Available data also suggests that voter turnout increased from 41 per cent in 2002 to 44.4 per cent in 2008, despite the fact that the PTI, the self-proclaimed party of the youth, boycotted the last polls.
Bring in the vagaries of the first-past-the-post voting system that Pakistan adheres to, where elections are not necessarily won by the contender receiving the most amount of votes, and you have in front of you a clear electoral challenge. Mudassar Rizvi, who heads the Free and Fair Election Network, a conglomerate of civil society organisations working on elections in Pakistan, highlights the highly erratic nature of the system. “The 2008 election saw the PPP gather close to 11 million votes and acquire 95 National Assembly seats [out of a total of 272 general seats]. The PMLN came second with 72 seats, though its vote tally was close to seven million. The Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) came third with 41 seats, even when it received about one million more votes than the PMLN did,” he explains. A similar trend can be seen in the case of the 2002 general election when the PPP received 7.6 million votes and captured only 64 seats, and the PMLQ, which received 7.5 million votes acquired 92 seats. Simply put, even if a party polls all the youth vote cast across Pakistan in the coming election, it may not end up sweeping the polls because, as the statistics suggest, winning a large number of parliamentary seats is not quite the same as getting a high number of votes.
Secondly, Rizvi argues, “one constituency’s electoral behaviour remains independent of another constituency’s behaviour, thereby making it futile to make any political projections and generalisations [and predict] outcomes.”
The road ahead
And so the question presents itself — can a young electorate significantly shift electoral momentum in the direction of change that certain political parties contend as being the demand of Pakistani youth? Can voters in the 18-40 age bracket change the face of Pakistan and Pakistani politics?
Answering these questions in the affirmative may seem too idealistic, given past voting statistics, or the lack thereof. Whether a need and impetus for change are real, or whether political parties are talking about the youth and pandering to its presumed demands merely as a new unexplored angle to win the next election can only be answered after the voters have given their verdict.
What is already becoming clear, however, is that the youth vote cannot be seen as a monolith: it has to be understood and analysed within the confines of constituency politics, as well as other contextual ingredients such as literacy, location and the socio-economic environment. By no means can it be considered an indivisible factor that can determine the result of an election on its own. Rumi, for this reason, rules out a path-breaking poll result in 2013 and advises caution in evaluating the impact of the momentum that youth awareness and participation in the political process may create. “The emergence of the youth vote as a swing vote is still far from being [the agent of] change,” he says.
Democratic governments in Pakistan have almost always been seen as corrupt. Recently, many senior members of the current administration have been facing serious allegations that they misused authority for personal gains. To explore why corruption has become so rampant in young and unstable democracies such as Pakistan, the Herald invited Ali Cheema for a live online discussion on Wednesday, October 24, at 5 pm (PKT).
Ali Cheema is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) and an Associate Professor of Economics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). His areas of research include political economy, public choice, development economics, economic history, governance and decentralisation.
Comment from Yasir Khan. Is inefficiency main problem or corruption? (I define inefficiency as the lack of effort put in by public servant in optimizing the outcome of his job given a set of constraints). How do we solve the problem of inefficiency? Will addressing inefficiency address the problem of corruption?
Ali Cheema. Corruption (in the sense of taking bribes or paying money for acquiring public office) is not the only cause of the inefficiency of public servants. There are other causes of inefficiencies that are to do with the framework for accountability, incentive mechanisms and the selection of public servants. In many cases fixing these can reduce inefficiencies in spite of corruption and many of these mechanisms can also help reduce inefficiencies. Pay and performance reform, insulation from political pressure and revamping the current performance management system have to be central. The question is whether this can happen in a polarized political setup?
Comment from Turab Hassan. If the giving of a bribe is legitimized, can that bring down the rampant corruption by capturing those people who take up a bribe. One of the main issues of curbing corruption is the lack of evidence against corrupt people or the reluctance of people to come forth to testify against the corrupt officials. So will this law help in reducing the scale of corruption to some extend?
Ali Cheema. The answer to the question is not simple. There are cases where legalizing bribes in the form of incentives may work e.g. rewarding traffic policemen to enforce laws may reduce their incentives to take bribes and help with enforcement (although even here there is a need for a system of checks because policemen may have incentive to over-penalize in the presence of rewards linked to challans). However in other cases legalizing bribes may impact equity or impact quality of delivery. For example linking the queue for treatment in government hospitals to bribes will excessively penalize the poor who are in greatest need for state provision of healthcare.
