Pakistan has suffered since its inception from a lack of political stability.  Democracy has not taken root. In the past, military and civilian governments have played a game of musical chairs with the nation's destiny.  The first ever handover of power from one democratic government to another after the 2013 elections led many to believe that the pattern of the past had been broken. But the recent dharnas and resulting instability have once again raised the spectre of a return to the past.

Is Pakistan congenitally indisposed to democracy?  I think not.  Our problem has to do with the sort of democratic system we have rather than democracy itself.  What is wrong with our existing system?  And what should replace it?  

Start with the fundamentals.  Ideally, in a democracy, the assemblies make the laws, the courts interpret and implement them, and the executive manages the country.  It clearly makes sense to keep all three players as independent of each other as possible.  In Pakistan things do not work this way.

People who are elected to our assemblies know little, and care less about law making.  They seek election because they perceive that becoming an MNA or an MPA entitles them to power, protocol, and money.  Since they are not interested in legislation, little takes place in the assemblies.  Instead they become talk shops where scheming and idle chatter replace the serious legislative business of the nation.

Matters are made worse because the executive - the prime minister and his cabinet - is drawn from these assemblies.  So one critical barrier separating the executive from the legislature is breached by design.  The prime minister, in our system, acquires almost unchecked power.  He becomes head of the executive and legislature at the same time.  The system then requires him to draw his cabinet - the nation's management team - from elected members of the legislature.

Assume, for a moment, that we get the right person as prime minister - with the vision, sincerity and management skills needed to lead a complex country like ours.  Is it likely that he will be able to find competent people in the assemblies to run the government?  These are people who will - as ministers - sit atop large, unwieldy bureaucracies critical to the functioning of the state.  Does it make sense to put, for example, a scion of a large land owner, or a 'gadi nasheen' with little or no relevant work experience in a position that requires a very demanding set of skills?  

 Our system of elections is what is known as the 'first past the post' (FPTP) system.  It is a winner take all system.  So if two people are on a ballot then the one who gets a simple majority is declared the winner.  If three or more people are contesting then the one who gets the most votes wins. The 'losers' though they may have collectively garnered more votes than the winner have no further say in the process.

There is something about this system that seems to go against the essence of democracy. In a tight two person race, for example, the person who gets a shade over half the vote wins.  So about half the people in the district get the representation they want.  The other half are in effect disenfranchised.  Is this a democratically acceptable result?  Whatever the answer, it is safe to say that a more 'democratic', and in Pakistan's specific context, a more appropriate electoral system can be designed.

We in Pakistan replicated the British FPTP system.  Little, if any, thought was given to whether such a system would work for us.  The consequences are evident and painful.  Sixty years have passed since independence and Pakistan is a nation literally at war with itself.

 A suitable solution for us has existed for a long time.  It is Proportional Representation or PR. The basic principles underlying proportional representation elections are that all voters deserve representation and that all political groups in society deserve to be represented in parliament in proportion to their strength in the electorate. In other words, everyone should have the right to fair representation.

PR systems divide up the seats in assemblies according to the proportion of votes received by the various parties. Thus if the candidates of a party win 40% of the popular vote, for example in a 100 seat assembly, they get 40 seats. If another party wins 20% of the vote, they get 20 seats, and so on.

One more design element needs to be added for the system to work: The Executive must be directly elected by the electorate. And he must have the authority to choose his cabinet not necessarily from the assemblies but from the best people in the land.

  Politicians would then realize that being elected to parliament is not a ticket to ministerships and power.  Instead it calls for them to think and work hard on the serious business of legislation, and of budgetary and executive oversight.  And once this becomes clear, only those people who are interested and qualified will seek to enter parliament. What a change that would be.

    Nadeem M Qureshi is Chairman of

    Mustaqbil Pakistan