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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Breaking the nexus between politics & corruption in Pakistan

APTMA Secretary General Shahid Sattar explains how Pakistan's political landscape is marred by a focus on electoral victories and personal gains. By reimagining the political system with strong reforms, Pakistan can pave the way for a more transparent and accountable governance structure that serves the welfare of its citizens.

As a democratic nation, Pakistan, observes a parliamentary form of governance, principally characterized by a multi-tiered system of government with a federal structure. The Constitution of Pakistan, serving as the bedrock of its political structure, provides the key principles and institutional mechanisms that govern the state’s affairs.

Deplorably, a prevailing trend has emerged within Pakistan’s political landscape wherein the exclusive pursuit of electoral triumph and illicit commercial gains has become the singular preoccupation of politicians. The obsession with electoral victory, while superficially serving as a means to attain power, has inadvertently skewed the focus away from the more profound objectives of governance, thereby hampering the establishment of a robust and resilient political system in Pakistan.

The public’s trust in politicians has been eroded by corruption scandals driven by personal gains and wealth-seeking. To address this, there’s a demand for the separation of powers to break the corruption cycle and delink the state structures from the money-making aspect of the electoral system. The Household Survey conducted in 2022 by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA) in Pakistan reveals significant dissatisfaction with government performance at all levels.

The survey involved 6,400 households across 111 districts, representing all but 20 of the country’s 131 districts. Respondents expressed the highest level of mistrust towards the federal government (67%) and provincial governments (65%), while 52% lacked trust in local governments. The province of Sindh recorded the largest percentage of frustration with government representatives at 81%, followed by Punjab at 52%.

The lack of confidence extends to state institutions, with only 12% fully trusting the parliament, 14% fully trusting the judiciary, 8% fully trusting the Election Commission Pakistan (ECP), 4% fully trusting the federal government, 3% fully trusting the provincial governments, and 32% expressing no trust in their local governments. These findings highlight a concerning trust deficit in the ability of institutions to deliver public goods.

Read more: Leveling the Field: Challenges in Pakistani Politics

Politicians mostly lose sight of the broader, long-term national interests that demand their unwavering attention by placing undue emphasis on electoral success and monetary benefits (legal or illegal) accrued as a result. The pursuit of abrupt electoral gains leads to a neglect of critical issues such as socioeconomic inequality, sustainable development, and human rights, which necessitate comprehensive and sustained policy interventions. This short-sighted approach not only hampers the country’s progress but also compromises the welfare of its citizens.

The hyper-focus on electoral success at the expense of meaningful governance has led to a growing disillusionment among the public, resulting in a profound erosion of trust in the political process. When political candidates prioritize electoral gains over the well-being of the citizenry, it stimulates a sense of cynicism and disengagement among the electorate, undermining the actual foundation of democracy. Such a decline in trust eventually deteriorates the legitimacy and effectiveness of the political system, posing a grave threat to the country’s stability and development.

The elimination of the non-separation of powers could lead to a more accountable and effective government in Pakistan, with a focus on those genuinely interested in the nation’s welfare rather than personal gains. Pakistan faces three significant issues. Firstly, it still follows colonial laws, which may hinder modern legal development. Secondly, the persistence of the feudal system perpetuates inequalities and limits progress.

Read more: How Feudalism is deeply ingrained into Sindh politics

Thirdly, the influence of the countable wealthy families acts as an iron triangle, potentially leading to an entrenched oligarchy. Breaking this monopoly requires careful selection of public representatives and reducing their influence. Addressing these challenges necessitates comprehensive legal reforms, social initiatives, and structural changes to create a more prosperous and just Pakistan.

Separation of powers

The imperative of establishing a clear and strong demarcation between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government cannot be overstated. The separation of powers serves as a foundational principle in democratic systems, ensuring checks and balances, preventing the concentration of authority, and safeguarding against possible abuses of power. By delineating separate spheres of responsibility, the separation of powers promotes institutional autonomy, facilitates accountability, and encourages the impartial distribution of authority within the political system.

