Quality in politics

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 19.05.10

What should be the educational criteria to contest elections is a topic of the TV talk shows
now-a-days. Both the major political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, gave tickets to
candidates who had been condemned in the past for presenting fake degrees to contest
elections.

No doubt, the slab to have a bachelor degree or not has been removed through a court
decision (by the Dogar court) but what about propriety: one should tell truth in front of the
Election Commissioner while filing one’s nomination papers. Hence, the issue entails two
dimensions: first, what educational background is appropriate for those who may become
legislators, and secondly, whether the would-be legislators are allowed to resort to
deception and lies before entering the parliamentary corridors.

The discussion on the fake degrees erupted when Prime Minster (PM) Yosuf Raza Gilani
supported Jamshed Dasti, a contestant of by-polls in Muzaffargarh NA-178, and violated
the laid down rules set by the Election Commissioner (no developmental package could be
announced by any minister when an electoral campaign were in progress).

But that was not the end of the story. It was also reported in the press that the police of the
area tried to refrain the other (independent) contesting candidate, Anwarul Karim Barki,
from holding a political rally and a corner meeting and that on his defiance (assertion of his
political right), the police manhandled him and broke his teeth. It is still not clear under what
law Barki could not hold his rally/meeting and why the offenders (the police officers) have
not brought to justice.

Pleading the electoral case of Dasti by the PM Gilani reveals that politics in Pakistan is yet
to experience a qualitative change. There are two aspects of the issue. Firstly, an educated
leadership is required to lead the country. Secondly, politicians with bogus credentials and
corrupt past should be excluded. On the obverse side, if unqualified and crooked politicians
are kept on adorning the legislature, what kind of law making may take place can be well
imagined. Taking the example of Dasti in to account, in light of the decision of the Dogar
court upheld by the current Supreme Court, Dasti may be eligible to contest the recent
election (which he has won) without having a bachelor degree but what about his past act
of deceiving the Election Commissioner by presenting a fake degree (equivalent to a
bachelor degree) to fulfil the previous criteria to contest elections.

In the past (from 1989 to 1999) it was observed that the cabinets of the prime ministers
were necessarily shrunk to kitchen cabinets. One of the reasons of that trend may be that
the prime minister wanted to have tractable and dependable politicians around him but
another reason may be that most of the legislators were mere politicians having no
knowledge of law, the law making process and the vision of implications of the law (being
enacted) on society. So the educated politicians were made the members of the kitchen
cabinets to run the state affairs efficiently.

The state craft is a specialized area. The practice of enacting law through presidential
ordinances needs to be avoided unless inescapable circumstances are around. A bill has
to be tabled, discussed and then passed to become a law. That process requires educated
politicians performing the exercise. In a way, the legacy of the (General) Musharraf era
bequeathed on the present times to have a bachelor degree as a criterion to contest
election for provincial and national assemblies is quite correct. The point is if Pakistan is to
make up the deficiency in progress, Pakistan has to take help of education.

There is also a trend to announce that the party has given a ticket to a party worker to
contest election. Giving a ticket to a party worker is declared a sign of humbleness of the
party leadership and recognition of the efforts of the party workers. Further, the parties
propagate that by so doing they have discouraged monopoly of the affluent and powerful
section of society. That may be true but then the question is can illiterate (or semi-literate)
people bring literacy to the country or contribute to its progress? Certainly not! That is what
the past speaks for itself and that is what the quagmire Pakistan is in.

The voters should also be aware of their rights they are entitled to and the prospects a
political leader can bring for them. The fault does not lie only in the political parties but also
in the masses who are ready to cast votes in the favour of, say donkey, or anyone carrying
the banner of a party. Such a blind trust and stalwart trend devastated democracy in the
past and may mar the future of democracy in the country. The end sufferers are not only
the political parties (or politicians for that matter) but also the civil society at large.  

Strengthening only the judicial branch of the government is not enough unless the
legislative branch is also consolidated. It is not that a politician is obliged to observe
transparency in the government affairs after getting elected but it is also that the politician
should follow transparency during the electoral process to get elected.

The latest face of the two main political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, is the product of
democratic competition (one may call it confrontation) with the undemocratic forces of the
country – though their struggle to restore representative democracy remained secondary to
the lawyers movement to restore true judiciary. The two parties are not the product of
political competition with each other based on performance. That is, in the recent times, it
has not happened yet that one political party takes over the other party owing to the non-
fulfilment of the electoral agenda of the rival party when it was in the saddle or by exploiting
weaknesses and failures of the competitor party in elections. The era from 1989 to 1999
was having a democratic façade but full of interferences from the executive to support one
political party against the other. On the other hand, the post-2008 era is comparatively
democratic and without any external influence. The next general elections can decide how
the PPP and the PML-N compete with each other in the elections on the basis of
performance.

Pakistan needs a democratic system predicated on performance – and not rhetoric.

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