DAWN - Opinion; August 10, 2002

10 Aug 2002


Creating an unequal society

By Kaiser Bengali

THE conventional view that has been presented for the last many years by state as well as donor agencies is that poverty in Pakistan has grown in the 1990s on account of low GDP growth and which is itself a product of poor governance. Recent research has, however, challenged this conventional wisdom. Rather, substantial empirical evidence has been presented to link poor economic performance with specific policy formulations. The most shocking revelation is that the route to increased poverty has proceeded through growing inequality.

The increase in poverty has generally been attributed to low GDP growth in the 1990s. However, low growth cannot by itself be poverty inducing. If the distribution of income is reasonably equal, low but positive growth in per capita income is likely to lead to small increases in the earnings of all or most income groups. At worst, the rate of poverty reduction will decline. In Pakistan’s case real per capita income has grown over the 1990s at one per cent per annum. Some poverty reduction — howsoever small — is, therefore, in order. That poverty has instead increased can primarily be attributed to a high degree of inequality in the distribution of income and to a further increase in inequality.

Part of the growth in poverty can also be attributed to the failure of social policy, particularly in the provision of housing, education, health care and public health. While the upper income groups have been able to afford access to the market for these services, the poor have been effectively excluded on account of lack of affordability.

Despite tall claims and sophisticated jugglery of monetary statistics, the economic situation is pathetic, with 6.5 per cent of the labour force unemployed and 38 per cent of the population subsisting below the poverty line. Between 1999 and 2001 alone, 350,000 people have been rendered unemployed and seven million have been pushed below the poverty line. Ironically, the percentage of population below the poverty line today is nearly the same as it was in 1964. As far as the poor are concerned, Pakistan has returned nearly where it was about 35 years ago. This has happened because neither the benefits of development nor the costs of economic adjustments appear to have been distributed equitably.

Income inequality was severe to begin with but has increased over time. Between 1988 and 1998, the income share of the richest 20 per cent of the population has increased from 44 per cent to 47 per cent, while that of the poorest 20 per cent has declined from nine per cent to eight per cent. As a result, the purchasing power of the richest segment rose by 23 per cent and that of the poorest segment rose by a meager two per cent. In absolute terms, if Rs 100 are distributed among 100 households, equal distribution would imply that each household receives Rs 1.00. Given the actual situation of unequal distribution, the top 20 households would each receive Rs 2.33 each and the bottom 20 households would each receive a mere 40 paisa each.

Regional inequality between the provinces and within the provinces has worsened as well. The analysis of deprivation level in the 100 districts of the country shows that a north-south divide has emerged in the country, with the percentage decrease in the Deprivation Index being the highest in Punjab and the lowest in Balochistan. The rural economies of Punjab and the NWFP have shown considerable dynamism.

Rural Punjab has emerged as the economic powerhouse of the province and Punjab is the only province where nearly half of its rural population can be classified as being in a state of low deprivation. Rural NWFP has also posted significant gains and propelled a substantial proportion of the rural population out of the high deprivation category. Today, nearly half its rural population can be classified as medium deprivation and a quarter of its rural population as low deprivation.

By contrast, rural Sindh has deteriorated. Only three per cent of Sindh’s rural population classifies as low deprivation and half its rural population subsists in a state of high deprivation. Sindh’s development lag can also be seen from the fact that Hyderabad, the second least deprived district of Sindh, ranks 12th in terms of national ranking.

Balochistan has remained trapped in a high deprivation state, with 89 per cent of its rural population classifying as high deprivation. This is despite the initiation of a number of major development projects over the years. For example, the industrial estate in Hub Chowki has emerged as an enclave of exclusive benefit to entrepreneurs from Punjab and Karachi and only marginally benefited local labour. There is widespread fear in the province that the development of Gwadar port will likewise create another enclave, bypassing the people of Balochistan.

