ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a conference on Thursday were of the opinion that democracy has not taken roots in Pakistan. However, Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said civil-military relations were the biggest challenge to democracy.
The conference, ‘Democracies in transition and the challenges they face’ was organised by the Senate and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) at a local hotel.
Mr Rabbani said the other challenges faced by democracy were confrontation between the executive and parliament, judiciary and parliament and even between the Senate and National Assembly.
“As long as there will be confrontation among institutions, democracy will be in transition. The institutions which have western interests, such as financial, economic and controlling lever of power, will not accept the civilian supremacy,” he said.
To prove his argument, Mr Rabbani said whenever anyone speaks about the rule of law and the Constitution they are labeled as against the armed forces.
“There is not a single politician in Pakistan who is against the armed forces, but I do say that the armed forces are subservient to the state and the people of Pakistan,” he said.
He said the people of Pakistan had proved that they wanted rule of law and whenever a dictator took over they rose against him.
“However, unfortunately, an impression has been created that the parliament is not more than a debating club and is only a source of getting perks and privileges. There are questions over democracy but the Constitution prevails and I am one of those who believe that the worst form of democracy is better than dictatorship. Moreover, every politician is not corrupt in Pakistan,” he said.
Pointing out the accountability systems in Pakistan for “sacred cows”, he said under Article 209 the judiciary has its own system of accountability while officials of the armed forces are tried by military courts. Even bureaucrats have Estacode to be punished by their own colleagues. However, there are special courts for the accountability of politicians. There should be same accountability system for all, he said.
About the struggle between the two houses of parliament, Mr Rabbani said if the government really wants to ensure democracy the number of Senate and National Assembly votes should be considered equal for legislation during joint sessions as 104 senators cannot compete with 342 members of National Assembly.
Leader of the House in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq commended the CPA for playing a key role in strengthening parliaments around the world. The CPA has also been a consistent and dependable partner in democratic strengthening of Pakistan, he said.
He said there were challenges and obstacles and the transition was never abrupt but gradual.
“Dark years have passed and Pakistan has entered the era of democratic stability as we head towards the third successive democratic transition in 2018,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan said a healthy democracy was the one where problems were addressed through dialogue.
He said democracy cannot prevail without justice. Unfortunately, the developed world has historically tried to impose its version of democracy on the developing countries, expecting success with their one size strategy in any social environment. “However, we are different people with a different history, culture, religion, geography and demography,” he said.
CPA Secretary General Akbar Khan said parliaments provided a platform for citizens to have a voice in the national policy debate and formation.
Head of Pildat Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said if political parties believed in democracy they should hold elections within their parties. Moreover, he said, supplementary budgets should also be passed by the parliament.
Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2016