The problem with Pakistan’s democracy

By Farahnaz Ispahani

 

On Sunday, former military dictator Pervez Musharraf was at last given permission to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 11, but only in the northern district of Chitral. Two other districts rejected his nomination papers, and his application in Islamabad is still pending. Elections officials in Pakistan, acting under directives of the country’s Supreme Court, have excluded several candidates — among them Musharraf — from running in the elections. This pre-selection of candidates is based on controversial Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, decreed by military ruler General Zia ul-Haq in 1985 as part of his Islamization agenda. These articles forbid anyone who does not meet the test of being a good Muslim or patriotic Pakistani from becoming members of Pakistan’s parliament. Until now, the highly subjective criteria of these provisions have never been implemented in practice.

This time around, the Election Commission of Pakistan has allowed officials in each parliamentary district to vet candidates. The result is a mish-mash of arbitrary decisions. Almost 100 members of the out-going legislatures, many of them deemed popular enough to win re-election, have been disqualified for producing fake college degrees at the last poll, when the generals mandated the possession of one as a pre-condition for membership in parliament. The law was changed by parliament in 2008 and it is questionable why, after serving for five years, these politicians are being challenged now.

Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was disqualified on grounds of unproven corruption allegations. Musharraf was barred from running in two districts while being found sufficiently sagacious in another. The leader of the opposition in the outgoing parliament, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, was similarly found to be lacking in the criteria in one district where he filed his nomination papers, while being allowed to run in another.

The last few days have witnessed the spectacle of Election Officers asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day, and in the case of a female candidate, even respond to the question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament and are too busy to be fulfill your religious duties as a wife and mother?”

The pre-qualification conditions have adversely affected liberal candidates while favoring Islamist ones. Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religiosity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers for Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of a banned terrorist organization, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.

In addition to facing discrimination from election officials, liberal politicians must also contend with threats from terrorists – threats that have not persuaded the judiciary or the permanent state apparatus to enhance security for these politicians. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has warned that candidates and rallies of ‘secular’ parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Awami National Party (ANP) would be targeted, and the targeting has already begun. The ANP lost one of its finest leaders, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a few months ago. The TTP took credit for the murder.

The elimination of liberal political figures must be seen as part of the process of creeping Islamization, as well as the permanent militarization of Pakistan, which began during Zia ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. Using Islam and a narrow definition of patriotism to limit the options available to voters is nothing new. It is a direct outcome of Pakistan’s long history of dominance by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as the ‘establishment.’ In addition to existing under direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges, and civil servants.

No elected parliament was ever allowed to complete its full term until this year. But instead of allowing voters to choose the new government in a free and fair election, the establishment wants to make sure that the voters have only limited choice at the polls. A direct military coup is no longer feasible. The politicians, led by President Asif Zardari, have foiled bids by the judiciary to virtually become the executive. The battle between elected leaders and unelected judges has come at great cost to several outspoken individuals in the country’s politics. Now, an election with pre-qualification could ensure the establishment’s supremacy without overtly pulling back the democratic façade.

From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided, or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate. This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub Khan (1958-69), Yahya Khan (1969-71), Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Musharraf (1999-2008) at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.

General Zia ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. He drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways that have proved difficult to reverse, even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the Islamic provisions introduced by Zia ul-Haq persist, enabling the establishment to use Islam as an instrument of control and influence over the body politic.

Article 62 demands that a candidate for parliament demonstrate that “he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions; he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; and that he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.”

Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if “he has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.”

Both constitutional provisions provide considerable leeway to an ideological judiciary to influence the electoral process and exclude critics of the establishment from the next legislature. The recent celebration and positive commentary over parliament completing its term should not distract us from an ugly reality. Pakistan’s establishment may have refrained from another direct coup, but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote for whomever they choose.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and former Media Advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, as well as a writer and minority rights advocate.

