Opposition’s ToR

Published May 4, 2016

IT is a remarkable document. The combined parliamentary opposition has come together to demand an exhaustive judicial inquiry into the assets and wealth of all individuals named in the Panama Papers, but beginning with the prime minister and the first family.

Taken together, the suggested terms of reference by the opposition alliance leave virtually no room for any discrepancy between what assets Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family have accumulated in the last three decades and what they have declared publicly and to the relevant authorities.

What is also gratifying is that the opposition is cognisant of the need to keep parliament front and centre — in demanding that the judicial commission be created by an Act of Parliament, the opposition has issued a welcome reminder of the true centre of a democratic polity.

If Prime Minister Sharif agrees to the opposition’s demands, it would be a watershed in the history of politics of the country.

The prime minister would simultaneously be signalling that, as the guardian of the Constitution and the democratic process, he accepts that his conduct must be of a quality above that of the average citizen or public representative and that he is willing to be proven as the most thoroughly vetted politician in the history of the country.

In doing so, the quality of democracy would surely surge in the right direction and others would be forced to follow.

If Mr Sharif were to accept the opposition demands, Pakistan may at long last begin to get the transparent, fair and durable democracy that it deserves.

The PML-N should also note that the opposition has not jointly demanded the prime minister’s temporary resignation, a move that would have suggested that the real opposition motive is the ouster of Mr Sharif and not an improvement in the quality of democracy.

On the opposition’s part, while a firm but fair set of demands has been presented by it, the suggested terms of reference for the judicial commission should not be treated as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

The PML-N has the right, in fact it is its duty, to offer its own assessment of the demands and suggest modifications where necessary.

As long as the fundamental goal is to reconcile the actual income and assets of those named in the Panama Papers with the declared income and assets, the means by which that is to be achieved can be negotiated.

Consider that in crafting their demands, the combined opposition has delivered a sterner test to the government than any level of unilateral street agitation by individual parties may be able to achieve.

The opposition would do well to remember that it was the outrage of the ordinary Pakistani that created the initial pressure on the prime minister and not the self-interested protests of the political class.

Firm but fair — that should be the opposition’s guiding principle in the Panama matter.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2016

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