Feb 28, 2009

Judgment Day

The imposition of dictatorial rule by the Centre in Punjab appears to be a pre-planned move and does not augur well for the future of democratic governance in the country. As a result of the imposition of governor's rule in Punjab over half the population of the country has been deprived of the right to be ruled by elected representatives. Dictatorship comes in many forms, civilian and military. However, civilian dictatorships are harder to challenge as they appear in the garb of democracy and are therefore more deceptive. Under military dictatorships the enemy of democracy stands in broad daylight and can be resisted, opposed and finally overthrown. The civilian dictator, standing in the twilight zone between legitimacy and illegitimacy, is akin to the enemy within – much harder to resist. A long line of events suggests that this move had been contemplated and planned long before the open acrimony between the PPP and PML-N. Firstly, it seemed strange that a governor, appointed by the military dictator to serve his own nefarious designs, was not removed upon takeover by a civilian government. He was obviously retained to be used at the appropriate time. Secondly, there never seemed to be any genuine or sincere desire to restitute the legal judiciary. The restitution of the de jure judiciary was seen as a favour to the PML-N, rather than as the demand of 83 percent of the people as shown by a poll conducted in 2008. Consequently, concessions were extracted from the PML-N in the form of joining the federal ministries and taking oath from Musharraf, albeit with black armbands as a form of protest. The PML-N capitulated to the demand in order to fulfil the promise of restoration of the judges. The Bhurban Declaration was never meant to be honoured and was predictably not kept. Its main purpose was to ensure that the PML-N joins the federal ministries to share the blame for the looming catastrophes. A second promise was made to restore the judiciary by May 12, 2008, and this time the PML-N was made to accept the PCO judges and the increase in the number of judges to 29. This was accepted in the passage of the finance bill. This time too the PML-N gave in to the demand in order to ensure judicial restoration. But it was once again deceived as the intention was never to restore the judiciary but to ensure acceptance of the PCO judges. The third promise of the restitution of the pre-Nov 3, 2007, judiciary was made in August 2008. This time the price extracted from the PML-N was in the form of a resolution by the Punjab Assembly asking Musharraf to resign or face impeachment. Once such a resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority, the government again reneged on its promise, citing vague reasons. This third betrayal led to the resignation of PML-N federal ministers who had joined the cabinet on the condition that the judiciary would be restored. The lies, deceit and betrayals all three times were merely seen by the government as outwitting and hoodwinking the rival PML-N. They were not perceived for what they really were: deceiving the people. The promises had been made in full media glare to the nation and not merely to the PML-N, which was merely a partner in the promise. The ease with which the government wriggled out of its solemn pledges seriously damaged its credibility. But intoxicated with the prospect of absolute power it concentrated totally on capturing all the powerful slots, instead of caring about the people in whose name votes were received by the parliamentarians. The PPP was completely obsessed with capturing as many powerful posts as possible – president, prime minister, speaker, Senate chairman, provincial governors and PPP-led or PPP-supported governments in all provinces. Additionally, the government sought to have a docile and tamed judiciary and election commission in order to serve its political ends. The restoration of the judiciary was used merely as a bargaining chip to acquire as much political power as possible. Every solemn promise was merely a ploy; every pledge was merely a deal – a bargain to gain maximum advantage, not to do what was right, legal, moral and just. Realpolitik had completely replaced any semblance of politics of principles. Once the powerful slots were captured and the rival parties "outwitted," the stage was set to conquer Punjab, the last political territory that had eluded the raging conquerors! The governor in Punjab was now activated. He obliged willingly, for he has his own axe to grind with the Sharifs. There was a spate of inciting and highly provoking statements about turning Punjab into a bastion of the PPP, making Lahore into Larkana. Just as the Presidency, supposedly the symbol of the federation and free of partisan politics, had become the hotbed of party politics and intrigue, the Governor House in Lahore became the centre of political party meetings and conspiracies instead of remaining neutral, dignified and away from partisan politics. The constant attempts to destabilise the Punjab government by making incessant statements against it, and frequently declaring that Punjab would soon be ruled by the PPP, the governor left no doubt as to the intention of the rulers. The two-part conspiracy involving a technical knockout by a pliant judiciary and then imposing governor's rule was finally carried out on the Day of Judgment when the Sharifs were conveniently declared ineligible, and the indirectly elected president and the non-elected governor took over control of Punjab, completely overriding the verdict of the people who had chosen their representatives to rule them. The timing suited the federal government perfectly as the lawyers' march was only a few weeks away and will need to be suppressed with an iron hand. The non-elected governor--who had no votes to worry about in any fair election for he was merely an appointee of an unpopular dictator--was the perfect choice to use the techniques of his former master in order to repress the freedom of expression and speech that the long march would signify. The second advantage of imposition of governor's dictatorship at this juncture was, of course, that the government would get time to either persuade the Q-League to join hands with it to install an alternative government in Punjab or create a forward block to dislodge the PML-N government after governor's rule ends. History reveals a secret that politicians seem to forget again and again. The more powerful a politician or leader becomes the greater are the chances of his fall. Benazir Bhutto had become prime minister in 1993 and installed Farooq Laghari as president and also had a pliant judiciary. In November 1996 the capture of all these slots could not save her government. In 1997 Nawaz Sharif had two-thirds majority and had captured the slots of prime minister, Punjab chief minister and president. He even had a chief justice, a president and an army chief removed. In 1999 all this concentration of power failed to save his government. Pervez Musharraf was unable to retain his throne despite having been a military dictator and holding all the powers given under the 17th Amendment. The lesson is that the moment a prime minister or president becomes too powerful, concentrates all powers within the presidency (the powers granted by the 17th amendment and 58 2 b), and captures all the major slots that carry power he becomes a threat to too many other centers of power. Too much power leads to loss of power. Too much hubris leads to the end of arrogance and haughty self-righteousness. Right now, the PPP may have executed a minutely planned and carefully crafted operation to demolish all opposition and become all-powerful. It will likely use strong-arm tactics against the lawyers, media and opposition. A simple lesson in history could serve to remind it that the opposition is not an enemy to be vanquished. It is a partner in democracy despite disagreements. Debate and disagreements are the essence of democracy and crushing the opposition through dictatorial methods can lead to one's own ultimate demise. Judgment Day 2009 was yet another dark day in the collection of many dark days in Pakistan's history. It reminded one of Nov 3, 2007, the day of the coup against the judiciary. It was reminiscent of the judicial murder of Prime Minister Z A Bhutto. In some ways it was also reminiscent of the loss of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 as she was the most popular leader. Now the expulsion of two of the most popular leaders from the political arena will not serve to strengthen democracy. It may ring the death knell for democracy.The writer is a researcher specialising in social development.

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