Comment from Zeeshan. Why are we relying so much on SAP and other IMF loans and World Bank programmes when we know from past experiences and examples that it will lead to nothing but failure?
Ali Cheema. I don’t know how this question is linked to democracy or corruption – nonetheless – we rely on IMF loans because we frequently find ourselves in a balance of payments crisis and have need for external financing to finance projects. Success or failures of these programs have little to do with the decision to enter the program it is the need for foreign financing the drives us into these programs. The bigger question is why have we not been able to design and implement an economic reform agenda that can catalyze long-run growth. The failure of reform thinking is a bigger worry than the influence of the IMF.
Comment from Kausar. Who measures corruption in Pakistan? Do they track whether it is increasing or decreasing? What organisations are in charge of this?
Ali Cheema. Different surveys and organizations conducted by multilaterals, bilaterals and government do this. NAB is the state agency that is mandated to do this.
Comment From Mirza Faisal Hussain. What is the strategy that Pakistan can employ to pull itself out of a corrupt democracy? Are Pakistani politicians corrupt because they have the liberty of a democracy or are they democratic because they are corrupt?
Ali Cheema. I think we need to shed the mindset of Pakistani exceptionalism. That is, Pakistan is an exception in its level of corruption and the fact that its democracy co-exists with corruption. One lesson that economic history teaches us is that transitions to capitalism were beset with corruption especially during the period when institutions were weak and under-developed (including democratic institutions). One of the biggest crime bosses of the 20th century was not based in Pakistan but in the city of Chicago and his name was Al Capone. Moreover, he was not an exception in US development. Here is a blurb on Capone from Wikipedia:
“The 1924 town council elections in Cicero became known as one of the most crooked elections in the Chicago area’s long history of rigged elections, with voters threatened by (Capone’s) thugs at polling stations. Capone’s mayoral candidate won by a huge margin and weeks later announced that he would run Capone out of town. Capone then met with his puppet-mayor and knocked him down the town hall steps”.
Corruption increases during the process of capitalist development because old institutions break down; new institutions are under-developed and the returns to corruption increase manifold. The three important points to note are: (i) in many societies elites come up with a consensus to create institutions that create growth and curb destructive corruption – while other societies fail in making this transition; (ii) in many cases growth can happen in spite of corruption because societies are able to protect certain configuration of property rights and elements of governance frameworks that allow them to grow; and (iii) there are examples of successful and failed transitions in both democracies and non-democracies. Successful democracies succeed because they create a configuration of interests and deals that allow new institutions to emerge including those that strengthen democracy.
Comment from Feroze. Can the differing economic fates of the likes of India, Pakistan and the East Asian Tiger economies be linked in any way to their success with tackling corruption and strengthening institutions?
Ali Cheema. It is difficult to say whether different economic fates caused different trajectories of corruption in East and South Asia or whether it was the other way around. What we know is that the initial social, economic and political conditions were different and they impacted both institutional development and economic outcomes.
Comment from Abdullah. What is the effect of corruption on growth? Is it a major factor? Is it an impediment? Or, conversely, does it help countries with weak institutional structures allocate resources more efficiently and productively for growth?
Ali Cheema. It is really hard to say whether causality runs from corruption to growth or the other way around. This is because growth, institutional development and reduction in corruption are all highly correlated. If we look at developed countries during periods of transitions we will find a much higher incidence of corruption that what is observed today in the same countries. That tells me that there is a need to unbundle process of corruption that cause under-development and those that do not inhibit development. The priority should be given to curbing destructive forms of corruption and creating institutions to mitigate it.
Comment from Yasir Khan. You mentioned that transition to capitalism was beset with corruption when institutions were weak and under-developed, so how did those economies develop their institutions? What was the incentive to power brokers to let the institutions develop when they were very clearly losing their ability to benefit from corruption with strengthening of institutions?