Link to original article http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/04/08/the_problem_with_pakistans_democracy#.UWMoxoNsxus.twitter

Elections 2013: The Pakistan establishment strikes back

 Farahnaz Ispahani

As Pakistan approaches its next general elections, scheduled for 11  May, questions have arisen once again about the fairness of the electoral process. The problem stems from Pakistan’s long history of meddling in politics by unelected institutions of state, euphemistically referred to as “the establishment.” In addition to direct military rule for half its life as an independent country, Pakistan has always lived in the shadow of the ubiquitous influence of generals, judges and civil servants.

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If Ayub Khan was the man who laid the foundations of Pakistan’s praetorian creed, General Zia-ul-Haq created structures for limiting democracy that would outlast him. Zia-ul-Haq drastically changed the constitution and legal regime in ways where reversing these changes has proved difficult even a quarter century after his death. The outgoing Pakistani parliament completed its term and amended the constitution to make it closer to what it was originally intended to be. But the poisoned legacy of Zia-ul Haq endures, enabling the establishment to use Islam as the instrument of control and influence over the body politic.

 

Soon after the elections were called, Pakistan’s human rights and democracy icon Asma Jahangir tweeted:  “Please read Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution before closing your minds. Witch-hunting will start selectively.” These articles were inserted by Zia-ul-Haq and are still retained in the Constitution because conservative and Islamic parties refused to amend it over the preceding five years.

Returning Officers are asking candidates to recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times a day. AFP

Article 62 lays down that a candidate for parliament must demonstrate that “(d) he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions; (e) he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices, obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; (f) he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law; (g) he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan, worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.”

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Article 63 disqualifies a Pakistani from becoming an MP if: (g) he has   been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for propagating   any opinion, or acting in any manner, prejudicial to the ideology of   Pakistan, or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan, or  morality, or the maintenance of public order, or the integrity or  independence of the judiciary of Pakistan, or which defames or  brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan”.

The Election Commission of Pakistan is now using these articles to  pre-select candidates. Returning Officers are asking candidates to  recite specific verses from the Quran, prove that they pray five times  a day and, in case of a woman candidate, even respond to the  question “How can you be a good mother if you serve in parliament  and are too busy to fulfil your religious duties as a wife and mother?”

Columnist Ayaz Amir, who is part of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim  League, has been disqualified from running as a candidate because he wrote articles that were “disparaging” about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Ironically, militant and terrorist leaders have had no problem in meeting the litmus test of religious sagacity and commitment to Pakistan’s ideology. Nomination papers of Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, who heads Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a reincarnation of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, were cleared even though he has publicly acknowledged his role in the killing of Shias in the country.

A few of us saw this coming some years ago. The establishment started with my husband, former Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, who has battled the establishment and its ideology, especially through his book ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military.’ He was dubbed a ‘traitor’, stopped from leaving the country by the Supreme Court even though he faced no legal charges and tarred through the establishment-controlled media. The Supreme Court was criticised by the International Commission of Jurists for acting outside the law to impose its view of patriotism in Husain Haqqani’s case.

Soon after that, I was handpicked and disqualified by the Pakistani Supreme Court on grounds of having dual nationality even though Pakistani law allows citizens to retain dual citizenship with several countries. The Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the law allows judges, generals and bureaucrats to hold two citizenships but not elected members of parliament. Subsequently, the Supreme Court even refused to share information with parliament about judges who are dual nationals.

The unstated argument seems to be that unelected institutions are superior and can be trusted more than mere mortals elected by ordinary people. From the establishment’s perspective, Pakistan’s politicians cannot be trusted to lead or run the country even if they manage to get elected by popular vote. The political system must somehow be controlled, guided or managed by the unelected institutions who deem themselves morally superior and even more patriotic than those supported by the electorate.

This patrician approach is reflected in the assertions of Generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf at the time they took power in coups d’état. It can also be found in the constant efforts by Supreme Court judges and civil servants to second-guess the people by deciding who is and who is not eligible to run in elections.

The establishment may have allowed parliament to complete its term and refrained from another direct coup but it is still far from accepting the basic premise of democracy – the supremacy of parliament among institutions and the right of the people to vote whomever they choose.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament-

The article was originally published by Firstpost http://www.firstpost.com/world/elections-2013-the-pakistan-establishment-strikes-back-688647.html 

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: a legacy of democracy.