Inequality within the provinces is also shown to be high. In Punjab, a north-south divide has emerged, with all low deprivation districts being in northern and central Punjab and none in southern Punjab and all the most deprived districts being in south and southwest Punjab. In Sindh, Karachi stands far above the rest of the province and the high deprivation districts are concentrated in the north and southwest of the province.

In the NWFP, the low deprivation districts are located in Peshawar valley and southern Hazara, with districts in the mountain areas and southern plains classifying as high deprivation. In Balochistan, with the exception of Quetta and Ziarat, the entire province falls in the high deprivation category.

Presumably, the reasons for growing income inequality in the 1990s lie in the economic liberalization and the move towards a market economy and the retreat of the public sector as an equalizing force. Market-determined outcomes tend to serve those who are better endowed and reinforces inequalities and this is what appears to have happened. The thrust of macroeconomic policy since 1988 has been the pursuit of stabilization objectives at the cost of growth objectives.

This policy has been pursued with renewed vigour since 1999. Central to this policy has been a contractionary monetary and fiscal policy, thus inducing recessionary conditions, and this has in turn stunted GDP growth and increased unemployment and poverty. All stabilization objectives were achieved, at least till 2001. But it is instructive to see as to how these targets were achieved.

The budget deficit to GDP ratio was reduced to 5.4 per cent by applying cuts in development expenditure rather than by curtailing current expenditures. The current account balance was slashed to 1.1 per cent on account of a reduction of imports rather than by raising exports. The inflation rate was brought down to 5.4 per cent by suppressing consumer purchasing power. Far from low inflation benefiting the poor, it is poverty itself that is responsible for low inflation. The insensitivity of the policy prescriptions can be seen from the fact that even medicines have been slapped with a sales tax.

The resulting impact on growth indicators was not surprising. Investment as a percentage of GDP declined from an average of 18 per cent during 1977-88 to 13 per cent in 2001. This is also indicative of the fact that private sector credit off-take has declined from Rs. 83 billion in 2001 to Rs. 34 billion in 2002. Yet another indication is the nearly 60 per cent decline of Gross Fixed Capital Formation in construction from Rs 1.7 billion in 1996 to 0.7 billion in 2001. As a result, GDP growth collapsed from an average of 6.9 per cent in 1977-88 to 3.3 per cent in 2001. The ensuing effect on unemployment and poverty was obvious. The poor have been made to bear a disproportionately large share of the cost of adjustment.

Social policy in Pakistan has also suffered from consistent failure. What, however, has not been sufficiently highlighted is the fact that the impact of this failure has been unequally distributed. The collective production and provision of public goods and services tends to reduce unit costs and is of paramount importance to low income households. This is due to the possibility of bulk production and provision and the economies of scale accruing thereof. The economies of scale from large-scale, collective provision obtains whether the facility is under state or private ownership; although, under state ownership, there is the possibility of cross-subsidization and, resultantly, of further reduction in the unit price at which the service is provided. Private producers are, however, unlikely to provide services of a public good nature, with the result that poorer consumers are effectively excluded.

The importance of public services for the poor notwithstanding, there appears to have been a sustained abdication by the state of its social responsibilities. This is evident from the following: One, Plan allocations for housing declined from over 10 per cent in the First Plan to 0.9 per cent in the Eighth Plan. Two, real growth in total development and recurring expenditure on education, health care and public health decreased from an average of about 14 per cent during 1981-88 to an average of 1.6 per cent during 1988-99. During 1999-01, expenditures on these heads actually fell by an average of 1.4 per cent annually.

The last decade and a half has seen the failure of the five-point programme and of the Social Action Programme. However, the failure to provide housing for the poor spans the entire history of the country. Not surprisingly, 38 per cent of the households still live in one-room houses and 72 per cent of houses do not have independent toilet facilities. On the other hand, plots have been allotted in official housing schemes to upper-income civil service officials at subsidized rates.