Ali Cheema. Destructive corruption reduces activities that increase economic value. This means that it is possible for value creators (whose investments can increase economic value) to be able to offer payoffs to status-quo power holders to allow transitions to happen. The worrying thing is that in many societies these deals fail to materialize. And the fundamental question is why? The economics literature offers a range of explanations ranging from the fragmentation of power holders (more fragmented power holders make it difficult to make credible deals) to the structure of political institutions to political polarization. We need to understand what the real constraints are in the case of Pakistan.
Comment from Sireen. Do you honestly think there is hope for eradicating corruption in Pakistan given the internal and external interests that benefit from it at the highest levels?
Ali Cheema. I am living in Pakistan and bringing up my children here so yes I have hope. But I do not think it will be easy for this generation or the next.
Comment from Ali Hamza. Is corruption a phenomenon that is restricted to developing countries or is it rampant in the developed world as well?
Ali Cheema. I think my earlier comments have addressed this question.
Ali Cheema. Thank you so much for your questions. I am afraid the time is now up. Have a good day.
Democratic governments in Pakistan have almost always been seen as corrupt. Recently, many senior members of the current administration have been facing serious allegations that they misused authority for personal gains. To explore why corruption has become so rampant in young and unstable democracies such as Pakistan, the Herald invited Michael T Rock for a live online discussion on Friday, October 19, at 9 pm (PKT).
Michael T Rock is a professor of economic history at Bryn Mawr College, USA. His research interests include subjects like democracy, environment, development and industrialisation. Rock is writing a book on the relationship between democracy and development in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Comment From Zakir Hussain. Do you think corruption can grow faster and more easily under dictators or within a democratic system?
Michael Rock. Not necessarily. It all depends on the objectives of public officials. For example, corruption has been rampant in democratic Argentina and non-existent in authoritarian Chile.
Comment From Sasha S. What is difference between corruption that occurs in developed countries from that which occurs in developing countries? Or does it take the same form?
Michael Rock. I don’t think there is much difference; it all depends on how corruption networks are organized in both Ds and As.
Comment From Akram Javed. How exactly does corruption hamper the economy of a country? What is the exact relationship between the level of corruption and growth rate?
Michael Rock. Good question. This too depends on how corruption networks are organized. The existing literature focuses on the following variable. How centralized/decentralized are corruption networks. Highly centralized ones can actually be growth enhancing, decentralized one are never growth enhancing. It also depends on the time horizon of corrupt officials. Do they behave as roving bandits taking as much as they can as quick as they can? Or do they just take a little allowing the economy to grow. Finally, much depends on the nature of the relationship between business and government — does government predate on business? Does business predate on government or are both engaged in a mutual hostage situation.
Comment From Zahid. Is there any way to measure corruption? Are there markers to monitor its increase and decrease? Could you talk about these in some detail?
Michael Rock. There are lots of ways to measure corruption and there are at least 4 different datasets that do so. One is in the World Bank’s WDI Online. Another is by Transparency International and a third is done by the Political Risk Services and shows up in their ICRG researchers dataset. Finally, some researchers have asked employed survey research of businessmen.
Comment From Mirza Faisal Hussain. What is the strategy a 3rd world country can employ to pull itself out of a corrupt democracy? Are Pakistani politicians corrupt because they have the liberty of a democracy or are they democratic because they are corrupt?
Michael Rock. Here is my take on Pakistan — it comes from Mushtaq Khan at Cambridge. You can find his book on rent-seeking in Asia on Amazon. His view is that big business and big landowners are engaged in strong patronage relationships with government officials in Pakistan in which both are interested in furthering private rather than public interest. So both are engaged in what economists call rent-seeking. Private groups work to get preferential treatment from the state and state officials take a cut from what they grant. I don’t think it matters whether Pakistan is a democracy or an autocracy as these patronage networks predominate.
Comment From Ehsan. You say there are many ways to measure corruption, One, the one used by Transparency International and a third by the Political Risk Services. Is there a difference in their results? Or do they all match? I have heard that Transparency International is itself quite corrupt in Pakistan, what do you think about this?
