IT makes every Pakistani immensely proud that the country came into being through a democratic process, but it remains to be seen whether we carried the process through and used it to become a developed society.
The All-India Muslim League (AIML), which claimed to be the only representative of Indian Muslims and advocated for a separate homeland for Muslims, had contested the election for the Legislative Assemblies in undivided India in 1945. The AIML had swept the election, as it polled over 75pc of the Muslim votes and won 460 out of 533 Muslim seats in the central and provincial elections. The result of the election was not only an unequivocal endorsement of the AIML’s claim as the sole representative of Indian Muslims, it also proved beyond doubt that the Muslims of India were solidly behind the demand for Pakistan.
The Constituent Assembly of undivided India — which came into existence as a result of the 1945 election for the purpose of framing a constitution for united India — had to be split into two to cater to the legislative needs of the two new states. The 389-member Constituent Assembly of undivided India gave birth to Pakistan’s first constituent assembly consisting of 69 members. The assembly members were later increased to 79 to give representation to Balochistan, the Tribal Areas and the newly acceded states of Bahawalpur and Khairpur.
The Constituent Assembly of Pakistan met for its maiden session on August 10, 1947, in Karachi, and elected Jogendra Nath Mandal, a member of the minority community of East Pakistan, as its first chairman. Although this was an interim arrangement and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was elected President of the assembly the next day, the election of a member of the minority community as the first chairman of the first Constituent Assembly of a state created in the name of religion carried huge symbolic value.
To move towards a functioning democracy, Pakistan’s power elites will have to acknowledge the primacy of Parliament and respect the rules of representative government.
The first Constituent Assembly was an indirectly elected house whose Muslim members were elected by the Muslim members of the regions included in Pakistan. Non-Muslim members were elected by the non-Muslim members of the same provincial assemblies. The Muslim League with 59 members was the largest parliamentary party comprising predominantly Muslim members, followed by the Congress Party, whose majority consisted of non-Muslims. East Bengal had 44 members, followed by 22 members from Punjab, five from Sindh, three from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and one each from Balochistan, Bahawapur, Khairpur and the Tribal Areas.
The Assembly was charged with two responsibilities: to frame a constitution for Pakistan, and to act as the Federal Legislature. The assembly, sadly, could not complete the primary task of framing a constitution by the time it was dissolved more than seven years later on Oct 24, 1954, by Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad in rage after Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra tried to clip some of his wide-ranging powers through the legislature.
Two important developments during the proceedings of the first Constituent Assembly did, however, leave a lasting imprint on the future course of the nation. The first were the remarks of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which he gave while addressing the first Constituent Assembly after his election as its president on August 11, 1947. Although it was not a prepared speech, the remarks gave an important insight into the founder’s vision about the new state.
The second most significant development was the passage of the Objectives Resolution, which was applauded by the clergy, but there were many within the Assembly and outside, especially in East Pakistan, who considered it a deviation from Jinnah’s vision as outlined in that very Constituent Assembly.
The non-Muslim members moved several amendments to the resolution and even proposed that the resolution be circulated to elicit public opinion. Voting on these amendments was sharply divided along religious lines. All Muslim members except two opposed the amendments, whereas all non-Muslim members supported the moves. As eminent constitutional lawyer Hamid Khan wrote in book ‘Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan’ (2017), “one cannot escape the conclusion that the Resolution might have sown the seeds of suspicion, alienation and distrust among the minorities against the majority.”
Sadly, there was no clarity of vision, agreed state direction or a documented social contract during the life of the first Constituent Assembly.
The 80-member second Constituent Assembly was also indirectly elected by the provincial assemblies, with special arrangements made for the election of representatives from federal capital Karachi, Balochistan, the acceded states and Tribal Areas, which did not have legislatures at the time.
Since the Muslim League was routed in the 1954 provincial election in East Pakistan where it could get only 10 seats in a house of 309, it could muster only one seat from there to the second Constituent Assembly. As a consequence, the League lost even a simple majority in the house. Finally, a coalition of the Muslim League and the United Front was formed, with Chaudhry Muhammad Ali being the prime minister.
The key accomplishment of the assembly was to take the unfinished business of the previous assembly to fruition and finally pass a Constitution, on Feb 29, 1956. Another significant step of far-reaching consequences was the merging of all the federating units in the western wing into one unit, which was formally named as West Pakistan.
Although the Constitution was passed and, as a result, the country became the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, the bitterness generated by the One Unit dispensation did not go away. A sizable lobby in East Pakistan remained dissatisfied with the arrangement of so-called parity and the quantum of provincial autonomy provided in the 1956 Constitution.
Had the democratic process continued, the source of dissatisfaction could have been addressed in time. But before the first general election, scheduled for February 1959, could be held, the country had its first military intervention in October 1958.
Armed with the dictatorial powers, General Ayub Khan devised a new Constitution in 1962 without any meaningful participation by public representatives. Any semblance of provincial autonomy stood removed, and the resulting alienation in East Pakistan produced disastrous consequences.
