It is shameful, having to use a phrase as tattered as ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ to describe an elected Prime Minister in one’s own country. Unfortunately, every time Nawaz Sharif has been in power with his parliamentary majorities, he has taken the proverb straight to heart! While our recent leaders have never been credited with having high IQ’s, in Nawaz Sharif’s case, he seems not to possess the far more important EQ - emotional quotient: the ability to assess situations and to cope with the pressures and demands that relationships impose. When the government is criticized for its policies, it brings out the ogre of the ‘army takeover’ to keep its critics and populace under control. This weekend’s events have truly put Pakistan’s democracy to shame. It is unacceptable that one political player has such power in his hands that he can discredit the whole system and take it to the brink of collapse! And I do not refer to Dr. Tahir ul Qadri.

Lahore, our second largest city with a population of over 9 million people, was brought to a standstill because of the threat of demonstrations; containers placed on entry and exit points, fuel shortages created to ensure people could not travel and finally, the ransacking of shops by citizens in case there was a scarcity of edible items over the coming week. Whilst on the one hand our leaders spout venom against Israel, on the other they treat their own citizens with contempt; we saw mayhem in Punjab’s capital city, as people fled like mice and scuttled out from under containers, were attacked and seen attacking law enforcement agencies. This weekend’s scenes on television have put the whole nation to shame and gleefully, democracy haters are remonstrating that they told us all along that Pakistan was not suited to democracy.

How can a democratic government possibly feel that they can act as they please and that there is no one to curtail them? How do they believe that they have the right to use state power to curtail the freedom of association and the peaceful right to protest? The Punjab government’s incompetence over the issue has once more created a haven for scaremongers and hoarders. What is the result? They have given meat to the ‘inqalabi revolution;’ to a movement the population had already discredited, because it remembered how it had all ended last time, with hugs and kisses between Dr. Qadri and Qamar Zaman Qaira. Now we are seeing the same ‘successful policies’ being adopted in the twin cities; containers are already atop greenbelts and fuel shortages have begun in preparation for the ‘azadi revolution’.

And now, at the end of the weekend what are we left with? With the threat that the system will collapse and that the army may have to step in. How do we ensure that our political leaders and their incompetence and selfishness does not threaten the political system again and again? Before the general elections in 2013, anytime I met a diplomat I was lectured on the importance of having ‘stability through a single political party rule.’ I begged to differ with them then, as I do now. Pakistani ‘culture’ perpetuates one man rule – whether it is in the family setup through the father, the economic setup through the ‘seth’ or the political setup through the Prime Minister. The current first past the post electoral system has been adopted without much thought. At first it was the colonial mindset: “the Angrez use it, so it must be good.” Over time however, it has come to suit the patriarchal leadership in Pakistan as the best way to undertake politics and retain power. It is this form of absolute power given to the political party holding the reins that has given them room to determine political, economic and business policies that suited themselves often at the cost of the country and its people.

Whether we have midterm elections or not – what I don’t want is a single party absolute majority government, be it the PTI, PPP, PML-Q or PML-N. None of our existing political parties are mature enough to know how to handle state power in the interest of the populace, not least because they are mostly led by one man –surrounded by a coterie— who takes all the decisions and decides what is best. They need to share power and provide for accountability and transparency in governing. Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy has a proportional representation system in place to select its leaders. The only way we will allow democracy to flourish in Pakistan is through the proportional representation system, in which parties share power and work with each other to limit each other’s excesses.

In the 2013 general elections, we saw the PML-N gain 127 seats with 14.9m popular vote, PTI got 27 seats with 7.7m popular votes and PPP had 37 seats with 6.9m popular votes. The MQM, with around 2.5m votes won 19 seats. A proportional representation system would ensure that one party cannot capture the system by winning from one province alone; the whole diversity of the Pakistani people would be represented in Parliament; from the ethnic, linguistic and religious parties as well as our now ‘traditional’ standard bearers of political power. It would give all of them an opportunity to shape the way Pakistan is run, closer to the ideal of the ‘government of the people, for the people and by the people’. This would give many provincial parties a greater say, especially in provincial assemblies and help to rectify many local issues; not least of all, how and where provincial resources are spent.

Half-hearted discussions over the implementation of proportional representation has taken place, first in 1979 under Zia ul Haq and later in 2001, when a detailed study was conducted by the National Reconstruction Bureau; political parties have unsurprisingly always stymied the discussions. I have little hope from the newly set up Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, which took over 2 months to set up and now has 3 months to solve all of Pakistan’s electoral issues! But if it really wants to sustain democracy it should look towards setting up a dynamo process, in which only political parties rotate in power and no other player is encouraged enough to feel they somehow represent the peoples’ will. This will only happen when you give all parties a stake in belonging within the political system. Oh, and while we’re at it, as I’ve mentioned before, lets shorten government terms so that good governments come back and those with poor performance are kicked out before they do too much damage to the country.

 Najma Minhas, an economist by training, is Director Governance & Policy Advisors.

Np@gapa.com.pk

@GapaAdvisors