Democracy and election : Pakistan can learn from Nepal

Pakistan’s National and provincial elections held amidst apprehension of massive violence and charges of rigging on Feb.18 have sent two distinct messages. First, against the claim of Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) to sweep the election, no party could get absolute majority in the National Assembly and provinces, which will only allow

them to form coalition governments at the centre and provinces. Secondly, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), supported by Pervez Musharraf, has been almost routed along with the MMA, an amalgamation of religious parties.

Pakistanis have rejected the present regime and advised the parties to form a common platform to build a new Pakistan. It has been well begun by the PPP by endorsing autonomy for southwest province (Baluchistan) and apologising to the people for the atrocities and injustices committed against them.

Unfortunately, Pakistan could neither have its people’s constitution as its constituent assembly could not frame an all-accepted constitution nor hold fully democratically conducted elections. It could have its first constitution only in 1956 after nine years of its birth in 1947.

Issues like whether supreme legislature should be unicameral or bi-cameral were left to be decided by the provinces. Similarly, the issue of the electoral rolls to be made unified or separate for religious communities could not be settled which still dogs the democratic institutions. After the formation of Bangladesh in 1991, the second constitution was adopted in Aug 1973 which was amended drastically several times during 1977-1985 to suit the interests of the rulers, civilians or uniformed. It has been amended again by Parvez Musharraf during his regime before holding general election in 2002.

Most of the elections were held under military rule. Some of the early elections were conducted without involving political parties. During 1947-57 there was no

general election except provincial elections (1951 to 1954). The two elections were

held under the first military dictatorship (Ayub Khan, 1958-69).

The first proper election (1970) was held under the second martial law (Yahya Khan). The military regime’s refusal to accept the people’s mandate resulted in civil war and the separation of the eastern wing of the country. The 1977 general election provoked a mass agitation against irregularities and the army (Zia ul-Haq) again seized power. The people could not accept the election of 1985, held under the third martial law, as a democratic one. Civilian rule was revived by the end of 1985. Since then, the National Assembly has been dissolved in 1985, 1990, 1993, 1996 and in 1999 followed by subsequent general elections.

During the civilian rule, Benazir Bhutto was appointed Prime minister twice, in 1988 and 1993. She was dismissed in 1990 and 1996. Nawaz Sharif too became PM twice in 1990 and 1997. He was dismissed by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, who took over the regime suspending the 1973 constitution. Under international pressure, he held the election in October 2002 only after amending the constitution acquiring the right to dissolve the elected House.

Politically, Nawaz Sharif is against Musharraf as he was dismissed and banished to Saudi Arabia in 1999. Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of the slain Benazir Bhutto, might be lenient towards the president, as they have been asked to cooperate by the Bush administration. But the call of the hour is to keep a balance between the two extremes to make Pakistan democratic. Apart from ambitious president, religious clerics, and the Taliban are major stumbling blocks to the restoration of democracy. Similarly, the partnership of Musharraf with the USA in the war against international terrorism may influence decisively the future course of politics.

Above all, the army being ambitious and confrontationist towards India on the Kashmir issue will never remain confined to barracks in future too. The politicians too sometimes fan Kashmir issue for political interests. Observers feel that unless Kashmir problem is solved politically, democracy has hardly any future there. It has also made the entire SAARC region crippled.

If leaders of Pakistan decide firmly to establish democracy they will succeed like Nepali leaders who have resolved a decade-old Maoist armed conflict. The leaders of the seven-party alliance negotiated and signed a twelve-point agreement with the Maoists, held peaceful people’s movement, threw out the government, got restored the dissolved parliament, declared ceasefire, signed comprehensive peace accord, formed interim parliament, framed interim constitution and formed interim government to hold the constituent assembly election on April 10. Meeting the genuine demands of the agitating parties, CA election will be conducted to have a people’s constitution for a new Nepal.

Mishra is a former election commissioner