With the country in the throes of a political crisis yet again, it may appear that we really don’t have a solution to our problems. Give the politicians a situation, any situation, and it seems they will invariably find a way to make a hash of it. Yet, in the past year there have been at least three instances when the politicians have demonstrated what a rules-based democracy could look like, were it ever given a chance to take root.
First and most recently is the demonstration by the PML-N that it still has the numbers to form a government in Punjab. More than 200 MPAs responded to the PML-N’s call and have publicly thrown their weight behind the party, an unambiguous informal vote of confidence that should be heeded by Governor Taseer. From the point of view of democracy, the battle for Punjab could have been less damaging if the protagonists had remained within the confines of the assembly.
The PPP erred by imposing governor’s rule and scuppering the Punjab Assembly’s will. The PML-N erred by resorting to street protests in which public and private property has been damaged. Governments rising and falling is always destablising, but worse is the outcome where both sides take the battle outside the confines of the assemblies.
The second positive example is the unopposed election of 31 senators from Sindh, Punjab, the NWFP and Islamabad after rival parties accepted their relative strengths in the assemblies and worked out a compromise. The alternative, an ugly free-for-all in which money plays a dominant role, occurred yesterday with the contested elections of the remaining 19 Senate slots from Balochistan, NWFP and Fata.
A report in this paper last week suggested that a Fata Senate seat, elected by the 11 Fata MNAs, could cost as much as Rs300m. The contrast between the two processes could not be starker: greed and defiance engendered uncertainty; cooperation and an acceptance of how the electorate voted produced stability.
The third example is the impeachment process of President Musharraf. The president was expertly isolated by having the provincial assemblies pass resolutions against him and was then left to decide if he wanted to face the humiliation of being ousted by parliament.
He chose to resign, and democracy benefited because the battle had been fought inside the assemblies. Apparently then, the democratic method is alive and can and has been used to good effect. The problem of course is that it has been used too infrequently. Yet, while the transition to democracy was never expected to be smooth, it remains the only option for a better future.
It is still not too late to put the transition back on track but for that the politicians must remember that rules-based cooperation is always better than no-rules opposition.