The saga of Pakistan’s institutional breakdown

The saga of Pakistan’s institutional breakdown

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Governance is why governments are formed.  In the parliamentary system, political parties go to the people to seek their approval to govern them. For a new party, this approval depends on the promises the party makes in the context of prevailing circumstances from which the people seek distance. The political workers’ promises and leadership persona gives voters the confidence to bring them into power. The strength of the bond between the citizens and the governed largely depends on the performance of the institutions. The role of the institutions in government is to restrict the sphere of authority of the power contenders, so that rule of law is established on the premise of equality and inclusivity.

No government can perform unless the state’s institutions are structured to dispense justice and decisions based on pluralism. The difference between a developed and undeveloped country is the difference between the institutions' level of autonomy and honesty.

Institutions are the drivers of constitutions. Therefore, three things are utterly important to have progressive state institutions: the trust of the citizens in them; exercising restraint from trespassing onto others’ domain, and autonomy, i.e., being able to say NO to the powers that be to preserve their integrity.

For the last few years, especially from the period leading to the investigation that made Nawaz Sharif and his entire clan and political workers pariah, institutions have become the target of people’s opinions. Irrespective of the cybercrime act and red flags raised from time to time by authorities, people are vehemently opposing the practice of institutions in Pakistan, compromising their integrity to serve the interests of the elite club that has been ruling Pakistan for several decades.  

If parliament is questionable, how can the election commission earn brownie points? It makes the entire institution of the electoral process doubtful, compromised, and undemocratic.  

Durdana Najam

The question is: Does Pakistan have state institutions in which its people have complete trust because they perform independently, have the wherewithal to uphold their integrity, and detest penetrating others’ spheres? The answer is obviously no. Because the people of Pakistan do not trust their institutions, it brings into question the reputation of the institutions built on the pedestal of integrity and autonomy. Generally, the impression is that parliament as an institution is formed through rigged elections, and the party that comes to power or is prematurely sent packing, is usually the one that either enjoys or has lost the support of Pakistan’s powerful military.

We have had three military coups. We cannot, therefore, dismiss this impression as some wild guess. A rigged parliament does not enjoy the trust or respect of its representatives. Hence the impression that politicians abuse their power to further personal interests is a permanent part of the long-term memory of Pakistanis. This negative image is fortified when lawmakers prefer street power to the power of the parliament to convince and rally the support of their voters.

If parliament is questionable, how can the election commission earn brownie points? It makes the entire institution of the electoral process doubtful, compromised, and undemocratic.  

In this system, the judiciary's ability, whose only job is to interpret the constitution and dispense justice according to that interpretation, can hardly remain untainted or independent.

And in this potpourri of connivance, the role of the bureaucracy becomes that of a film editor who pieces together shots from all the scenes to put something up on screen for the viewers (read voters) to feel that they are being governed.

Democracy is a process that flourishes with the support of solid-state institutions. However, as has been repeatedly argued, elections are just the tip of the democratic iceberg. The building blocks of a democratic process are how these elections are conducted; the honesty of purpose of the lawmakers; their commitment to implementing the constitution and the rule of law in letter and spirit, and their trust in the process of accountability that it would throw its net on all the predators of state without discrimination.  

In short, a breakdown of one institution has a domino effect on all the other state organs rendering them subservient to the wishes of an elite club whose entire politics revolves around sloganeering, rhetoric and arousing religious sentiments.  

- Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues. 

Twitter: @durdananajam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view