Granting the legislative branch more authority over the judiciary could risk compromising its independence and subjecting it to political influence. Instead, a system of checks and balances ensures that no single branch has unchecked power, and each act as a check on the others. In this way, a strong, independent judiciary can uphold the rule of law and safeguard citizens’ rights by providing oversight on the actions of both the executive and legislative branches.

The current system in Pakistan exhibits several challenges and shortcomings with regard to upholding a robust separation of powers. In practice, there is a noticeable blurring of the lines between the branches, thereby undermining the checks and balances envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. The conflation of roles and functions creates an environment conducive to executive overreach. It also exacerbates the vulnerability of the system to political manipulation and arbitrary decision-making.

Countries such as Turkey, France, and China have successfully implemented a system of government with a clear separation of powers. Turkey has a parliamentary system where the executive, led by the President, operates independently from the legislature. This separation has contributed to a more balanced distribution of powers, preventing excessive concentration of authority and enabling effective checks and balances. Similarly, France operates under a semi-presidential system, with a clear distinction between the branches. The President holds significant executive powers, while the legislature maintains its autonomy to enact laws and scrutinize the executive’s actions.

Read more: Threats to Parliamentary system & possible solutions

Contrastingly, China employs a different system, characterized by a separation of powers that is more nuanced. While the Communist Party holds significant influence over both branches, there exists a system of checks and balances within the Party apparatus itself. Important decision-making processes involve several layers of consultation and deliberation, ensuring collective decision-making and decreasing the risk of concentrated power. Although differing in nature from Western democratic models, this example underscores the importance of establishing mechanisms to limit the buildup of power and promote accountability, even within non-Western political systems.

Pakistan can glean valuable insights into the design and implementation of a separation of powers that suits its unique political context. Lessons learned from successful systems can inform institutional reforms that address the current challenges and shortcomings, bolstering the independence of the executive and legislative branches, and safeguarding the democratic principles upon which the political system is built.

The removal of elected Prime Ministers in Pakistan recently as well as previously, has also highlighted the significant authority held by the sacrosanct judiciary, a pivotal institution in any democratic setup. The roots of Pakistan’s judiciary trace back to its colonial past, inheriting practices from the British, which were designed to subdue the masses rather than ensure justice. Despite some post-independence reforms, the judiciary has struggled to address the immense backlog of cases and provide timely justice.

Read more: Why Pakistan needs to focus on its presidential and parliamentary system?

The situation worsened after the nation faced a wave of terrorism, leading to increased privileges and perks for judges, yet failing to deliver efficient outcomes and the situation remains same. The lack of external oversight and accountability has further exacerbated the judiciary’s reputation, and the need for parliamentary committees to conduct inquiries into judicial conduct and corruption is essential to restore public trust in the system and institute much-needed reforms.

Improving Pakistan’s political landscape with a hybrid system

The adoption of a hybrid system, combining elements of both presidential and parliamentary systems, holds the potential to yield substantial benefits for Pakistan’s political landscape. Such a system can offer enhanced stability, efficient decision-making processes, and improved executive-legislative relations.

By incorporating presidential elements, such as a directly elected head of state, the system can ensure a strong and independent executive branch that is directly accountable to the electorate. Simultaneously, retaining parliamentary elements, such as a representative legislature and the principle of collective responsibility, can ensure broader representation, inclusivity, and the accountability of the government to the legislative body.

Such a system seeks to preserve and harness the strengths of both the presidential and parliamentary systems. By incorporating a directly elected president, the system can bring forth a unifying figurehead who represents the entire nation, contributes to national cohesion, and exercises executive powers independently.

Meanwhile, maintaining a representative legislature allows for diverse voices and opinions to be heard, fostering democratic decision-making, and ensuring the legislative body’s role in the policy formulation and scrutiny processes. By combining these strengths, the hybrid system can strive to strike a balance between stability and accountability, thereby facilitating effective governance.

