Power Construct and Leadership Demands
28 February, 2008
By Nasim Zehra
One, the balance of power in Pakistan's power construct has greatly shifted towards elements that constitute Constitutional democracy. The elements include political legitimacy, popular vote, independent judiciary, constitutionally granted public and state authority, elected offices and independent media. The March 9 2007 lawyers and citizens resistance marked the beginning of this shift, the results of the February 18 election exhibited the shift and the February elected parties alliance reinforced this shift. A corollary of this shift has also been the weakening of the Extra-Constitutional forces functioning outside of the parameters of the original Constitutions.
Two, as a consequence of this shift balance of power three elements operating supra-Constitutionally or with the help of supra Constitutional authorities have either been considerably weakened or have retracted from the extra Constitutional spaces they occupied. First the army which has institutionally begun to retrace its steps towards its constitutional role; second the former general now Parvez Musharraf's political authority and his time as the all authoritative supra-constitutional figure is up and third PML-Q created and patronized by general Parvez Musharraf and the agencies has been trounced at the polls. Also reportedly PML-Q's elected members of the Senate, national and provincial assemblies are busy forming forward blocs.
Three the president's vastly diminished or vanished political authority has incapacitated him administratively to take any step to challenge the authority of the elected parliament. With the legitimate political ascendance of the elected parliamentary forces the president cannot use the Constitutional powers he acquired since 1999 through Ordinances and Constitutional amendments. With the army's obvious inclination to steer clear of politics retired general Musharraf, holding a controversial presidential position, has no cards with which to begin another round of power contest between the popularly elected parliamentary forces and the Vice-regal forces.
Four the joint movement of Pakistan's major parliamentary forces towards Constitutional democracy greatly reduces the ability of agencies and the GHQ to puppeteer a new anti-democracy play. At this juncture of Pakistan's political history as genuine political forces work together according to consensus-based 'rules of the game' no IJI or MMA can be created. With PPP having wisely given a stake to all elected forces in a new setup and with PML-N determined to only play the democratic game, there are no politicians willing to play the B team for the presidency. Even the 93 independent parliamentarians voted into the national and provincial assemblies are looking towards the winning parties not the presidency.
Five the emergence of lawyers-led organized and determined citizens' groups which seek accountable exercise of State and government power and demanding restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary is significant. It has contributed to the creation of an effective democratic deterrence against the unhindered functioning of supra Constitutional forces within Pakistan's political space. The media, popular political forces and overseas Pakistanis have been a key element in this uniquely evolving Pakistani democratic deterrence. This democratic deterrence has worked to prevent the widespread rigging planned for the Election Day, as even conceded by Pakistan's Attorney-general in his telephone conversation. It was this democratic deterrence that also forced general Musharraf to roll back whatever plans he had made in November for imposition of a longer term emergency, postponement of elections and squashing media freedom. Washington had no choice but to acknowledge the emergence of this democratic deterrence against extra Constitutional forces and also seek an early end to emergency.
Six Pakistan's power parliamentary forces appear relatively more capable of resisting external pressure keen to influence Pakistan's political future and the power scene. For example Washington's advice to PPP to keep the "Islamist" Nawaz Sharif out of a future ruling coalition and to the elected parliamentarians on not insisting upon the restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary, was not adhered to. Similarly Washington's advise that the elected parties work with president Musharraf and US president's phone call of support to president Musharraf will not greatly alter the way various political leaders view president Musharraf.
Seven, the Musharraf era is over yet his political future and exit scenario is dependant on his personal decision, on the parliament's decisions and the street factor. Were the president not honor his own promise of respecting the public's verdict on his political future or the thumping failure of his eight year long political experiment and not resign then the politicians have the option to use their parliamentary strength to weaken him. As the PPP leader Amin Faheem has already stated that if the president were to get a vote of confidence from the new assembly his party can work with him. However the likelihood of a vote of confidence seems very unlikely. Some political forces within and outside of the parliament will continue to demand Musharraf's exit. His moral authority to stay on ended the day the people defeated his political party.
Eight the struggle for the restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary has greatly contributed to strengthening the struggle for rule of law in Pakistan. Whatever the public articulation of the PPP there is clear agreement between the PPP and the PML-N that restoration of the judiciary is a priority item for the two. However with various opinions on how the restoration can Constitutionally take place an immediate Task Force on Restoration of the Judiciary will have to be immediately set up to give specific recommendations on what is the quickest and the most effective way forward on this. While the lawyers' movement and the broader street strength gathered on the restoration matter will continue to exercise pressure on the parliamentarians, the elected political leadership cannot take any outside of a wisely guided consensus position evolved by a Task Force. Setting deadlines for restoration is an unwise approach but keeping the politicians on their toes through political pressure is needed.
These factors make for a clear and demanding path to a genuinely democratic Pakistan. Key issues including the president's future and the restoration of the judges need to be resolved. Instant resolutions may not be available. Patience without detouring from the Constitutional path is essential.
Pakistan is transiting from a khaki-led quasi-democracy towards a genuine Constitutional democracy. Power realignments are taking place and we stand at the edge of a new democratic dawn. The democratic forces are ascendant but not quite rooted yet. The democratic process has begun but the return of Constitutional authority to the elected parliament has yet to begin.
This is a hopeful yet precarious period. The challenge for Pakistan's parliamentary forces is to convert this shift in Pakistan's power construct into permanent ascendancy of the parliament in accordance with Pakistan's 1973 Constitution. It is time for responsible and thoughtful action not reactive behavior. The objective of the ascendancy of the parliament, of an independent judiciary and the presence of a consensus president are largely shared by the overwhelming majority of the elected forces. All elected political leadership and energy must be geared towards achieving these objectives remaining within the discipline of the Constitutional parameters and the confines of the parliament. All eyes are on the two key parties the PPP and the PML-N and also on important regional parties including the ANP and the MQM. Only jointly can they successfully respond to the many challenges- economic, political, internal security, distributive justice and foreign policy- that confront Pakistan.