Military officers have benefited likewise from plot allotments in cantonments and military lands at subsidized rates. Residential areas developed by defence housing authorities are epitomes of luxury housing. Ironically, while it is the poor who are in need of subsidies, it is the rich whom the state has endowed with subsidized housing.

Unequal societies are unjust societies. And unjust societies lose their moral and political legitimacy. Attention to the problem of income and regional inequality is thus not only important but also urgent. While poverty causes hardships and deprivation for those caught in the poverty web, inequality causes a sense of grievance and injustice, promotes despondency and anger, and generates social and political instability and even violence. Terrorism is a buzzword today, but those who are concerned about terrorism should pay close attention to the problem of inequality.

The issue of federalism

By Dr Sohail Mahmood

THE second proposed constitutional package marks a significant structural change in Pakistan's political system. As expected, General Musharraf has retained absolute power for himself.

The first fact to be noted is that the military has ruled Pakistan for most of its existence. This is the fourth military regime and not very different from the previous ones. The coming general elections in October are not going to herald a new era of democracy in the country.

Article 63A relates to the disqualification of the members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and the members of the provincial assemblies (MPAs). The measures to ensure strict party discipline in the legislatures are indeed stringent. Strong political parties are needed to ensure an effective legislature. Also, the earlier horse-trading culture will end once and for all. These measures, therefore, may be endorsed.

The document correctly points out that the central authority should only perform those functions that cannot be performed at the local level. This is the essence of federalism. Therefore, the Federal Concurrent Legislative List on which both the federal and provincial governments have jurisdiction has been divided into two parts. In part II of this list the federal government will provide only framework legislation.

The document has a list of Articles that will be changed along with the Fourth Schedule. In principle we commend this move as a positive development towards the goal of enhancing provincial autonomy. However, the detailed changes to ensure this have not been spelt out. We need to see the exact changes made in the long list and the Fourth Schedule.

It would have been better if the document had these changes given in the text rather than just mentioning them as requiring amendments.

The Council Of Common Interest (CCI) is a forum mainly to resolve a dispute between the federal government and the provincial governments on matters like water sharing and provincial rights over income from hydro power, natural gas, oil etc. The Article 153 has been changed to strengthen the CII. Specifically, the said Article will be amended to change the composition of the CII, to provide for its permanent secretariat, and to make quarterly meetings of the CII mandatory. However, the exact change in the membership of the CII is not given. How will the provincial Governments have a greater say in the CII? Will the federal government vote be reduced to just one instead of the previous four? We do not know. The document is silent on the new composition of the CII.

The National Economic Council (NEC) has also been revamped. It shall become the apex economic body of the federal government. The Planning Commission may be strengthened by elevating the status of the deputy chairman, Planning Commission who is a minister of state to a full-fledged federal minister and chairman of the commission. The chairman of the current planning commission is the finance minister who is currently over-burdened with the responsibilities of his office and is already heading the finance ministry. We need a more effective planning commission to formulate the details of the old five-year plans and also the new ten-year plans.

On matters of Inter-governmental fiscal relations in Pakistan the document correctly notes the main problem -- highly centralized system, weak provincial tax administration systems, dependence of provinces on fiscal transfers from the federal government.

The federal government can have jurisdiction over income, excise, import duties or levies, customs, tariff and corporate taxes only. Later on, all revenue from trade like customs, tariff and import duties and levies is merged into one single tax to be called import tax.

The provincial governments have total jurisdiction over all types of sales tax (taxes at the point of sales of both goods and services like the GST, for example).

All property taxes and local service fees, permits for building, etc. should be given to the local government. The issue of inter-governmental fiscal relations is very critical to the health of not only the economy but the federation itself. The cursory manner in which the document treats this matter is unwarranted. After all, we have been waiting for this formula for over a year. Surely the military regime could have done a better job here.

The document continues with the details of strengthening the accountability mechanisms in the country. As expected, the NAB has been made a permanent constitutional office. The document merely mentions that the scope of the law covers every citizen indulging in corruption.

