Party versus parliament

In parliamentary democracy a political party organizes itself to win maximum seats in the assembly. It formulates its manifesto in which promises are made for the common good of the voters. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) won big in the only free and fair election of 1970 on the offer of ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ (Food, Clothing and Shelter) for the masses. Only political novices joined him while the ‘Electables’ or ‘Mufad Parast’ (vested interests individuals) did not take him seriously. Once in power ZAB was able to call the shots. The 1973 constitution in its original form was a step in the creation of a ‘welfare state’ as envisioned by the founding fathers of the country.

ZAB succeeded in denting the power of the bureaucratic military judicial oligarchy that had taken over control of the resources of an emerging democracy in October 1958. Gates of the colonial no go areas like the Governor’s House or Civil Secretariat were swung open for the public. As student leaders we had direct access to the chancellor who listened and acted on our complaints. ‘People’s Government’ or Awami Hakumat’ as it was called led by ‘Quaid-e-Awam’ made sure that the voice of the masses was heard and their rights protected. National Identity Card scheme was started for identification followed by major reforms in the process of obtaining passports. The huge expatriate community that is a major source of foreign exchange remittances were a direct result of this liberal policy. Perhaps the 1970 assembly was the ablest over where the level of legislation, debate and discussion was exemplary. Political heavy weight like Malik Mairaj Khalid who then rose to be the speaker of the National Assembly after the 1988 elections was a member of this house, elected from Lahore.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was the first real political party of Pakistan, which was formed in Lahore in 1967. Two other parties followed in 1996 (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, Millat Party). Later on Farooq Leghari with his elite, feudal and bureaucratic background decided to merge his party with GHQ formed Pakistan Muslim League (Q) while Kaptaan kept his course and struggle. Thanks to the efforts of many honest and selfless Comrades like Mairaj Muhammad Khan, Ahsan Rashid , retired Air Marshal Shahid Zulfiqar etc., PTI emerged as a major political force of our times. The massive show of strength at Minar-e-Pakistan in October 2011 proved to be the turning point.

As a movement for change PTI was the first political party to have a shadow cabinet and think tanks. Policies were formulated and then presented to the Chairman. First 100 days plan which sets the direction for the regime was also prepared. Framework for the creation of a welfare state was agreed upon with focus on education, health and employment.

Election strategy was also prepared to field young and fresh candidates with financial support of the party. There was a discussion on the possibility of rigging by PML-N in the 2013 elections. PTI had a big wave. First time youth voters gathered to support the change movement. After the lawyers movement and joint political struggle to topple the dictator it was assumed that the election would be free and fair but it wasn’t. A spontaneous dharna triggered at Lalik Chowk DHA, Lahore against the electoral manipulation. Kaptaan was hospitalized and the party was not prepared for a movement. In 1977 Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) started the campaign against rigging spontaneously as the groundwork had been done, this protest then toppled ZAB.

In politics, it is all about timing. When the crunch time came to challenge the results of the 2013 elections, the party was ill prepared. Most PTI defeated candidates were either licking their wounds or evaluating their losses. Despite his poor health comrade Ahsan Rashid joined the protest, NA-125 candidate Hamid Khan also showed up but there was no overall direction to kick off a movement. The dharna in August 2014 was too little and too late to challenge the tainted mandated of PML-N who continues to rule despite the disqualification of their leader.

Parliament is the Mecca of democracy where legislation takes place. Except for the 1970 house, parliamentarians have disappointed the nation. They have neither legislated nor led on major policy issues mainly because of poor homework. It is the party cadre that is required to formulate policies and provide inputs to the elected members. Weak party structures results in poor performance of the legislation, it is always a bottom up approach not the other way around.

Politics is a numbers game; it is the party that remains in contact with the masses and organises their resistance and support when needed. One man shows are only good for the cameras and TV ratings, not for real political innings. As a first step, party positions and elected ranks should be organized separately with minimum overlaps. The stronger the party structure, the better the performance of the legislators. Dr. Mubashir Hassan as Secretary General of People’s Party worked round the clock and was readily available to the workers. Jamaat-e-Islami is also well organized though its electoral performance remains poor mainly because of its out-dated religious ideological approach but it does have a very effective party structure which delivers street power.

The free and fair elections of 1970 and the resulting parliament should be a democratic role model for the country. A strong party, effective legislators and able leadership were the hallmark of this house. The standard of debates and the discussions in the legislature were outstanding. Two constitutions were formulated by this assembly (1972, 1973). ZAB was so confident of this performance that he opted for early elections. Little did he know that the forces of status-quo were out to get him. Instead of party support he relied on administrative coercion to curb the movement against him. While the opposition took control of the streets the establishment pushed him out of power. Though his party and legacy survived he did not. Democracy can only survive through organized political parties in the absence of which the parliament loses its base and becomes ineffective as has been the case since 1977 till to date, while parties do require elected parliamentarians to come into power but then they need the party support to deliver otherwise they invariably fail. After the 1970 house was dissolved by ZAB in early 1977, all elected parliaments have badly failed to deliver.

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