Restoring faith

Published July 3, 2023

WITH Pakistani democracy in the throes of yet another existential crisis, June 30, the International Day of Parliamentarianism, ought to have held special significance for us.

On that day, parliamentary democracies are supposed to take stock of where they stand, how far they’ve come, and how far they still have to go as they evolve into forums that are truly representative of their people.

It is unfortunate that our lawmakers felt no need for such self-reflection. Our parliament today seems more like a glorified fighting pit for the vile and uncouth, rather than an agora for the wise to engage in reasoned debate.

It is a place where the already privileged pass slurs and mock each other, instead of proposing solutions and counter-solutions to the problems of their constituents.

Of course, it is the very essence of democracy for there to be disagreement — sometimes with vehemence, sometimes with calm grace.

However, such disagreements are supposed to be resolved with ethos, logos and pathos, not brawling, spurious allegations and abuse of power. Unfortunately, our lawmakers have historically tended towards the latter, only to rue it when the tables turn.

The security establishment’s repeated interference in the political process has also been key in never letting the parliamentary system stabilise enough so that it could perpetuate a resilient socioeconomic order.

Repeated military takeovers hollowed out the institution from within, preventing an organic, representative polity from taking root. Even when civilian-led governments have ostensibly been in the saddle, the state continued to pull the reins from behind the scenes, never really letting any popular leader have the final say in some of the most important aspects of statecraft, especially foreign policy.

Pakistan today stands at a crossroads. One path leads to an uncertain future; the other may set us back by a few decades. With a host of social, economic and political crises threatening to rip the country apart, a stable, representative parliament could have helped the nation muster the courage needed to make difficult choices.

Unfortunately, at a time when all shades of opinion needed to be brought together to find a consensus for the path forward, our parliamentarians once again seem to be working with non-parliamentary forces to repeat already failed experiments.

This is not to absolve those who have simply never given parliament or their fellow parliamentarians the respect and deference they deserved.

However, the answer lies not in once again engineering the electoral process to instal a more ‘desirable’ government, but in faithfully restoring parliament so that it truly represents the people of Pakistan.

How to do so, is a problem that our lawmakers — present and aspiring — must solve themselves. Their failure will only diminish the legislature’s standing and cede more power to external forces.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2023

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