The proposal to empower the president "in his discretion" to appoint a long list of the most important offices of the country is the most significant part of the package. The proposal gives very substantial powers of appointment to the president for some of the most important offices in the country, namely: the Chief Election Commissioner; Auditor General and Chairman, Federal Public Service Commission, Armed Forces' chiefs, CJCSC, also Vice _ _

Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force; Governors and members of Central Board of the State Bank of Pakistan, chairman, NAB.

Similarly, the governors of the provinces are empowered to appoint the chairman of the provincial public service commission but with the proviso of "ascertaining the views of the chief minister". This is in tandem with the president's powers of appointment in the federal government. The implementation of the proposal, if taken along with the reinstatement of a modified form of Article 58(2b) which has empowered the president in the first package, Pakistan has definitely moved towards a presidential system.

The composition of the Supreme Judicial Council has been altered and it shall now be composed of all the chief justices of the High Courts. The jurisdiction has been strengthened also as the body is "empowered to inquire into the matter given in Article 209 of its own accord as well". In principle, any strengthening of the Judiciary is commendable.

The text gives the procedure of removal of the chairman NAB, Chairman FPSC in accordance with Article 209 for the removal of the office of the judge. The removal of Auditor General and CEC is similar. The removal of a judge as per Article 209 is a cumbersome procedure as is proper with the status of the office and now the above offices have also been given such protection.

The last proposal pertains to the issue of Constitutional amendments. It merely gives the concession of adding a minimum time period (60 days) for the public debate prior to the initial discussion of the proposed bill by either house of parliament.

The trial of Mountbatten: LETTER FROM NEW DELHI

By Kuldip Nayar

THERE is a serious proposal in certain academic circles to hold a trial of Lord Mountbatten, inviting scholars from Pakistan and Great Britain to participate in it.

The purpose is not to apportion blame to the last viceroy for India’s division — something which he could not help — but to delineate his role in the murder of more than 10 lakh people and the uprooting of another two crore. The charge against him is that the holocaust was due to Mountbatten’s wrong decision to advance the date of partition from June 3, 1948, to August 15, 1947, some 10 months earlier.

I recall how Mountbatten’s announcement came as a bombshell to us in Sialkot city, now part of Pakistan. There was suddenly a sense of fear and insecurity. The borders of India and Pakistan had yet to be demarcated, and the fate of the entire population of Punjab, Bengal and Assam hung in the balance. Both Hindus and Muslims began to pass anxious moments because they did not know through which area the dividing line would run.

Rumours were so strong that people were willing to believe even the impossible. They were confused. That partition was inevitable was beginning to seep into their mind. But they were not preparing to leave their hearth or home. By advancing the date by 10 months, he had unwittingly caused the murder of one million people. I told this to Mountbatten when I interviewed him at his sprawling mansion in Broadlands near London in October 1971, for my book, Distant Neighbours.

As if I had touched a raw nerve, he felt uncomfortable and lapsed into silence. He admitted that at least one million people died during partition. But his defence was strange: He had saved from starvation three times the numbers during the 1943 Bengal famine by giving 10 per cent of space in his ships for the transport of food grains. This was despite the opposition of Churchill, the then prime minister. Mountbatten was then Chief of the Allies Naval Operations in South Asia.

“Well, before Providence, I can say that the balance is in my favour,” said Mountbatten. And then he added: “Wherever colonial rule has ended, bloodshed has been there. This is the price you pay.”

Why did he advance the date? I asked Mountbatten. He said he could not hold the country together. “Things were slipping from my hands.” The great Calcutta Killing, one year before partition, had taken place and communal tension prevailed all over. On top of it, there had been the announcement that the British were leaving. “Therefore, I myself decided to quit sooner,” said Mountbatten. “This was not to the liking of Lord Attlee (then the British prime minister) but he had given me full powers.”

