Preserving democracy

Published April 26, 2022

ELATED at their joint success in putting a premature end to the PTI government, the leaders of the PML-N and PPP have once again pledged to revive the Charter of Democracy. Implementation of the clauses of the document, originally signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2006, will now be overseen by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Mr Sharif himself. Why the charter — now nearly 16 years old — was never fully implemented in letter and spirit despite both parties completing one full tenure each in that period seems irrelevant to them at the moment. But as the PPP and PML-N celebrate their newfound bonhomie, it remains to be seen how long it will last. Last time, it had not taken much for the parties to relapse into their historical distrust of each other. With several unpopular decisions now inevitable for their coalition government to take, verbal assurances to each other will not be enough to stick together and see off the ensuing storm. The temptation will be strong for each party to let the other take the fall.

None of this is to downplay the necessity of a joint commitment by democratic parties on Pakistan’s political future. All popularly elected leaders need to stand together despite their differences if they hope to protect our electoral, parliamentary and constitutional processes against interference from anti-democratic forces. This is a particularly opportune time for such an agreement, as every major political party has now suffered from the interference in, and manipulation of, the country’s political system by the security establishment. It is regrettable, therefore, that the joint statement released by the PPP and PML-N seems to suggest that the PTI has been marked as their primary opponent. This is a mistake, as the PTI has proven itself to be, at the very least, as large a political entity as either of these parties. Its exclusion from any joint charter for the future will be to the country’s detriment. Granted that the PTI has displayed a troubling disdain for parliamentary processes and the constitutional order during its time in power, but the signatories of the original Charter of Democracy were once guilty of the same. There is a need, therefore, for reasonable minds in all parties to reach out to each other and work towards setting aside their differences, however bitter they may be, for the common good of all Pakistanis.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2022

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