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Archive for November, 2003

Correcting Electoral Anomalies

Looking at the many external and internal factors contributing to proliferation of terrorism in Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world, lack of people participation in governance stands out as a primary reason. Pakistan is famous for having invented the Ayubian phrase “democracy suited to the genius of the people”, whereas the correct phrase should be “democracy suited to the genius of the rulers”. Ayub wanted to be a popular President, that could only be possible by an unfettered democracy. Unfortunately his associates in the bureaucracy fed him the requirements of a “guided democracy” as a means of furthering their own rule. Acting upon the genius (advice) of his associates, most of whom abandoned Ayub as soon as they calculated that crunch was imminent, he opted for “Basic Democracy” as suited to the genius of the people. Half a century later, one should not be surprised where the same slogan has re-surfaced and why (and from whom) it emanates. For over 50 years now we have muddled through various forms of people participation in government, none have really given our peoples the freedoms enshrined in our own religion that are the essence of democracy.

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Baghdad Blues

George W Bush Senior lost to Bill Clinton on the election slogan “it’s the economy, stupid!” despite his great success in the relatively clean Gulf War-I to oust Saddam Hussain from Kuwait. Though enough indicators point to the US economy booming next year, the irony is that George W Bush Junior’s “military success” in Iraq could be the cause of his downfall in Presidential elections 2004. The slogan this time may well be “It’s Iraq, stupid!”

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Quest For Absolute Power

President Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka first suspended Parliament for two weeks and sacked three ministers, that of Defence, Interior and the Media, from the Cabinet. For good measure she declared emergency a day later, giving herself wide powers to deal with the expected reaction from the PM Ranil Wikramasinghe, who was away on an official visit to the US. Just before he met the US President, the Sri Lankan PM said her extreme actions would lead to chaos and anarchy. Initially ambivalent, the US thereafter leaned for the PM and democracy. Kumaratunga was elected President in 1999, within two years the opposition had routed her party in Parliamentary elections, the President has been at odds with the PM since. The reason for the present crisis stems from the President’s belief that the government has given too many concessions during Norwegian-sponsored negotiations with the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). Very importantly, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces seem to share this perception, for good measure they got sweeping draconian powers under the emergency. Does it sound familiar?

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Citizens’ Rights

While the fundamental rights of every citizen are enshrined in the Constitution, it is very rarely that more than lip-service is given to these. Essentially these rights are called freedoms e.g. freedom of free speech, freedom of worship, etc. Every regime claims that its main reason for existence is to protect the basic rights of the common man, in actual fact all governments without exception allow far less freedoms than that guaranteed under the Constitution. Instead of being sacrosanct and complete, the quantum of these freedoms vary with the regime in power, more particularly depending upon the man in charge. That is the paradox that those who struggle for citizens’ rights have to solve, how to make the rulers separate the institutionalized freedoms from individual cynosure and that it is wrong as well to apply different measures to various freedoms. There is another complication, even if the man (or woman) at the very top generates sincere goodwill for the basic rights of every citizen, is the mechanism of governance that he manages strong enough to withstand manipulation lesser by managers in government down the line, with or without the knowledge of the person at the apex of authority?

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