The comment by first Indian governor-general, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, was: “If you had not transferred power when you did, there would have been no power to transfer.” When I checked with Campbell-Johnson, Mountbatten’s press secretary, the reason for advancing the date, he said that August 15 was the date when Mountbatten had heard for the first time in Churchill’s room the news of the Japanese surrender, which ended the Second World War. However, the impression of some British foreign office men was that Mountbatten was in a hurry to get back to a bigger position in the British navy.

What Mountbatten did not realize was that the pent-up feelings in the hearts of Hindus and Muslims in the wake of communal propaganda and riots were bound to find a vent. At least government servants should not have been allowed to move from one country to another on the basis of their religion. Both Hindus and Muslims in the military, the police and other security forces had got contaminated over the years. To expect them to be impartial and punish the guilty from their own community was to hope for the impossible, particularly when they knew that they would go scot-free in their “own country.”

Looking back, however, one cannot but blame Mountbatten for doing so little to ensure protection for the minorities. He had assured Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a top leader in the Congress, “I shall not use merely the armed police, I will order the army and the air force to act and I will use tanks and aeroplanes to suppress anybody who wants to create trouble.” Not a fraction of that happened. It was a free-for-all.

When Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, asked Mountbatten to “shoot Muslims” if necessary to stop violence and when Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, suggested handing over the cities to the military, Mountbatten’s response was feeble. It may be an uncharitable remark to make but he appeared more interested in becoming the common governor-general of India and Pakistan — an office that Jinnah did not let him have — than dousing the fire of communalism.

The Punjab Boundary force, which Mountbatten formed on August 1, 1947, to quell the riots, did little to stop the killings of men, women and children. In its report, it said the defence of the force is: “Throughout, the killing was pre-medieval in its ferocity. Neither age nor sex was spared; mothers with babies in the arms were cut down, speared or shot... both sides were equally merciless.”

In terms of men, the force had strength of 55,000, including Brigadier Mohammad Ayub Khan, who later became Pakistan’s first martial law administrator. The force had a high proportion of British officers. In fact, this proved to be its undoing. The officers were interested in repatriation to Britain, not in an operation that might tie them down to the subcontinent for some more time. The British commander of the force, General Rees, had reportedly instructions not to get involved and to protect only “European lives.”

The reports of the Boundary Commission, appointed soon after partition, to delineate the borders between the Punjabs, Bengals and the Assam-Sylhet sector, added more fuel to the fire. Cyrill Radcliffe, a British lawyer who chaired the commission, earned the wrath of both the Congress and the Muslim League.

After failing to get the UN to nominate the Boundary Commission’s members, Jinnah had suggested to Mountbatten the name of Radcliffe, whom he had seen arguing intricate cases in London courts. Nehru had also approved his name after consulting “that sneaky fellow Krishna Menon,” as Radcliffe put it during his talk with me at his flat in London in October 1971.

Hindus were expecting Lahore to be included in India and Muslims were thinking that Calcutta would go to Pakistan. Both were disappointed. Radcliffe told me that he never had the slightest doubt from the beginning that Calcutta (Jinnah had said earlier it was no use having East Bengal without Calcutta) should go to India and Lahore to Pakistan. “I had to give them Lahore because they had to have a big city in West Punjab,” he said.

After deciding that the rest of the job was only to draw the lines, he did what “came to that much.” He was so ‘rushed’ that he had ‘no time’ to go into the details, Radcliffe said. “Even accurate district maps were not there and what material there was, was also inadequate. What could I do in one and a half months?”

True, but what a way to divide the subcontinent and decide the future of millions of people. The trial of Mountbatten may assuage the feelings of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They still believe that the blood of lakhs of people is on Mountbatten’s hands.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in New Delhi.

America’s jittery allies

AS the Bush administration weighs various plans for toppling Saddam Hussein, European allies are becoming increasingly jittery. Last week, President Bush repeated his determination to oust Hussein but Wednesday showed welcome signs of temperance, saying he will be “patient and deliberate” and consult with Congress and “friends and allies.”

