All are answerable

Published January 25, 2022
The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.
The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.

THE prime minister seems to be under the impression that a call for accountability is tantamount to blackmailing him, something that he deems unacceptable as evident from his statements of ‘I will not allow anyone to blackmail me’.

This was his response when Hazara families refused to bury their community members martyred in terrorist attacks as a way to get some accountability for lack of security and impunity for the killers. Reportedly, the words were again uttered recently, this time for his long-time friend the former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister and current defence minister, Pervez Khattak.

The minister was upset that the province he was elected from — KP — has been facing gas shortages when under the Constitution it is to receive gas supplies in line with its higher rates of production. He told the prime minister at a meeting that the people of KP had elected him to his office and he should not let them down. However, the PM did not take this call for accountability very well, and the defence minister apparently left the meeting in anger before returning.

In a democracy, is an elected prime minister not answerable to the people? An elected chairperson of a political party is also answerable to cadres of party workers, and must not expect royal treatment where they are always assumed to be charting the best possible path. This was the impression the PTI has tried to give over the years whenever there have been disagreements, but the PM’s recent reactions seem to suggest otherwise.

Democratic principles, not reactions, should hold sway.

Take, for example, his reaction to PTI losing most seats in KP’s local bodies elections. He instantly dissolved the PTI’s structure. But there is a need for deep introspection here: did the PTI lose the election due to bad performance of the provincial party structure, or does it have to do with the economic crisis that the PTI finds itself in with sky-rocketing inflation, currency devaluation, unemployment and capitulation to the IMF’s whims by bringing in a mini budget, after having opposed IMF deals when in opposition and ramping up support based on it?

In a democratic dispensation, would it not have been more appropriate to announce fresh elections instead of disbanding a party’s structure and appointing new people? Clearly, these actions are guided by paranoia rather than a systemic transition or democratic principles.

Similarly, PTI MNA Noor Alam Khan has also been issued a show cause notice for ‘violating party’s discipline’ when he demanded accountability for lack of gas and electricity for his constituents in Peshawar. It is perfectly normal for an MNA to represent constituents in parliament and raise issues related to them, especially critical ones related to energy. However, it is unfortunate that the PTI would take action against him for his protected speech in parliament where the law allows action by the party against parliamentarians only if they go against the party line on a money bill or a vote of confidence.

The other issue with the PTI’s local elections seems to have been handing out tickets to family members of regional party bearers that caused internal squabbles. This again goes against the PTI’s claims of being a merit-based party; in fact, the solution again is not dissolution but internal elections and a merit-based system.

A prime minister must be answerable to the people, including elected representatives who have given the mandate to a political party. Ego must not come in the way when questions are asked of him; instead, he should ensure the good performance of his party and government through institutional and structural reforms rather than authoritarian actions.

This issue is not unique to the PTI — most political parties in Pakistan lack democratic structures and cultures, and end up acting in an autocratic manner when elections take place whether in the party or at the parliamentary level.

To make matters worse, there seems to be a concerted campaign to increase support for a presidential system rather than the current parliamentary system that offers greater autonomy to provinces and hence a greater say to the people. The experience of military dictatorships where the army chief would become the president ended up terribly for Pakistan with rampant rights violations, no devolution of power, and decisions made at the whim of a single person and his ego. Mu­­sharraf’s stint where Pakistanis were ‘sold’ to foreign agencies and terrorism against Pakistanis became rampant, took years of undoing under a democratic leadership.

It is now time to actually follow the systems of accountability with checks and balances so that no one entity, person, or institution holds absolute power, but authority emanates from the wishes of the people through a devolved democratic system.

Accountability is not blackmail; it is necessary.

The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.

usama@bolobhi.org

Twitter: @UsamaKhilji

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2022

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