WEB DESK: Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues. And I look forward to being part of that struggle with you-Bernie Sanders.
In his epoch-making speech at the Democratic National Convention, Senator Bernie Sanders sent a loud and clear message to all practitioners of democracy that the ultimate goal of elections and rule is not to protect the rich but to ensure economic justice that alone can ensure better life for all and prosperity for future generations. One hopes that our leaders and voters will read and reread his speech and try to implement his message for establishing a true democratic polity empowering the masses and dismantling the control of Oligarchy-militro-judicial-civil-complex and their lackey politicians.
Sanders said that “It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That’s what this campaign has been about. That’s what democracy is about. But I am happy to tell you that at the Democratic Platform Committee there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.
Among many other strong provisions, the Democratic Party now calls for breaking up the major financial institutions on the Wall Street and the passage of a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. It also calls for strong opposition to job-killing free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency-and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.”
In Pakistan, our political parties lack culture of disagreement(s) and working unanimously for agreed agenda after debate and winning majority vote. All parties have authoritarian, single-person-dominant model that itself is a negation of democracy.
There are no bona fide elections within parties and no process for accountability. This lack of democratic values within political parties is the root cause of their failure to deliver. Sadly, despite criticism from all corners, parties are not ready to introduce democracy within their ranks. In all established democracies, political parties regularly hold elections and meetings of workers, publish their audited accounts, file tax returns, and disclose details of expenses and names of donors. But these elements are conspicuous by their absence in our political culture. The commitment to do work at grassroot level and empowering the masses is completely alien to our political parties.
Sanders told the American people that the forthcoming election “is about ending the 40-year decline of our middle class, the reality that 47 million men, women and children live in poverty. It is about understanding that if we do not transform our economy, our younger generation will likely have a lower standard of living than their parents. This election is about ending the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we currently experience, the worst it has been since 1928.
It is not moral, not acceptable and not sustainable that the top one-tenth of one percent now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, or that the top 1 percent in recent years has earned 85 percent of all new income. That is unacceptable. That must change.”
Our governments-civil and military alike-have been totally insensitive towards the poor and at present it is officially admitted that 60 million are living below the poverty line. The income inequalities in Pakistan have increased sharply during the last two decades and the trend continues unabated despite tall claims (sic) of poverty reduction. The main factors that govern personal income distribution include: distribution of assets; functional income distribution; transfers from other households, government and rest of the world; and tax and expenditure structure of the government.
The single most devastating factor for increased income and wealth inequalities remains the regressive tax system. Incident of tax on the poor during the last 10 years has increased substantively (35%) while the rich owning 90 percent of wealth of the nation pay less than 1% of total tax collection. Like the US, as pointed out by Sanders, we are facing chronic economic disparities and lack of essential services. The Great Divide in today’s Pakistan between the rich and the poor is assuming alarming proportions but there is no debate about it from any quarter.
For our political leaders, there is a lot to learn from Sanders’ speech. He aptly reminded his fellow countrymen that “this election is about which candidate understands the real problems facing this country and has offered real solutions-not just bombast, fear-mongering, name-calling and divisiveness.” Our leaders are not only engaged in name-calling and mudslinging they do everything to divide society.
For this attitude, Sanders warned the Americans: “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor. We need leadership which brings our people together and makes us stronger – not leadership which insults Latinos, Muslims, women, African-Americans and veterans – and divides us up”. It is high time that our leaders should also work together for the unity of the nation, for the welfare of less-privileged and ensuring fair taxation coupled with social benefits.
Politicians need to act responsibly in all spheres-whether in power or in opposition. Their role is pivotal for effective working of institutions of the State. Being role models, it is imperative for them to show others by their conduct, the supremacy of rule of law. If they indulge in corruption and malpractices, the entire system becomes discredited. Capturing power is the main goal of every party and there is nothing wrong about it. But once in power, favouring near and dear ones and/or amassing wealth through abuse of office is what destroys democracy. While in power, they should demonstrate by their actions that they are custodians of public money and are bound to work for public welfare and not personal gains.
Presently, almost all political parties are dominated and controlled either by a single person or a handful of individuals with workers showing complete loyalty to their “chief” rather than to the party’s manifesto/programme. Obviously, in return, they expect personal favours from the “chief” when the party gets power. This culture of nepotism within parties must end and there should be respect for merit.