Bhutto
Shaheed Z A Bhutto

By Farahnaz Ispahani

Every year on the 4th of April all Pakistani democrats take a moment to remember Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Dubbed ‘Black Day,’ it is the anniversary of one of the most tragic political murders in the country’s history, albeit one conducted with judicial approval. Bhutto was Pakistan’s first popularly elected democratic politician. He is still mourned today unlike any other political leader born in our land. His political journey, as well as his assassination, gave birth to an enduring legacy.

The worst military dictator Pakistan has borne, General Zia ul- Haq, had overthrown the constitutional order through a military coup on July 5, 1977. But his plans to rule with an iron hand by murdering democracy, burying rule of law, and terminating peoples power required the elimination of the man who could mobilise the people against him. It is for this reason that Zia ul Haq sent Shaheed Bhutto to the gallows via a show-trial —a judicial murder never to be forgotten.

In a letter to his daughter, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in 1978 from prison Quaid-e-Awam Bhutto wrote “Your grand-father taught me the politics of pride, your grandmother taught me the politics of poverty. I am beholden to both for the fine synthesis. To you, my darling daughter, I give only one message. It is the message of the morrow, the message of history. Believe only in the people, work only for their emancipation and equality. The paradise of God lies under the feet of your mother. The paradise of politics lies under the feet of the people.”

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto continued her father’s mission only to die at the hands of the same mindset on December 27, 2007 –this time a brutal assassination without the pretense of legalities.

The essence of democracy and the struggle of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is based on the vision and mission of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his absolute belief in democracy as the best system of governance for Pakistan. As Mr. Bhutto said in an address to the Pakistan Bar Council in Lahore on the 30th of January 1973 “Institutions are not directly concerned with the people. The judiciary is not directly concerned with the people. The people are beneficiary of the judiciary. The people have their contact. But they don’t bring the judiciary into being in the sense they bring the Government into being in an election. So, the legislature, the parliament, the people are concerned with it. But, in order to see that the parliament does not fall to the caprices and the whims of members and other factors, you give it a period of time to make that institution grow.”

Unfortunately, for the people and for Pakistan itself his wisdom was ignored. And, as we have seen through the last five years of democratic rule, the unelected and indirect forces have played a major role in trying to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. However, in spite all those efforts the PPP and its coalition partners including the ANP and MQM played a role in attaining the first complete democratic term in Pakistan’s recent history.

Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a Pakistan Day message delivered on March 23, 1973 spoke about the Pakistani Constitution that had finally been drafted with national consensus.

“The adoption of the constitution will be a milestone in Pakistan’s history. For 26 years, a power structure dominated by the bureaucracy and a military junta and bolstered by self-seeking politicians thwarted the establishment of democratic institutions and denied to the people an ordered political life. The nation remained in the grip of a dreadful vice forged by the egoism of one group and the obscurantism of another. The result was the complacency, the confusion, the incoherence and the loss of pride and confidence that brought us untold sorrow and splintered the nation founded in 1947.”

The democratic government that governed Pakistan from 2008-2013 restored and strengthened the Constitution of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto through the 18th amendment. The constitution had been distorted with amendments introduced by dictators. This crucial amendment gave the provinces greater power and the resources to directly govern their areas and people.

Mr. Bhutto’s era was the age of revolution for Pakistan. He mobilized the country’s first mass-based political party. The Pakistan Peoples Party became the undiluted voice of the people and opened the way for other parties to similarly try and reach out to the people. The slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makaan” brought the needs of the people into Pakistani politics for the first time. He was hated by the drawing room elites because he transferred power to the voters and therefore to the towns and villages. He has never been forgiven for this. And, neither was his daughter Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto or the PPP.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto changed the history of Pakistan by empowering citizens to have a voice. His voice was silenced. It is time to hear the voices of the citizens again.

The writer is a former member of the National Assembly-

The article published in Daily Times on 04/04/2013 Link: http://alturl.com/dxnto