Parliamentary Democracy Is Not Workable In Pakistan – OpEd


In Pakistan, the last monsoon rains were historical. Both the metrological records and the human memory have not noted such a cascade of rainfall over a century or so. The cloudbursts continued for the three months without any respite. The uninterrupted rains brought third of Pakistan under the water. Consequently, the rain-produced floods washed away homes, crops and the animals. The million dollars property is damaged. Moreover, the torrential rains water accumulated up to the chest-high level – rendered millions homeless and foodless. The center of the downpour was Sindh and some parts of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Needless to say, the Pakistani politics centers on the Punjab, a province rains haven’t hit as badly as it has hit Sindh.

To understand the reasons that why the rains-hit people aren’t the priority of the Pakistani political parties and why the people passing through a post-disaster painful life don’t find place in the political discourse of the top Pakistani politicians and the political parties, for a brief time, we would turn to the neighboring country, India. India is a heterogeneous country – multi-national. In India, the followers of Hinduism are in the absolute majority. The majority of them are the right-wing Hindu nationalists. Therefore, the Bharatiya Janata Party has well-sensitized the religious sentiments of the Hindu population. This strategy of the BJP has swept it to power for the two consecutive terms.  

With this strategy of ignition of the religious feelings and the sentiments, the BJP has successfully secured a thumping majority of the Hindu voters – enough parliamentary seats to form the government at the federal level without needing the Muslim votes and any single Muslim Member Parliament. The BJP India is the classic example of the majoritarianism. Thus, in a multi-national state, the parliamentary democracy, in fact, has turned out to be a government of the majority nation, by the majority nation, for the majority nation. Resultantly, the majority nation excludes or renders inconsequential the true representatives of the comparatively small nations from and in the vital decision and the policy making forums, councils and the houses. Accordingly, the multi-national state has become the fiefdom of the majority nation. Now let us come to the subject under discussion.

The torrential monsoon rains have swamped nearly 1.1 million homes. The death toll has reached 1200, including around 400 children. At least 18,000 schools and a large number of hospitals have been damaged. The heavy rains have destroyed the vital infrastructure: roads, bridges, railroads, and etcetera. Besides, the flash floods have inundated millions of acres of the standing crops, and around a million livestock has died. The worst of all, the rain-caused floods have adversely impacted 16 million children; and moreover, 3.4 million of the affected children are in the dire need of humanitarian aid. The winter is imminent – hundreds of thousands of the unsheltered are at risk. Apart from the children, the United Nations Population Fund approximates that 650,000 women dwell in the rain-hit areas. And of these, the 73,000 have delivered babies and are in the instant maternal health care need.

In addition, the water-borne diseases have already erupted. Also, the infrastructure destruction has exacerbated the sufferings of the abandoned people as the international aid agencies are being hindered to carry out the relief, rescue and the food supply operations. Now, the question is that why almost all the top politicians and their political parties are active only in the Punjab, a less affected and comparatively rich province, and why there is no mention of the flood-impacted people in their narrative – electoral manifesto? To respond to this question, we will correlate India’s demographic composition and the political system with Pakistan’s.

Pakistan, like India, is a multi-national state. Furthermore, both India and Pakistan are        constitutionally/theoretically federal parliamentary democracies. Pakistan is a union of the four major nations: the Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Baluchs, among many other small ones. Of all these four major nations, only the Punjab constitutes more than 55 percent population.

The parliamentary democracy is the representative and the responsible form of the government. The parliamentary government consists of the two houses, upper house and the lower house – in the Pakistani case National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly, the lower house, is elected on the basis of the universal franchise – on the basis of population. While the Senate, the upper house, is indirectly elected by the members of the provincial assemblies. The both houses don’t enjoy equal powers. The National Assembly is more powerful than the Senate. In the parliamentary form of the government, the executive is elected from within the lower house and is responsible to the same house where it is elected from. Thus, in a multi-national parliamentary democratic state in which a single nation preponderates in terms of population, it makes the executive and holds it accountable to itself for its acts. 

Accordingly, in Pakistan, the Punjab consists of 55 percent population; therefore, every party aspiring to form the government at the center panders to the Punjab on the cost of all other small nations and the communities. So, every country-level party consumes all its energies to secure maximum votes from the Punjab. Moreover, all major political parties keep mum on the injustices wrought by the Punjab to the other small nations. Thus, even though two provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan are going through the ordeal times yet all the major political parties are politicking in the Punjab.

Moreover, as a matter of fact, in the democracies, the majority makes the government. Thus, in a multi-national democratic state, the majority nation makes the government. So, in the case of India, Hindus make the government; and in the case of Pakistan, the Punjab makes the government. For that reason, in this situation, the state interest and the interest of the majority nation invariably overlap. Moreover, as the matter of the fact, the state nationalism and the nationalism of the majority natiosn more or less are the same.

In fact, in a multi-national parliamentary democratic state, sometimes the regime degenerates into an oligarchy. In the parliamentary form of the government, if the government party doesn’t have the majority to legislate, it resorts to the presidential ordinances. And in this situation, only a coterie imposes the laws on the masses. The fact is that in a multi-national parliamentary democratic government that coterie usually hails from the majority nation. 

Indeed, in a multi-national state in which a single nation is in the dominant position, the presidential form of the government is yet the worst for the comparatively small nations and the communities. In the presidential form of the democracy, the executive is directly elected by the people. So, the small nations will never be able to get their candidate elected. Thus, in the presidential form of the government, the majority nation has a perpetual grip on the executive election. 

The 21st century is the century of the technology and the century of the civil unrest. The majority of the states are the multi-national states. The fact is that the majority nation has been unduly dominating the comparatively small nations in a multi-nation state. As a result of technological abundance, the small nations and the communities have been sensitized and well-informed about their rights and resources usurpations. This has ushered in an era of the civil war or the civil unrest. 

To avoid the intra-state violence, the modification or the alteration in the methods and the procedures of the executive making should be made so that the small nations can be saved from the brute majoritarianism. It is the need of the hour to alter the democracy to fit in the multi-national state.

In this context, the introduction of the consociational democracy in the multi-national states can avoid and mitigate the civil wars and the civil unrest. Thus, Pakistan is a mature case for the adoption of the consociational democracy in which the executive powers are distributed among the different nations according to the geographic and the cultural bases, not on the basis of the population.

Raza Shahani teaches at the Department of Pakistan Studies, Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur, Sindh, Pakistan

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