There is formidable resistance from politicians against establishment of an independent accountability authority in Pakistan as they know that such a body would expose their corruption and end their control over resources. The way forward is that political parties should be forced to keep proper accounts, get them audited through reputed firms and file tax returns. Once this is made mandatory under the law, they would have no option but to take into their folds only those people who honestly discharge their tax obligations and have a clean public life. The process of filtration within the parties is a necessary step towards a democratic culture.
A true democratic set-up ensures rule of law and accountability of all, especially of rulers, public offices holders and government officials. The absence of rule of law (as is the case in Pakistan) is negation of democracy. Favouritism, nepotism, despotism, repression, fascism, bigotry, totalitarianism, oppression, tyranny, intolerance, denial of human rights, persecution of minorities and denial of access to justice are all antithesis of democracy. Elections per se cannot guarantee a democratic polity or rule of law. Since abuse of powers can only be checked through a proactive and impartial judiciary, dispensation of justice is a sine qua non for democracy.
In addition to absence of rule of law, the existing system by its very structure is anti-people. The ruling elites thrive on taxpayers’ money and use police, taxation and judiciary to control the masses. The empowerment of people politically and economically is the essence of democracy, but this would be a deathblow for our ruling classes. Thus, they work hand-in-hand to safeguard their common interests and despite occasional in-fights and pulling each other’s legs for grabbing more and more benefits and privileges, they immediately unite to “salvage the system.” They hoodwink the masses by arguing that the “system” is more important compared to giving them their basic rights. The ruling elites know that perpetuation of the existing system alone can help them to keep the masses in eternal subjugation. In other words, historically all subjects were ruled by one king but today, each subject has to bow before many kings.
The existing power structures, whether related to executive, judiciary or legislation, belie good governance and democratic norms. No political party wants to dismantle these structures. On the contrary, politicians vociferously protect the interests of civil-military bureaucracy, landed classes and unscrupulous businessmen. This unholy alliance not only denies empowerment of masses but also exploits them in the name of “democracy” and/or “national interest”, as highlighted by Bernie Sanders in his campaign and speech.
The real challenge for masses is dismantling this unholy alliance. The elites, being beneficiaries of the system, will show strong resistance for obvious reasons. Since the rich and mighty perpetrate through money power, control over assets and State machinery, they would never be interested in enforcing rule of law. Rule of law embraces at least three principles: First, that the law is supreme over officials of the government as well as private individuals, and thereby preclusive of the influence of arbitrary and political power. Second, it requires the creation and maintenance of an actual order of positive laws which preserves and embodies the more general principle of normative order. Third, it requires that the relationship between the state and the individual be regulated by law.
Pakistan needs massive reforms in all spheres of governance, rather than patchwork or cosmetic changes here and there. In judiciary, we are still following the outdated procedures and methods whereas many countries have shifted to e-system for filing of cases and their speedy disposal through fast-track follow-ups. Since dispensation of justice is the main pillar of democracy, the foremost need is elimination of unnecessary litigation and facilitating smooth running of affairs between the State and its citizens.
Once both learn to act within the four corners of law, present massive number of litigations will automatically diminish. It is shameful that presently our State itself happens to be the principal litigant in majority of cases. State machinery usurps the rights of the people and then audaciously drags them in courts. A high-powered Judicial Reforms Commission should be established to not only determine the reasons for this sorry state of affairs but also to suggest means and methods to stop unnecessary litigation as well as processes for speedy disposal of cases.
For establishing sustainable democratic rule, the sine qua non is accountability for all. Accountability must start from the judges who adjudge others. Judges must be above board-extraordinary competent legal minds, men of integrity, blameless, and free from all internal and external pressures. Since justice should not only be done but seen to have been done, the prime duty of a judge is to demonstrate this through his judgements and not by verbal exchanges in courts or issuance of statements on various occasions.
The starting point of reforms in Pakistan should be accountability of all organs of State. In a country where politicians, high-ranking civil and military officials and judges get state lands as bounties and do not make public declaration of assets owned by them and their relatives, there cannot be hope for true democracy, rule of law and responsible governance. A broad-based alliance of political workers, civil society, media and intelligentsia should be formed to force the Parliament to abdicate all laws of secrecy and enact a comprehensive legislation for right to information, as enshrined in Article 19A of the Constitution, coupled with strict accountability by an independent body.
(The writers, lawyers and partners in Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).)
Source: Business Recorder