Read more: Revamping of Pakistan’s political system

The hybrid system addresses inherent weaknesses in the current parliamentary system. The existing system in Pakistan is often plagued by political instability, fragile coalition governments, and frequent changes in executive leadership, which hamper the continuity of policies and the effective implementation of reforms.

By introducing presidential elements into the hybrid system, such as fixed terms for the head of state, the potential for excessive turnover in executive leadership can be mitigated, providing stability and facilitating long-term planning. Additionally, the hybrid system can also reduce the risk of legislative gridlock, as the president can possess a degree of authority to break deadlocks and facilitate smoother decision-making processes.

By having a directly elected president who is accountable to the electorate, the system can enhance the executive’s answerability to the people, thereby strengthening democratic accountability and promoting transparency in governance.

A direct election for the chief executive with a four-year term and a cabinet limited to twenty ministers only is proposed. The ministers should be renowned persons of integrity within the field. Following this, the policy advocates for the crucial bureaucracy reforms, although these are not detailed in this policy paper.

Transitioning towards a hybrid system that combines presidential and parliamentary elements holds significant potential for Pakistan’s political system. By drawing upon the benefits of both systems, preserving their strengths, and addressing the weaknesses of the current parliamentary system, a hybrid model can offer improved stability, efficient decision-making processes, and enhanced executive-legislative relations.

Read more: Why have we lost faith in our system?

Through thoughtful design and implementation, Pakistan can pave the way for a political system that balances strong executive leadership with representative governance, ultimately contributing to the consolidation of democracy and the promotion of effective governance in the nation.

Electoral reforms

The utilization of the first past the post (FPTP) method in elections presents several inherent problems that warrant a critical examination of the electoral system in Pakistan. The FPTP system, characterized by a simple plurality rule where the candidate with the most votes wins, often leads to distortions in representation, winner-takes-all outcomes, and a limited voice for minor political parties.

This system tends to favor larger parties and marginalizes smaller ones, potentially resulting in a disparity between popular vote shares and parliamentary seat allocations. Furthermore, the FPTP system can perpetuate regional and ethnic divisions, as candidates may focus their campaigns on specific geographical areas rather than representing broader societal interests.

A shift towards proportional representation (PR) offers numerous advantages that merit consideration in the context of electoral reforms. PR systems allocate parliamentary seats in proportion to the overall vote share received by each political party, ensuring a more accurate reflection of voters’ preferences and enhancing the inclusivity of the political process.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s electoral system needs overhauling?

By allowing smaller parties to secure representation, PR fosters a more diverse and pluralistic political landscape, encouraging the representation of various ideological viewpoints and minority interests. Additionally, PR systems tend to promote greater voter turnout and engagement, as individuals perceive their votes as more influential and meaningful, resulting in a strengthened democratic culture. This system has a probability to work very well with Pakistan’s democratic system.

Several countries have successfully implemented PR systems, providing valuable lessons that can inform Pakistan’s electoral reform efforts. For instance, Germany employs a mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) system, which combines single-member constituencies with proportional party lists. This system ensures a balance between direct representation and proportionality, facilitating a close connection between constituents and their elected representatives while also promoting the equitable distribution of seats based on party vote shares.

New Zealand is another country that has successfully implemented PR through a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system. This system allows voters to cast two votes: one for a local representative and another for a political party. The allocation of parliamentary seats is then determined by combining the party vote shares with the local constituency results, ensuring both regional representation and proportional outcomes. This system has been effective in fostering a diverse political landscape, encouraging coalition governments, and providing a robust framework for democratic governance.

Lessons can also be drawn from South Africa, where proportional representation has been instrumental in facilitating the representation of diverse racial and ethnic groups. The PR system in South Africa has helped overcome historical inequalities by ensuring minority groups have a voice in the legislature and fostering a sense of inclusion and equity in the political process.

By examining the experiences of these countries, Pakistan can glean insights into the successful implementation of PR systems. The lessons learned highlight the potential of PR to promote proportional representation, inclusivity, and more accurate reflection of voters’ preferences. Such reforms have the capacity to strengthen democratic practices, enhance political participation, and foster a more representative and pluralistic political landscape in Pakistan.