Michael Rock. Most of my research is on Southeast Asia. And there I would argue that corruption is growth enhancing. Take Indonesia under General Suharto and his New Order government. Under Suharto corruption was highly centralized and business was organized along conglomerate. The way corruption worked during this period is that the government gave all kinds of promotional privileges (like subsidized credit) to big business who then grew the economy. Suharto then took a cut from growth but never killed the golden goose (the big firms that grew the economy. Something similar has been at work in South Korea before democratization and in China now. So corruption is not always detrimental to growth. But it is detrimental to a regime’s political legitimacy.
Comment From Obaid. I don’t think the topic of this discussion makes sense in an ideal scenario. Democracy in its true sense is “A government of the people, for the people, by the people,” and people don’t want to be victim to a corrupt government. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, and especially in Pakistan we have seen corruption hit new highs with the so called democratically elected government. What do you suggest that, we the people of Pakistan can do to fight corruption without hurting our democracy (because apparently democracy is doing us good)?
Michael Rock. Probably the least corrupt country in the world is Singapore. This was started by Lee Kwan Yew. Corruption was minimized by 2 policies. First ministers were ands are paid very high market oriented salaries. Second, the government has a very strong anti-corruption agency that ferrets out corruption. As a result it has had few corruption scandals. In one a housing minister was exposed and lost so much ‘face’ that he committed suicide!
Comment From Hassan. Is democracy (or any regime with any Dictator/King/PM/President) really a cause of corruption or are there other more serious candidates like economic model of a state and the attitudes and perceptions of the civil society?
Michael Rock. It is a world wide problem and in cases where public officials and the business community work together for corrupt ends. Very few individuals are ever prosecuted for corrupt activities.
Comment From Obaid. What you’re saying is that new policies be implemented. That again is in the hands of the government whether it’s increasing public officials’ salaries or strengthening our anti corruption agencies. But what can the PEOPLE of Pakistan do to fight corruption?
Michael Rock. To begin with one has to understand how corruption works in Pakistan. Is it based on corrupt relationships between big business and government or big landowners and government (which I suspect is the case)? Is it part of long-standing patronage relationships? This kind of corruption is the toughest to crack open and eliminate.
Doing so requires a strong and independent Anti-Corruption Agency with ample resources to track down corruption with powers and a court/judicial system that is not itself corrupt. One place to look where this kind of agency has been working reasonably well is in Indonesia following the fall of the Suharto government. One other thing happened in Indonesia that helped. The officials in the new democratic government moved towards a more laissesz faire economy. This was important because it denied government officials of the tools (allocating subsidized credit to cronies) that enabled them to be corrupt. In addition Indonesia strengthened its bureaucracy and its court system enabling implementation of rule of law.
Comment From Haris Ahmed. Even after charges are levelled against corrupt people, very often receive punishment. Why is this? And is this a world wide problem or is it restricted to the South Asia?
Michael Rock. Economic models matter but so does the nature of the relationship between government and business. If the government is pursuing an interventionist model and it isn’t careful, this could easily de-generate into a rise in corruption. Think of the permit raj in India–it was a perfect vehicle for corruption.
Comment From Afzal. You mentioned the permit raj in India as a perfect vehicle for corruption. What was the permit raj and how did it increase corruption?
Michael Rock. The permit raj was a set of economic policies that required Indian businesses to get licenses from the state to open, expand, and operate and get licenses from the state to import. What this meant is that big business spent a lot of time making ‘friends’ of government officials so they were sure they got what they needed to operate. So they spend a lot of time and resources lobbying, entertaining and bribing public officials rather than growing their firms.
Comment From Khurram. Mr Rock you mentioned that Singapore has the lowest corruption statistics. Do you think if Pakistan implements their 3 policies, we can aspire to become like them?
Michael Rock. What Pakistan can do is to implement three things. Organize NGOs that focus on identifying and eliminating corruption. Have a free or freer press that exposes corruption and corrupt officials. Finally, make sure that highly visible corrupt politicians are not re-elected.
Comment From Afzal. You mention that Chile has a high level of corruption, even without a democracy. What about communist countries like china?
Michael Rock. China and Vietnam are both very corrupt. Corruption in both countries has two very clear effects:
1. In both countries corruption is growth enhancing.
2. In both countries it undermines citizen’s views of public officials and government–it seriously harms what political scientists call political legitimacy.
