LAHORE – Political parties are making preparations for the elections, although despite the government’s repeated assurances some are still skeptical that they will be held on time. Politicians, who want to take part in the elections and are not confident that they will get elected from their existing platforms, are changing loyalties. And the parties in need of electables are welcoming such people, turning a blind eye to the past conduct of such elements. New manifestos are being drawn up to make new commitments with the voters. The Election Commission of Pakistan is also taking necessary steps for free and fair polls. However, while preparing themselves for the electoral exercise, all political parties should have a look at the mistakes made by the present government during the past four-and-a-half years and think of taking necessary measures to avoid them in the future. In case such an exercise is not carried out, similar mistakes are likely to be repeated by the next government – and the results will also remain the same. Many people have been alleging that the present government as well as the one headed by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani set new records of corruption and gave the people nothing except myriad of problems. It kept the judiciary on the tenterhooks. The government’s alleged moves against the Armed Forces – as mentioned in the memorandum sent by the then ambassador Hussain Haqqani to US Admiral Mike Mullen – were not tolerable for the people, who are regarded as the real rulers of the country. But, no one could do anything against the government. The reason was that the opposition did not have the required numerical support in the National Assembly to dislodge the prime minister. And the ruling party lawmakers can’t vote against their own government according to their conscience. The government’s policies are against the country but there is no constitutional way to get rid of the rulers.Under the Constitution, a no-confidence motion against the prime minister can be passed only if majority of the legislators vote against him. And as long as he enjoys majority’s support, he cannot be removed, no matter how serious havoc he is playing with the country because of his wrong policies. Such a government should have no right to complete its mandated five-year term.The opposition parties can only criticise the prime minister, but do nothing against him in practical terms. This means, there should be some constitutional mechanism to act against such a government even if it enjoys majority support. All stakeholders should seriously consider whether the president’s power to dissolve the assembly in certain situations should be restored.Although President Zardari is not expected to act against his own party prime minister, the power should be available to a conscientious head of the state, so that he could act when the government is working against the country’s interests or has totally failed to deliver. The experience of the past four-and-a-half years has also shown that the president should not hold any party office. President Zardari has claimed umpteen times that he set a new precedent by delegating all powers to Parliament. He is right as far as the constitutional position is concerned. But the fact is that in his capacity as the co-chairman of the PPP he exercised almost all powers of the prime minister. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf or his predecessor Gilani would never say in public that it is Mr Zardari who is the head of state as well as the head of government. But the fact is that the president acts in both capacities, reducing the premier to just a rubber stamp.It is against the spirit of the Constitution that both these offices should be with one person – in practical terms.To obviate such a possibility in the future, Parliament should amend the Constitution and say in very clear terms that the president will not hold any party office. Such an amendment is also necessary because Mr Zardari is taking the advantage of the perceived ambiguity in the existing provisions. His party leaders also insist that the president has to be a political being and Mr Zardari will continue to play his political role. The matter of the president’s dual office is pending with the courts, but by the time a decision is announced the president will be about to serve out his term. Like the president, the prime minister should also be debarred for any party office. The prime minister has so many functions to perform that he doesn’t and shouldn’t have time for party activities. Therefore, the office of the party president should go to somebody else.Some people argue that if the prime minister is also the party chief, he will be in a better position to control the party. True, but if the prime minister enjoys the confidence of the party and works according to the party policy, he will have nothing to fear.The seats reserved for women have just no justification. When women are given equal rights in all walks of life, they should contest the elections on general seats. There should be no nominations in the elected houses. The doors of nepotism and favouritism opened through these seats should be closed for good.Though it will sound ridiculous, power after the next elections should go only to such a party which has simple majority in the National Assembly and doesn’t need support of any other group just to have the required numerical strength.Small coalition partners blackmail the senior partner and ‘extort’ such concessions and facilities which they are not entitled to. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s frequent decisions to quit the Cabinet and then rejoin it after receiving a ‘price’ should be instructive for the lawmakers. Neither decision by this party was taken on the basis of any principle.And if at all the formation of a government is not possible without cooperation from some other party, such coalition partner should not be allowed to quit the set-up subsequently. Such a ‘political marriage’ should last for the stability of the government. In other words, once such marriage is ‘consummated’, the right to divorce should be withdrawn from the coalition partners. The power to appoint the army chief is another issue calling for the lawmakers’ attention. This appointment has always been a bone of contention between the president and the prime minister. In the past, this power remained with the head of the government as well as the head of state.While the prime minister will always appoint somebody as the COAS on political considerations, the president is supposed to be neutral in his choice. Thus, the power should be given back to the president. But he should not appoint anyone except the senior-most general on this post.The past experience shows that prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had made serious mistakes when they appointed Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Musharraf, respectively, bypassing their seniors. The treatment the appointing authority in both the cases had received at the hands of their appointees is now history.It has also been observed that whosoever is in power focuses only on the development of his/her constituency, ignoring the least developed regions. The thinking should be reviewed immediately. Equal funds should be given to all constituencies without any discrimination, no matter whether they belong to the ruling party or opposition. Special weightage be given to the less developed areas. Developing one region or city at the cost of others should be declared a crime because such an approach creates a sense of deprivation among the people of underdeveloped regions and pushes them to make demands for separate provinces.At present the federal and provincial governments are free to have as many ministers and advisers as are necessary to accommodate all their cronies. This way, the resources of the state are being plundered. The ministries and departments the federal and provincial government need should be mentioned in clear terms. No government should be allowed to ‘itemise’ ministries only to accommodate more sycophants. The same should be done at the provincial level. Similarly, while the maximum number of ministers has already been decided through a constitutional amendment, the minimum number should also be decided to avoid centralisation of powers.Since the country is facing serious economic problems, steps should also be taken to curtail the expenditures. The budgetary allocations for the president, the prime minister, ministers, parliamentarians and departments should either be reduced or capped. There is no need for ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries in the presence of ministers. And the facilities allowed to the chairmen of various standing committees should be done away with. Likewise, if the government appoints adviser for a certain department or ministry, there is no need to have a minister there. Such an approach will save a lot of money.The system of granting extensions to important military or civil officials should also be buried for good. If some official did extraordinarily well during service, the government should give him some advisory job after his retirement rather than extending his term that will only block promotions of others.The legislators’ role should be confined to lawmaking and their quotas in jobs and interference in postings and transfers of officials should be ended. Their meddling is affecting the performance of bureaucrats and also politicising them.The government should also ban the import of new vehicles and depend more on the local four wheelers. The practice of giving the top bureaucrats new vehicles every year is nothing but extravagance. The public servants should be taught to serve the public and not live like kings and princes in a poor country.