The first general elections that were scheduled to be held in 1959 were actually held 11 years later in 1970, when it had to elect yet another assembly to frame the constitution for a united Pakistan. In those elections, East Pakistan gave an overwhelming mandate to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League (AL), which won all but two National Assembly seats there. The AL, which had contested the election on the basis of its Six-Point agenda, fielded six candidates in West Pakistan as a symbolic participation, but none came even close to winning.
In West Pakistan, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won the highest number of seats, mostly from Punjab. The PPP had not put up any candidate in an East Pakistan constituency. The pattern of candidates and the seats won by the two most popular parties clearly indicated the course of the coming events.
Several rounds of two-way and three-way negotiations were held involving President Yahya Khan, Mujib and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to somehow begin the formal session of the National Assembly, but the latter two had their specific reservations, leading to an impasse. One wanted assurances beforehand, the other wanted to move forward towards the draft constitution.
Perhaps the greatest folly was that the Legal Framework Order (LFO) had not specified whether the constitution would be approved by a simple or two-third majority in the Assembly. Had the requirement of two-third majority been incorporated, the LFO would have nudged the two parties to cooperate with each other and make due compromises.
After the tragedy of 1971, the ‘Pakistani part’ of the National Assembly, consisting of 146-members, went on to first adopt an interim constitution on April 21, 1972, and later passed the Constitution of Pakistan on April 12, 1973, which was the first to be framed in Pakistan by a National Assembly directly elected on the principle of one-man-one vote through a relatively fair election.
The next elections, held in 1977, led to the imposition of martial law by Army Chief Gen Ziaul Haq after deadlock between the PPP and the opposition Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) over election rigging.
The next National Assembly elections were held on Feb 25, 1985, on a non-party basis. Zia probably thought it would be easier to control parliament without the influence exercised by political parties on their members. The non-party elections and PPP’s boycott created conditions where many new local government-level politicians made it to the assembly and continued to focus more on municipal issues rather than national-level policy matters.
The decision by the government of Mohammad Khan Junejo to provide funds to legislators for local development further enhanced the focus of national legislators on local issues — a phenomenon which has continued to haunt subsequent legislatures. The non-party nature of election accentuated the influence of extended families, tribes, castes and sects in electoral politics.
The subsequent elections to the National Assembly in 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997 publicly exposed the role played by intelligence agencies and the security establishment in Pakistan’s electoral politics. Lt-Gen Hamid Gul, who headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from May 1987 to May 1989, publicly admitted his and ISI’s role in the creation of right-wing Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI) to defeat Benazir Bhutto and her PPP in the 1988 general elections. Lt-Gen Asad Durrani, who headed the ISI from August 1990 to March 1992, submitted an affidavit that he, on behalf of ISI and as instructed by then Army Chief Gen Aslam Beg, received huge sums of money from a banker and distributed various sums of money to IJI leaders to help the party win the 1990 election.
All such actions of the establishment were further recorded and discussed during the famous Asghar Khan case. Although documentary evidence for the establishment’s interference in subsequent parliamentary elections was not as explicit, there is ample anecdotal and circumstantial evidence to point in that direction. As a result, almost all parliaments in Pakistan faced the allegation of being the product of rigging in elections.
The frequent disruption of parliamentary proceedings, the constitutional breakdown during the vote of no-confidence against prime minister Imran Khan, and just about everything that has happened in its wake has brought the state of Pakistani parliament and the notion of representative government into sharp focus.
Successive governments and parliaments in Pakistan have been facing serious questions of legitimacy and competence over the years. No prime minister has been able to complete the full five-year term in national history. Parliamentarians hardly pay attention to business within parliament and the assemblies are frequently found to be lacking quorum.
This is so because parliamentarians devote a major part of their time and energies to attend to their voters’ personal issues, like jobs, promotions, dealings with local administration and police, and to local municipal issues, such as water, sanitation, roads, etc.
Most legislators resent effective local governments and consider them an encroachment of ‘their’ turf. As a result, the absence of functioning local governments adds to the burden of legislators and distracts them from their primary roles of legislation, oversight of the executive, and representation of their constituents’ views on national policy issues.
Lack of democracy within political parties acts as a major obstacle in the induction of fresh blood into parties and good performance of elected legislators. To top it all, the long-entrenched practice of extra-political interference — partly real and partly perceived — remains an issue that has no end in sight.
If we want to move forward towards a functioning democracy which delivers good governance and sets the country on the path of accelerated development, we need to cover a lot of ground. To begin with, powerful institutions and intelligence agencies have to limit their remit to within the constitutional boundaries. Without establishing a rules-based society, no institution will be able to perform effectively.
Besides, voters will have to move beyond their emotional attachment to individual leaders and vote for parties on the basis of their programmes. Voters should demand hard evidence of party programmes and competent teams able to effectively and efficiently address governance issues.
Political parties should form their shadow cabinets so that voters may ascertain their preparedness to solve pressing economic and social problems over time. A long-awaited paradigm shift is needed in the way we perceive politics, parliament and representative government.
The writer is President of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency (Pildat).