No government can survive with low political legitimacy. Both China and Vietnam are keenly aware of this problem and they aim to enhance their legitimacy by high growth. But there is a big potential problem with this strategy — what happens when growth slows or turns negative? This is what happened in Indonesia under Suharto and it led to the collapse of his government.
Comment From Derek Whiley. I believe that you have spent some time in the Far East. Could you quote some instances of corruption you saw there?
Michael Rock. Here is a visible example of corruption in Indonesia under Suharto. The government regularly granted economic privileges to a select group of Sino-Indonesian firms (Cukong entreprenuers). The Cukong entreprenuers were required to grow the economy, which they did. But they were also required by Suharto to kick-back to him (through his foundations) a share of their profits. This went on for about 30 years!
Michael Rock. Thank you very much for all your questions. I am afraid the time has run out now. It was great talking to you all. Thank you.
When in 1955, Chief Justice Mohammad Munir said in one of his rulings that “necessity knows no law”, he never knew that this phrase would echo the language of chaos throughout Pakistan’s political history. He argued that the phrase was backed by such laws as Braxton’s maxim, “that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity,” and further elaborated by the Roman dictum that ultimately “the well-being of the people is the supreme law.”
Munir used this to indemnify Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad’s high-handed moves against the Constituent Assembly but it would not end there. It would come up again three years later in 1958 when Ayub Khan imposed martial law and took over the government abrogating the 1956 Constitution, and then nearly two decades later in 1978 to legalise the military takeover of General Ziaul Haq. Another two decades later, in 2000, it reared its ugly head justifying General Pervez Musharraf’s overthrow of Nawaz Sharif’s heavy mandate.
The notion of the law of necessity argues that in certain situations the national legal order of a state is disturbed by a ‘revolution’ not considered by the Constitution. When this ‘revolution’ takes place it not only challenges the existing legal framework but serves to demolish the present Constitution. This basically translates into the fact that subversive actions can legally be taken by one man alone for the larger good, whatever that good may be.
The first time this doctrine was hinted at was in the Maulvi Tamizuddin case on March 21, 1955 when the Federal Court led by Munir legalised the dissolution of an entire assembly on the orders of one man. The full concept of ‘necessity’ came to the fore on October 27,1958 in the State vs Dosso case in which Munir validated the military takeovers of Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan, observing that “a successful coup d’etat is an internally-recognised legal method of changing a constitution.” What he meant was that this seemingly illegal act was now made legal in such a way that a single military man could walk in and subvert the will of the people — described in Munir’s verdict as a “legalised illegality”.
In his book, Highways and Byways of Life, Munir himself noted that his decisions had been viewed “as the starting point of the misfortunes of this country”. That criticism could not have been truer.
The fact is that the imposition of martial law has never been envisaged by any constitution in Pakistan but our superior courts have always validated it and held that the new regime is always a transitory phase, representing constitutional deviation dictated by the utmost necessity. This ‘necessity’ has been the bane of all democratic dispensations.
A decade after Musharraf used the Doctrine of Necessity once again, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry passed what is termed a landmark ruling. In its July 31, 2009 verdict on the judges who had taken oath under Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order, the court declared that the November 3, 2007 emergency was illegal and, thereby, stressed that the Doctrine of Necessity had been buried forever. “… no such judge shall, hereinafter, offer any support in whatever manner to any unconstitutional functionary who acquires power otherwise than through the modes envisaged by the Constitution…” That was supposed to be the end.
However, with political turmoil hitting the country once again, whispers of extra-constitutional measures have begun to resurface. There are many who say that the Doctrine of Necessity has been buried by the current court. But let us not forget that the Doctrine of Necessity had also been invalidated in April 1972 in the Asma Jilani case when the Supreme Court ruled that the validation of Yahya Khan’s extra-constitutional steps based on the principle of ‘necessity’ was “unsustainable” — albeit after Yahya had already left power.
That didn’t seem to stop Zia from overthrowing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto only a few years later in 1977. Later, a ruling was also delivered terming Zia’s usurping of power illegal — but that too after he had died in 1988. Though these verdicts have lost their lustre because of their post-facto nature, they did set judicial precedents which didn’t seem to stop Musharraf in 1999, either.
Buried or not, exhumation is regular practice in Pakistan.
