In most democracies of the world term of office is taken very seriously. In the USA where there is a Presidential form of government, the terms are fixed. The President is elected together with a Vice-President who is the Leader in waiting. Only during the tenure of President Richard Nixon, un-elected Gerald Ford succeeded him after his resignation. Earlier his running mate Spiro Agnew had left the office of the Vice-President on charges of tax evasion. President Ford completed the remaining term of office and then contested the election as scheduled in which he lost to Jimmy Carter. Pakistani leaders also had a dark history of those who couldn’t complete their time of terms.
In Parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister (PM) is also the leader of the house, heads the executive branch of the government. While the legislature has a term of five years, the PM can be removed through a vote of no confidence in the house. For continuity of policies completion of a term of office plays a pivotal role. The popular PMs/Presidents then seek extended terms. In the USA after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms, it was legislated to clamp a limit of two terms only. Unfortunately in the land of the pure no elected PM has been able to complete their term.
Why completing a term is a challenge in itself?
Liaquat Ali Khan (LAK) the first PM remained in office for four years (August 1947 to October 1951) before being assassinated. He set the tone of the country and its administration. Led a simple, honest life. Pakistan was a part of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). He pursued an independent foreign policy and refused to join any alliances with the Western powers. It was his untimely death that created political instability which then created space for the colonial establishment.
After the break up of Quaid’s Pakistan in 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) first took an oath of office as President (December 1971 to August 1973). He then became the 9th PM of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In early 1977, he voluntarily dissolved the assemblies to seek a fresh mandate. In his last speech in the parliament, he talked about his foreign policy initiatives. He offered a corridor to Afghanistan to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. If implemented in the decade of seventies it could have avoided the Soviet invasion and the destruction of the entire region. He also talked about creating porous borders in Kashmir for a period of ten years followed by a referendum. Despite his popularity, he was denied a second term in office.
Muhammad Khan Junejo, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto were stop-gap PMs who were dismissed under the Draconian amendments. A popular leader like ZAB could never manage to get an absolute majority while Nawaz Sharif got it twice through manipulation, yet he could not complete any of his three terms.
Imran Khan (IK) the incumbent PM was elected in August 2018, his five-year term of office will end in July 2023. He may create history by not only completing his first term, rather may go for another term as he did in KPK, the first in the history of that province. Competency and policy matters may differ but the common thread in the first, ninth and twenty-second PMs of the republic is their personal honesty and integrity. I am sure if the popularity of elected leaders as LAK or ZAB had continued, Pakistan would have been the first Asian Tiger but instead, we were engulfed in the Zia Dark Ages in 1977.
IK as PM seeks course correction to come out of this darkness
There are challenges and several minefields to stall his crusade but he has been resilient. While people have shown their anger against his team, his personal popularity has survived. In or out of office, IK remains a potent political force to be reckoned with like LAK and ZAB who could not be sidetracked on charges of corruption. LAK was assassinated in 1951 in Rawalpindi, ZAB faced judicial murder in 1979, IK continues to fight on for the much-needed change for which he needs both time and an able team to deliver for the march of democracy to continue.
Political leadership draws credibility from free and fair elections. Unfortunately, since 1977, every election has been disputed creating serious issues of legitimacy of the civilian government. LAK was elected in the last election held under the colonial setup in 1946. He was a Nawabzada who had no agenda to build his financial empire through corruption and misuse of authority. ZAB was elected in a free and fair election in 1970 together with a team of untainted ideologues who wanted to strengthen the derailed democratic order. Corruption was never on their radar.
IK came into power after a long political struggle
He was denied victory in the 2013 elections but managed to come into power in 2018. The opposition continues to dispute the result of the electoral contest and continuously demands his resignation to deny him the completion of his term of office. If IK is able to complete his term and then ensures a free and fair contest in 2023, it will re-establish the democratic order for all times to come. History is not on his side. While the dictators had long stints in power (Ayub 1958 to 1969, Zia 1977 to 1988, Musharraf 1999 to 2008) this opportunity was denied to the civilian leadership despite their popularity and service to the nation in the case of LAK and ZAB in the past.
So far IK, despite the handicap of his team has tried his best to fight the scrouge of corruption on one hand while on the other he has played an important role in establishing civilian supremacy while maintaining a power balance with the establishment. IK continues to walk a fine line, he may set a new trend of completing his term of office followed by another one. Interesting times lay ahead both for the Kaptaan and the suffering people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.