The myth of guided democracy
The whole argument on
which the constitutional package is based, that the prime minister needs to
have more checks, is flawed. The office of the prime minister never had
enough powers in the first place. In the last phase of democracy, if it ever
was one, the prime ministers were never allowed more than a tiny portion of
the power enshrined in the Constitution
By Amir Mateen
The crux of the constitutional package lies in the proposed power equation
between the office of the prime minister and the president. And if one
clears the fog around this mass of subordinate proposals, no less important
though, it boils downs to basically a new deal that the military is offering
But this whole package has been woven around some faulty assumptions. Such
is the impact of these myths, fabricated over the years through constant
propaganda, that they are by and large accepted as real. One such myth is
about the office of the prime minister.
It is generally alleged that successive prime ministers since 1985 have
failed to govern adequately. They were corrupt and primarily responsible for
what ails this country. They did not have the ability to grasp its internal
dynamics, nor had the vision to steer its foreign policy in the right
direction. This may not be entirely true.
And yet they delivered reasonably under circumstances where any military
dictator, despite absolute power at his disposal, would not have matched
even a fraction of their performance.
The whole argument on which the constitutional package is based, that the
prime minister needs to have more checks, is flawed. The office of the prime
minister never had enough powers in the first place. In the last phase of
democracy, if it ever was one, the prime ministers were never allowed more
than a tiny portion of the power enshrined in the Constitution. They just
had on average 10 per cent of the budget resources from which, among other
things, they were expected to provide healthcare, education and food to a
multitude of 140 million people (with the rest going to defence, debt
servicing, again largely caused by defence, and the cost of running the
Their contribution in foreign policy was even less. Kashmir and Afghanistan
were no-go-areas for the foreign office as confirmed recently by former
foreign minister Sartaj Aziz. They were required to bear the brunt when
something went wrong.
Most top civilian appointments, including that of ambassadors, were cleared
by the military. Military personnel had to be accommodated much more than
their quotas in district management, police and most civilian departments.
The Parliament too was hamstrung when it came to something remotely linked
to military. It was never allowed to discuss defence budget, let alone the
much-needed reforms for better security. Even the cabinets were formed on
the recommendations of the military, particularly in 1985 and 1988.
On top of everything, there was this constant fear, sometimes deliberately
created to keep the prime ministers and parliamentarians on their toes.
Intelligence agencies played a blatant role in pitting presidents against
prime ministers, using bureaucrats, journalists and sometimes members of the
judiciary, as pawns in the murky game of politics.
The prime ministers in many ways were the most pitiful creatures, constantly
hounded and harassed, their phones recorded. Tax-payers' money was used to
dislodge them through no-confidence motions.
With all this happening against the supposedly most powerful person, one
can't blame Nawaz Sharif's paranoia for trying to silence the opposition.
The officially-orchestrated insecurity absolves even Benazir for overly
relying on her intelligence goons.
The two did many wrong things. But the turmoil of the last 17 years was not
just about corruption and bad governance. Otherwise, why throw out Mohammad
Khan Junejo who did pretty well on both these counts. The issue is that the
military is not willing to give up power that it has enjoyed all these 50
And yet the successive prime ministers carried along an imbalanced system,
where the military was not just unwilling to introduce reforms and
accountability in its own ranks but intelligence agencies were allowed to
operate against sitting governments.
The proposed package will further weaken the Prime Minister and the
Parliament. It is so lopsided in favour of the president backed by the
military and the proposed National Security Council that it may not work at
all. The three-year average tenure of assemblies since 1985 may come down to
three months, almost like the pre-1958 era.
The package reduces the prime minister to a puppet caught in a tangle of
strings originating from the president and the NSC on the one hand and the
Parliament on the other. The prime minister will have no leverage over
provinces as the chief ministers will look up to governors, again the
nominees of the president, for their survival. He or she will be pressurised
by the Parliament, held accountable for things that he or she may not know
about. While the major decisions will be made by the President and the NSC,
the prime minister will bear the brunt. The president will nominate the
prime minister, who will not have to be the leader of the majority of
assembly members and who will be required to gather a two-thirds majority,
by hook or by crook, to indemnify the Presidential powers. The irony is that
there'll be many among political stooges willing to offer themselves for the
But the question is, will such a prime minister be able to satisfy the
insatiable demands of the rulers to keep the lopsided system alive and
maintain the perks and privileges of one class of people?
Many feel that if there is some desire for saving the system, only a prime
minister with more powers can deliver. The thrust of the much-needed reforms
should be to give power to the prime minister and the Parliament. The prime
minister needs to be freed from the shackles that it has always worked
under. Musharraf's mere presence in that high office, even if his powers are
as restricted as that of Fazl Elahi Chaudhary, will be a sufficient
deterrent. The military does not need iron clad guarantees, if at all it
develops inclination to boot out the prime minister at some stage.
What really hurts in the package is the underlying contempt for collective
wisdom. The rationale for a guided democracy rests, again, on myths and
assumptions: that democracy is not suited to this country; that the threat
of the enemy demands an overwhelming role of the military; that politicians
are not capable of understanding the dynamics of national security; that the
military is the only institution capable of guiding the dim-witted masses.
Unfortunately, these contentions are not backed by substance. After 55 years
of direct and indirect rule by the military, the country still struggles to
emerge out of the disaster zone. Let's give the civvies more than a label,