The so-called Bangladesh model is already here — with the difference that those who wield authority are not answerable to anyone. Or, perhaps, this is how such a model is supposed to work. Those who were in government in Bangladesh before the current elected administration was voted in and the previous elected government was booted out, did not have to face the ultimate political accountability — an election. There was no parliament to discuss, debate, accept or reject the actions of the government; courts were part of the administration, so was the military (albeit indirectly), a whole lot of technocrats and more than a smattering of the intelligentsia.
The real difference between the Bangladeshi and Pakistani versions of this model is that those who put it in place and ran it in the country of its origin were both in office as well as in power. In Pakistan, they don’t have to be in office to be in power. In some ways, this is crucial. Those in office in Pakistan must bear the brunt of those who are in power, and this certainly does not start and stop with the sacking of prime ministers over court orders; they must also face the wrath of voters who cannot be blamed for not realising that even the most efficient civilian administration in Pakistan hardly fares any better, given the skewed balance of power among elected and unelected institutions, inexperience among civilian politicians when it comes to governance and, above all, an administrative structure that neither has the resolve nor the vigour to cope with myriad problems that this country faces.
Depending on whether you believe in giving parliamentary democracy sufficient chance to take root, regardless of its multiple deficiencies, or you want to have an administration that delivers irrespective of how it comes about, the beauty or the ugliness of the Bangladesh model lies in its basic premise: that the military and courts must intervene indirectly through their own former colleagues, technocrats and the intelligentsia to cleanse the political system made dirty by corrupt and criminal elements, before it is too late for the general good of the people and the country; they must also set rules for the future so that those with a track record of crime and corruption cannot make it into the playing field again. The not-so-hidden assumption being that voters don’t have the capacity to elect people who can ensure the welfare of their electorate as well as the general well-being of state and society. The great unwashed – illiterate and prone to selling their votes for money and other trifles – will be able to see the white from the black, right from wrong, only after the ‘righteous’, ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘unselfish’ people at the top of the societal pecking order separate the two for them, helping them choose what is only right.
Democracy, after all, is about an informed voter making an informed political choice. In a country where a majority of voters don’t have the right kind of information as well as the intellectual ability to make informed political choices, it makes perfect sense if someone helps and guides them, so goes the argument favouring the so-called Bangladesh model.
A great idea, indeed. The only problem — it starts falling apart the moment it is put into practice. Before we move to Bangladesh to see what the model could achieve there, we have sufficient evidence from our own Pakistani model of doing the same things through direct military interventions that it does not work. Ayub Khan banished hundreds of politicians, General Ziaul Haq banned political parties and inserted subjective morality into the Constitution as an eligibility criteria for intending parliamentarians, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf disenfranchised more than 95 per cent of Pakistanis in his attempt to create ‘graduate assemblies’ and used his accountability czars to keep ‘undesirable’ elements out of politics. The results have been mixed at best and disastrous at worst.
Ayub turned politicians into civic officials, responsible for bringing paved streets and sewerage pipelines to their constituents rather than writing constitutions and making laws; Zia polarised society along the lines of religion, sect, tribe, clan and family while ostensibly trying to rid society of divisions along party lines; Musharraf’s Bonapartist insistence on the unity of command, while making all sorts of political compromises and somersaults, has left power atomised, with both state and society having dangerously moved closer to an implosion.
During, and in between these protracted military rules, we have also tried an assortment of foreign-trained technocrats, former judges and ex-bureaucrats to run interim, and not so interim, regimes. The results, once again, are highly debatable.
Now to Bangladesh. After two years of the ‘model’ rule there, Bangladeshi politics is where it always has been: one of the two main parties is in power while the leaders of the other are in jail and tens of thousands of their supporters every now and then clog the streets of Dhaka with violent protests. While the makers and breakers of opinion in Pakistan never tire of highlighting the failings of democracy, they seldom discuss the failure of the alternatives, the Bangladesh model included.
With a parliament that cannot defend its own turf, an elected executive that is regularly checked and mated – often by the judiciary, sometimes by the military and occasionally by both – and a politics that is as polarised as ever, the answer does not lie in packing up parliamentary democracy. It is rather hidden in removing challenges and obstacles that the system faces, especially from those who continue to wield power without having to be in office — whether in robes or in uniform.