With another election on the horizon, there are many who continue to place their hopes in the electoral processes, but past experiences raise doubts about its effectiveness in bringing lasting stability.
The question ‘whether Pakistan needs democracy or stability’ has long been a subject of contention in the national discourse. Historically, elections have failed to deliver the desired stability, resulting in political tussles and conflicts. Let us examine the past elections to reinforce the argument that this exercise alone might not guarantee political stability in the country. With another election on the horizon, there are many who continue to place their hopes in the electoral processes, but past experiences raise doubts about its effectiveness in bringing lasting stability. An examination of our political history reveals that democratically elected governments have often strayed from the constitution and law, and prioritised personal and party interests over the national welfare. In light of these challenges, it becomes imperative to explore alternative approaches that may lead to a harmonious balance between democracy and stability.
Election Outcomes and Their Impact
The 1971 elections led to the dismemberment of Pakistan. After the elections of 1977, martial law was imposed, and after the elections of 1988, the worst political tussle between Punjab and the Center began, lasting a whole decade. In 1997, Nawaz Sharif secured a two-third majority, but his government ended in 1999. Similarly, at the end of Musharraf’s tenure in 2008, it was thought that if democracy was being restored, stability would come, but once again, the story of 1988 was repeated, and Punjab and Center found themselves face-to-face.
Continued Instability Post Elections
The pattern of political instability continued even after the 2013 elections when Imran Khan’s sit-ins began, leading to a peak in political turmoil before the 2018 elections. In 2017, Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, and his party suffered defeat in 2018. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged as a new player, but its government ended prematurely in 2022 due to a no-confidence motion by the opposition. Subsequently, Imran Khan began public rallies against the government of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), further contributing to political turbulence.
The Fragility of Opposition Unity
Anticipating stability through the elimination or marginalization of a potent opposition like the PTI is a temporary solution at best. Experience has shown that unity among political parties tends to revolve around a common rival, and once that rival is out of the picture, internal discord resurfaces. A case in point is the unity exhibited against President General Pervez Musharraf, which quickly dissolved once he was no longer a factor. The same pattern could repeat with the PTI’s absence from the political scene.
Revisiting the Role of Constitution and Law
Though the ideal state demands adherence to the constitution and the rule of law, it is disheartening to observe how our political forces have manipulated these principles to serve their self-interests. When the constitution can be disregarded for personal gains, it begs the question of whether a bitter sip for the sake of national interest is feasible.
The Dilemma: Democracy vs Stability?
The looming question remains: If forced to choose between democracy and stability, which should Pakistan prioritize? The notion that democracy alone can usher in stability is not supported by historical evidence. Elections, even if held in 2023, cannot guarantee peaceful governance until 2027 or beyond. The fluctuations in the establishment’s favor further cast doubt on long-term stability.
A New Way Forward
Considering the challenges posed by traditional democratic systems, an alternative approach should be explored. A potential solution involves establishing a single central government for a prolonged period, ideally spanning two decades, protected from external interference. Such a government would be shielded from both opposition threats and establishment influence.
Creating a Leadership Council for Continuity
To achieve this vision, a leadership council could be formed, led by the current army chief, but without direct executive authority. The council’s purpose would be to appoint the chief executive, ministers, and prime minister, who would govern the country alongside the cabinet. This council would function akin to Iran’s Shura Nighaban, comprising key figures from various sectors with no personal gain from public resources. Their sole focus would be on ensuring government continuity.
Empowering Local Governments
With powers transferred to local representatives through a robust local government system, democracy would flourish at the grassroots level. The stability achieved through consistent economic policies would propel the nation out of the economic crisis, while an improved level of education and awareness would empower citizens in choosing their representatives.
In conclusion, a careful examination of Pakistan’s political history and the challenges of its democratic processes necessitate a reevaluation of the conventional approach to governance. Striking a balance between democracy and stability is the key to the nation’s progress. By exploring innovative measures, such as a leadership council for the continuity and empowering the local governments, Pakistan can potentially pave the way for a stable and prosperous future. It is essential for all stakeholders, including the international community, to recognize and support this new vision, understanding that true progress requires a departure from the status-quo.