The Balancing Act

The root of Pakistan’s constitutional and legislative troubles has been the inability to dequately and proportionately share the balance of power in between the executive, legislature and the armed forces. The failure of democracy to take hold in Pakistan is the result of this problem not being seriously and properly addressed. The continual intrusion of the army into the political system of Pakistan warrants a permanent solution to be carved out which throws away the key for such possibilities in the future. The divide of power and resources between the provinces has also been a continual quagmire resulting in national crises threatening the federation and has created permanent feelings of mistrust amongst the smaller provinces and alienation from the central government. The inability of governments to complete their term in office, has also been a continual source of national turmoil. The above mentioned problems ar! e all linked to the imbalance of power between various institutions and offices which have to be addressed once and for all, the failure of which will be detrimental to Pakistan’s existence and stability.

In his recent TV address president Musharaf totally rejected the concept of having a balance of power but insisted on the unity of command. He proposed of having an all powerful prime minister who on the other hand can be dismissed by the National Security council. Thus his ‘unity of command’ theory seems to be self contradictory, as the PM who is dismissed by another body is not all powerful. The NSC having such powers automatically divides the powers which Musharaf apparently wants to vest in the PM. The term ‘unity of command’ may seem to be the way how ‘soldiers to things’, but to the wider public this term spells nothing less than dictatorship. May be it should not be forgotten that the president will appoint the PM which makes it clear where the PM’s allegiance will lie. In a democracy institutions are powerful not individuals. Power is shared amongst the major institutions which stops the way of au! thoritarianism and totalitarianism.

The reforms being made to the senate at present are supposedly aimed at addressing the issues relating to the power imbalance. The direct election of members of the senate will reduce the possibilities of corruption and favoritism, having a senate which is representative of the electorate. As the senate equally and proportionately represents the provinces, it is an ideal tool to rid the grievances of the smaller provinces but this has not been the case in the past. The main reason being that senate has been rendered powerless to influence many legislative matters and has been deprived from interfering in certain matters the most important of them being the budget. Thus, in order to give the senate the importance due to the upper house in a parliamentary democracy, its powers must be enhanced. The senate of the past has been virtually insignificant in relation to all major issues, resulting in the lack of harmony betwe! en the provinces. The smaller provinces did not get their say in the formulation of legislation, depriving them of their democratic right to do so. Yet the senate equally represents each province thus any unfairness which may exist in any legislation passed by the National Assembly can be rectified by the senate. Presently it does not have this ability which nullifies the purpose and ideology of a double chamber legislature. The upper house in Britain, the House of Lords, has regularly rejected legislation passed by the House of Commons, the lower chamber, concerning many crucial national issues most recently being the banning of hunting and the teaching of homosexuality in schools. Thus the increase in the number of seats and direct elections will bear no fruit unless the powers of the senate are increased. The inability of the senate to have a positive and constructive say on the budget is a major cause of the provincial disharmony. Thus, this issue needs to be taken serio! usly by Musharaf’s government if it truly wishes to eliminate provincial disharmony, once and for all. The senate also plays a major role in keeping a check on the National Assembly.

The lack of progress, development, strong and stable economy, discontinuity of policies in Pakistan over the last decade has been by and large due to the inability of governments to complete their terms in office. In the nineties this was due to the president having the ability to dissolve parliament. A crucial point worth mentioning here is that the army did not prematurely terminate these governments namely of Banazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, but it was one of the two. The question to be considered is that should anyone or any institution (National Security Council) have the power to dissolve the whole parliament. Most decisions are made by the cabinet or the prime minister, thus any misgovernance is limited to them not the whole parliament. Thus, only the power to remove the prime minister and the government should exist. The question of whom these powers should be vested in is also imperative. The proposed Nationa! l Security Council (NSC) seems to be the only institution suitable of having such a critical power. The NSC proposed by the Musharaf Government seems to be heavily dominated by the army which annuls its purpose. To make the NSC more patriotic and effective in avoiding future crises the NSC should also include the leader of the opposition, the speaker of the NA, chairman senate and the senate opposition leader, and the four Chief Ministers. The chief of army staff represents the three forces thus only he should be in the NSC. Such a composition will better serve the purpose of the NSC.

The process of having national general elections is a national event which can only take place by the involvement of the whole of the governmental machinery and public sector workers which seriously interrupts the running of the country and costs millions. The country cannot afford to have national elections every 2 years or so, as was the case in the nineties. The whole concept of dissolving a parliament is totally undemocratic as no one should have the right to dissolve a parliament which has been elected by the people of Pakistan. Such a practice cannot exist in a democracy, where as the prime minister and the government are chosen by the elected parliament. Rather than the NSC having the power of dismissing the PM and his government, it would be more democratic if this decision was left to a full bench of the Supreme Council. If the NSC sees it fit to dismiss the PM and his government then it will refer th! e matter to the Supreme Court.

The Nawaz Sharif government was dissolved by a military coup, making it the fourth time the army has come to power. The army is such an institution which needs to be politically unbiased as its involvement in the political process damages its credibility. It must be said that the failure of the so-called democratic governments invited the army in to power. The only way to stop such a fiasco in the future is to rectify the power imbalance between the institutions, with regards to the army it needs to be given a constitutional role. The proposed NSC will fill this vacuum only if its composition is balanced and proportionate. The above mentioned proposals will end the forced entry of the army into government. This can only be achieved if the elected government and parliament fulfill their duties and responsibilities democratically and constitutionally. If the elected government is successful then the army will be forced ! to keep out of politics. The Proceeding elections will only be successful in stabilising Pakistan if the issues regarding the balance of power are addressed adequately before hand. The impression which president Musharaf has given after his speech is not a positive one, only time will tell whether he will take such recommendations seriously.

Mr. Jawed Iqbal, is an independent writer and a political analyst. His articles appear in printed and electronic media of Pakistan.