Bush aides said he was only restating policy, but unless the president really does give the allies more than lip service, he risks splintering NATO over the most momentous issue it has faced since the end of the cold war.

Already the issue of intervention has become the key issue in Germany’s September federal election. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is running against conservative challenger Bavaria Gov. Edmund Stoiber, announced Monday that “we’re not available for adventures, and the time for chequebook diplomacy is over once and for all.”

In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair is coming under increased pressure from within his own Labour Party to temper his support for war; Tam Dalyell, a senior member of Parliament, is calling upon him to recall Parliament from its summer recess to debate intervention.

How concerned should the United States be? The European record in facing up to tyrants — whether it was appeasing Hitler or, more recently, Slobodan Milosevic — is nothing to boast about.b —Los Angeles Times

Good governance is the key issue

By Zafar Iqbal

[THIS IS the second and concluding part of Zafar Iqbal’s article on the proposed constitutional amendments.]

OUR thinking on constitutional arrangements seems to be based on the belief that instead of slow changes over time under the pressure of social evolution, the plasticene, unwritten constitution of Britain came into being fully formed, like Pallas Athene springing from the head of Zeus.

To be prisoners of one’s own history is understandable, but to be prisoners of someone else’s history does not make sense. This is what seems to have happened to many of our writers who keep comparing our currently proposed changes in the Constitution to the existing British constitution.

One of the flaws of the Westminster model is that while theoretically Parliament is sovereign, when combined with the FPTP (first past the post) election system, its dynamics are such that power finally comes to reside in the office of prime minister. Hence the British form of government is often referred to as prime ministerial dictatorship. He is restrained by a relatively literate and effective public opinion, freedom of speech, the rule of law and, to some extent, by his or her own party. None of these checks exist in Pakistan. We have a genuine problem of dealing with prime minister dictatorship.

It is quite clear that Pakistan cannot afford a return to the kind of government practised by the senior Bhutto from 1972 to 1977 or the kind of governments, which were elected during the 1990s. While there is a lot of talk about democracy in the abstract, there is no serious discussion about how we are to obtain good governance, given the limits of our electorate and the kind of people they tend to elect.

If one is to believe the praises of democracy as enshrined in the 1973 Constitution, it seems that we are pining for the megalomania of Z.A Bhutto; the follies and rashness of Nawaz Sharif; and the unbridled avarice of the Benazir, Zardari duo.

Having experienced five or six elected governments since 1971 with an intervening period of eight to eleven years of continuous (rather unfortunate) dictatorship under Ziaul Haq, we obviously need to devise a more robust system of elected government that will not need periodic intervention by the army. Continuous involvement of the army, in civil affairs, apart from the military being politicized and its professional abilities compromised, it tends towards despotic and corrupt rule. By introducing the concept of the NSC, the generals have gone a bit overboard.

The National Security Council is perfectly alright for discussing and deciding on the steps to be taken for the external security of the country. Its involvement in civilian affairs will generally be detrimental to good governance and makes the Constitution undemocratic. It will be simpler to pass on these powers directly to the president.

The few points which I would emphasize are:

* The politicians are understandably keen to preserve the five-year term for Parliament. This should be reduced to three years rather than four, as more frequent elections will help develop a greater public consciousness and also a greater sense of accountability in the government. It will tend to reduce direct expenditure on elections by candidates and force political parties to develop grass-roots organizations to solicit donations either in money or in kind and develop political awareness for their programmes.

* An amendment to the Constitution should need the approval of the provincial legislators by a two-thirds majority or, alternatively, it should need two-thirds majority in three of the four provinces and a simple majority in the fourth. As Mr Wali Khan and Mr Ataullah Mengal were in the 1972 National Assembly, why did they not raise this issue? Since their sons have now succeeded them, could they enlighten us on this? One can understand the federal government (including the present one) not wanting to part with this power, but given our previous record of rapidly passed constitutional amendments and their consequences, it is in the public interest to slow this process down.