Making voting mandatory for all citizens aged 18 and above, similar to the systems in countries like Australia and Belgium, where fines are imposed for not voting, is also suggested. By implementing this approach, marginalized communities, such as non-Muslims and transgenders, will be actively included in the political process, fostering greater cohesiveness in society.

Read more: Electoral reforms – put the last first

By addressing the problems associated with the FPTP method and adopting PR, Pakistan can promote greater representation, inclusivity, and accuracy in reflecting the will of the electorate. Drawing lessons from countries that have successfully implemented PR systems, Pakistan can design an electoral framework that supports a diverse and pluralistic political landscape, strengthens democratic values, and ensures a fair and equitable representation of the electorate’s preferences.

 Breaking the cycle of political corruption

A crucial factor in understanding and addressing the cycle of political ambition and corruption lies in recognizing the intricate link between electoral spending and corrupt practices. Political campaigns often necessitate substantial financial resources, creating an environment conducive to the influence of wealthy individuals, interest groups, or corporations seeking to exert undue influence on the political process.

This disproportionate reliance on campaign funding not only undermines the principles of fair competition and equality of opportunity but also paves the way for corrupt practices, as politicians may succumb to the pressures of quid pro quo arrangements, patronage networks, or illicit financial activities to sustain their electoral ambitions.

The phenomenon of political ambition and corruption is further compounded by the existence of an intricate iron triangle of power and money within politics. This triangular relationship involves politicians, bureaucrats, and private interests, where the pursuit of political power intersects with the pursuit of financial gain. This interplay can create a system wherein politicians and bureaucrats engage in rent-seeking behavior, exchanging favors, kickbacks, or lucrative positions for personal enrichment. This symbiotic relationship perpetuates a culture of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism, distorting the functioning of democratic institutions and eroding public trust.

Addressing the cycle of political ambition and corruption necessitates the implementation of stringent measures to curb corrupt practices and nepotism. Such measures should encompass comprehensive reforms that enhance transparency, accountability, and integrity within the political system. Robust campaign finance regulations, strict disclosure requirements, and effective enforcement mechanisms can serve as essential safeguards against the undue influence of money in politics, mitigating the risk of corruption and ensuring a level playing field for all candidates. Additionally, the establishment of independent anti-corruption bodies, the strengthening of investigative and prosecutorial agencies, and the promotion of a culture of ethical leadership are indispensable in combating corruption and fostering a climate of integrity.

Read more: How Pakistan’s political leaders failed Quaid-e-Azam

Combating nepotism requires the implementation of merit-based systems and the promotion of fair and transparent procedures in the selection and appointment of political officeholders, public servants, and government contractors. Introducing conflict-of-interest regulations, limiting discretionary powers, and instituting rigorous monitoring and auditing mechanisms can help prevent the misuse of public resources and curb the perpetuation of familial or personal networks at the expense of qualified and deserving candidates.

Serving the public

Reinvigorating the true purpose of politics necessitates the cultivation of a political environment that places paramount importance on public service. This entails a fundamental shift in the mindset and motivations of politicians, whereby their primary objective becomes the betterment of society rather than personal gain or partisan interests. Creating a culture of public service entails instilling a sense of duty, ethical responsibility, and a genuine commitment to the welfare of the citizens. By prioritizing the common good and embracing a selfless approach to governance, politicians can restore the integrity and legitimacy of the political process.

A shift towards policies that prioritize the needs, aspirations, and well-being of the citizens is also required. This entails a departure from short-term, politically expedient measures towards comprehensive, evidence-based policy frameworks that address societal challenges and promote inclusive and sustainable development.

By actively engaging with stakeholders, seeking expert advice, and conducting thorough research, policymakers can ensure that policy decisions are informed by the best available knowledge and aimed at addressing the pressing concerns of the populace. Moreover, a focus on equitable resource allocation, social justice, and the promotion of human rights can further underscore the commitment to serving the public interest.