* Although there has been criticism as to the power of the president to appoint the chiefs of staff in the armed forces, the head of the Public Service Commission, the Chief Election Commissioner, etc. Given our past performance, it is desirable to get it out of the hands of the prime minister. However, what I find baffling is that very often the heads of the Public Service Commission is from the armed forces, generally not renowned for their erudition or intellectual capabilities.

* The quality of the finance minister is critical to good financial and economic management, particularly in developing countries. However, the role of the ministry of finance was slowly reduced in the past until it practically disappeared like the Cheshire cat in ‘Alice in the Wonderland.’ All that was finally left was the wry smile of my friend, V.A. Jafarey. Junejo got rid of Dr. Mahbubul Haq and appointed a very pleasant politician, totally innocent of any relevant knowledge. BB was her own finance minister. Nawaz Sharif could not even stand a mild and gentle individual like Sartaj Aziz and finally appointed one of his former employees as finance minister. Central Bank governors were made independent because it was important for developed countries. A view is evolving that in developing countries we need a strong and capable finance minister. Since he is a member of the cabinet he is obviously selected by the prime minister, and has to work closely with him. Given the tension between a populist or corrupt prime minister and an honest and competent finance minister, his appointment and removal cannot be left to the prime minister with unfettered power in the matter. A lot of the rot and corruption in the elected governments in Pakistan between 1986 and 1999 could have been substantially reduced by a strong finance ministry. How do we square this particular circle?

* The Senate is not like the House of Lords in the UK which still has a more or less unitary form of government. The Senate represents the essence of the federating principle and on this basis should be given not merely the same but greater powers than the National Assembly. To compare it with the House of Lords in Britain is wrong. Of course, the members of the National Assembly will resist such a development as they would not like to be thwarted by an upper house directly representing the people.

The process of proportional representation (PR) is one of the genuine rabbits produced out of the hat by General Naqvi. It has already become an endangered species by coming under attack from politicians because it will restrict their claim to being the only directly elected representatives. The issue of independent candidates is actually a red herring. Both FPTP and PR are democratic arrangements for the expression of public opinion. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Germany has, for instance, combined both methods. PR is actually considered a superior method for reflecting public opinion.

The problem of parliament being dissolved before the term of the Senate expires can be taken care of by making changes in the Senate when its term expires according to the PR results of the last election.

* The election of the president while not a problem at present since the general has decided to stay on till 2007. However, thereafter, unless we have a succession of generals as president, it does represent a problem. Some arrangement should be made which makes the president not only acceptable to the government but also to the opposition.

* The 14th Amendment, instead of being watered down, should be totally repealed. The members of parliament should be allowed freedom of “conscience” and their ability to influence government decisions should not be compromised. Although there are arguments both ways, the balance of advantage appears to lie in not reducing their freedom to vote. The ultimate sanction should only be expulsion from their party and not from parliament.


The Hamdi mess

The case of Yaser Esam Hamdi _ the likely American citizen now being held in a Navy brig in Norfolk without charges or access to a lawyer _ is becoming a procedural mess. The Justice Department is contending that it can indefinitely lock up those, like Mr. Hamdi, whom it designates as “enemy combatants” with only the most cursory of judicial review _ during which the accused has no ability to tell his side of the story.

The case, therefore, balances civil liberties principles of the highest order _ the right of American citizens to be free of indefinite detention without charge _ against the military’s legitimate need to conduct war overseas without answering every step of the way to the judiciary. With the stakes so high, consider the actions of U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit gave clear instructions to Judge Doumar to proceed with great deference to the military’s judgment and interests. Given this, it was reasonable to expect that he would act cautiously. Instead, the judge is proceeding in a fashion that has muddied the case with procedural errors that invite reversal.

The appeals court had stayed the proceedings before Judge Doumar when it reviewed — and reversed — his earlier ruling granting unrestricted access to counsel to Mr. Hamdi. —The Washington Post