An essential aspect of politics lies in the implementation of robust transparency and accountability measures. Enhancing transparency entails providing access to information, disclosing political funding sources, and ensuring openness in decision-making processes. This fosters public trust, enables informed participation, and holds politicians accountable for their actions.

Furthermore, the establishment of effective oversight mechanisms, independent anti-corruption agencies, and rigorous auditing procedures can help combat corruption, malfeasance, and abuse of power. By strengthening accountability measures, politicians are compelled to act in accordance with the highest ethical standards, reinforcing the public’s confidence in the political system.

Restoring the true purpose of politics necessitates fostering a political environment rooted in public service, prioritizing policies that cater to the needs of citizens, and bolstering transparency and accountability measures. By embracing a selfless approach to governance, politicians can reinstate the noble objective of serving the common good.

Read more: From Quaid e Awam to Quaid e Jawan: Understanding the political leadership of Pakistan

Through evidence-based policies, equitable resource allocation, and a commitment to social justice, the political system can address societal challenges and promote inclusive development. By implementing robust transparency and accountability measures, politicians can instill public trust and confidence in the political process. Only through these concerted efforts can the true purpose of politics be restored, ensuring that the welfare and interests of the citizens remain at the forefront of political endeavors.

Reimagining Pakistan’s political system for progress and prosperity

In conclusion, the discourse on strengthening Pakistan’s political system has shed light on several critical aspects that warrant attention and reform. The analysis has emphasized the need to move beyond an exclusive focus on electoral success, highlighting the importance of substantive policy discourse and the pursuit of long-term national interests. Moreover, the discussion has explored the significance of a clear separation of powers, emphasizing the benefits of distinct executive and legislative branches in fostering effective governance and checks and balances.

The examination of electoral reforms has underscored the limitations of the first past the post system and advocated for a shift towards proportional representation, which can enhance representation, inclusivity, and accuracy in reflecting voters’ preferences. Furthermore, the conversation has addressed the pernicious cycle of political ambition and corruption, urging stringent measures to combat corrupt practices, nepotism, and the undue influence of money in politics. Lastly, the importance of restoring the true purpose of politics has been emphasized, highlighting the significance of fostering a political environment focused on public service, policies that prioritize citizens’ needs, and strengthening transparency and accountability measures.

Given the multifaceted challenges and shortcomings identified within Pakistan’s political system, it is imperative for policymakers and citizens alike to embrace the necessary reforms. Policymakers must demonstrate leadership and political will in implementing institutional changes that promote substantive policy discourse, ensure a clear separation of powers, adopt electoral reforms, and strengthen anti-corruption measures. Citizens, on their part, have a vital role to play in demanding accountability, actively participating in the political process, and holding elected officials accountable for their actions. It is through collective engagement and active citizenship that lasting transformation can be achieved.

Reimagining Pakistan’s political system is not merely an academic exercise but a transformative endeavor aimed at improving the well-being of the country and its people. By incorporating the principles of good governance, transparency, inclusivity, and accountability, Pakistan has the potential to create a political system that upholds democratic values, addresses socio-economic challenges, and safeguards the rights and interests of its citizens.

This reimagining requires a comprehensive approach that includes structural reforms, institutional strengthening, and a change in political culture. By nurturing an environment that prioritizes public service, embraces evidence-based policies, and fosters integrity and ethical leadership, Pakistan can lay the foundation for a stronger, more resilient political system that serves as a catalyst for progress and prosperity.

Read more: Pakistan’s increasing political chaos!

The journey toward strengthening Pakistan’s political system is an ongoing process that demands collective commitment, determination, and an unwavering focus on the welfare of the country and its people. By implementing the recommended reforms and reimagining the purpose of politics, Pakistan can forge a path toward a more inclusive, transparent, and accountable political system that fulfills the aspirations of its citizens and advances the nation’s development.

Mr. Shahid Sattar, now Executive Director & Secretary General of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA), has previously served as a Member Planning Commission of Pakistan and an advisor to the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Petroleum, and Ministry of Water & Power. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.