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The present Sindh situation – The stabilising force of democracy

It would be a pipe-dream to assume that by the end of Operation Clean-up, Sindh would be completely rid of the present law and order problems. Invoking the adage that “discretion is the better part of valour”, recalcitrants of all ilk have taken off for various sanctuaries, going underground within and outside Sindh. While the Army will have gone a fair distance in starting the process of eradicating the twin menace of terrorism and dacoity, as soon as the Army is back in the barracks, the evil down below is bound to resurface, maybe even with a vengeance. To say that the populace is terrified of this eventuality is to make an understatement.

Having restored peace and tranquillity in the Province in the first phase, the second phase would involve the reinvoking of the writ of Constitutional authority vested in the elected representatives. Only they should be the arbiters of the people’s destiny who have been so designated by the electorate through an election rather than a selection process. The criminals who target society get their sustenance from society itself, this cycle is born out of the combination of ills that all sections of the Sindhi populace has been subjected to over the years represented by repression, unemployment, poverty, bitterness, frustration etc.

The PM has set in motion a series of changes to liberalise the economy e.g. removing the restrictions on foreign exchange, privatisation, etc. The next meaningful step could be to privatise democracy i.e. allow democratic institutions from the grassroots level, for elected representatives to be  the executive heads of localities from which the populace had elected them. One may be incredulous about this assertion that there is no democracy in the country but that is a fact of life, as long as the purse strings from the grassroots level are in the hands of paid government servants, they are the ones calling the shots. Democracy has become a farce in actual implementation and we are hypocrites if we try and pretend otherwise. A similar situation exists all over the country but in Sindh the endemic corruption of some of the bureaucrats, their involvement in crime and an open display of their ill-gotten wealth knows no bounds. Some of these characters manage to latch themselves onto every new incumbent political government, becoming stronger for the most part than the political masters they are supposed to serve. The Sindh CM repeatedly talks about the supremacy of law, within his own entourage there are those who regularly break the law or cause it to be violated at will by misusing their positions of authority. If accountability is to be credible, then the military hierarchy would do well by hauling these characters up not only as a meaningful but also as a symbolic gesture. At the very least they should not invite them to their public functions, it is extremely damaging to the uniform to be hosts to such scum of this earth, social association with them sends wrong signals to the intelligentsia and the masses.

Barring certain amendments that could have been avoided or made out of less vested interest, despite being so defaced the 1973 Constitution remains a superb document, existing as an excellent framework for our society. Our religion  basically spells out a way of life, intrinsically social equality among all human beings, only possible in an unfettered democracy. Barring a few man (and woman)-made problems due to narrow, parochial viewpoints, our religion and Constitution have basically no conflict, no real problem divides the will of GOD and the will of His people on Earth, then why has democracy failed in Pakistan to survive as an institutional force free of various hitches? The theoretical concept of democracy has been excellent, the participation at the grassroots level has been woefully inadequate. Our politicians speak about the power of the people, yet the power of the people is non-existent at the lower rung of administration, it becomes apparent briefly at the Provincial and Federal level, the rest is in the hands of the “servants” of the people, the bureaucrats whose dominance remains all-pervasive. In a modern Islamic country, the exercising of absolute authority by bureaucracy is an anachronism, while it must exist as an institution to sustain the business of government through various political transition, it is the elected who must exercise day-to-day authority and bear responsibility for government from the level of the Precinct or Police Station in a graduated scale upto the level of the Federal Cabinet. Democracy cannot succeed unless this principle is adhered to, the essence of unity being democracy, the continued lack of it will mean that centrifugal forces will continue to force Sindh out of the Federation.

Adjusting for the density of Pakistan’s population against the land space, normally the lowest unit of (Local) Government should not have more than 50,000 people in one unit. This would be appropriate in Sindh Province, this unit being called a Precinct (or Police Station).  Five Precincts should make a Union of population 250,000, Four Unions a District of maximum population one million, i.e.  each District will have 20 Precincts. The Precinct should have at least 10 elected members. All political parties should be freely allowed to take part in the first of the Second Phase in Local Bodies elections but no single symbol should be allotted to any one political party, all individuals should have their own symbol for elections at all levels, i.e. elections on party basis but without party symbols. The principle of adult franchise is contradicted when the candidate is associated with a political party symbol on the pretext that he cannot be identified otherwise by the (mostly illiterate) voter. The candidate must be elected primarily on his/her own credentials rather than on the  identification with a party so why not an individual symbol, don’t independents get elected on that basis? The general political party symbol tends to get a lot of incompetents and corrupt into office on the strength of party status.

The election to the Precinct must be in two parts. In the first part the first 15 get elected, in the next round of elections in which only the first 15 participate, an order of priority among the 15 emerges  according to the number of votes each individual receives. Going strictly by the order of priority each individual is given a preference to stay in the Precinct, go onto the Union Council (3 from each Precinct) or to the District Council (2 from each Precinct), 10 members are left behind. Whoever has the highest number of votes from among those who are left behind should become the Precinct Chairman. An electoral college of all the elected members within a Union chooses a Chairman and Vice Chairman, similarly an electoral college of all the elected members within a District elects the District Chairman and Vice Chairman. In the next Sub-phase of elections, voting on adult franchise basis should be held for candidates for the Provincial Assembly followed by the National Assembly, in the subsequent sub-phase elections for the Senate can be conducted. The grassroots principle will ensure continuity and commitment, a slate of qualified candidates to choose from. The first five in the order of priority in the second phase of elections to the Precinct, irrespective of whether they have elected to opt for the Union or the District Council, are eligible to stand for elections. For the Provincial Assembly from every Union there should be similarly one member, starting in priority from the highest vote getter. For the National Assembly two candidates per District on the same basis and one from each District for the Senate. In each Union (5 Precincts) there will thus be a maximum of 25 individuals eligible for election for one Provincial Assembly seat. For the two seats in National Assembly, 50 individuals will be eligible for each seat from 2 Unions (10 Precincts). For election to the Senate seats all 100 individuals are eligible from any one district. The first election in the PA, NA or Senate would only elect such candidates who get 50% or more of the votes cast, if not then the subsequent election should be a Run-Off between the first two candidates.

Any party that has not obtained 5% of the votes in the Sindh Province should NOT be allowed to be represented as a party in the Assembly, their winning candidates can either join a qualifying party or function as independents. The political parties can nominate 20% of their strength as additional women members and 5% as technocrat members except that the nominees should be from those first five elected in the Precinct elections. This will force the parties to field women candidates and technocrats and thus have voter exposure at the basic grassroots Precinct level. The Senate will thus go up by about 27 seats to 137, the National Assembly by another 52 seats to 272 and so on for the Provincial Assemblies, the District Councils and the Union Council. The vacancies in each Precinct will be filled by the person/s having the most votes after the first 15.

The Administration in Sindh will thus pass onto elected representatives at the grassroots level. Those aspiring for high office will have to start with convincing the voters of his/her basic constituency, those are the roots of real democracy.  The Precincts will have a Police Station, Magistrates, Land Registration, Birth and Death Registration, Health Clinic, Budget and Taxation Offices etc i.e. all the socio-economic basic amenities with the premise that taxation will be done at that level and the revenues collected will have direct relation to spending at the same level. Similarly the Union and District will have the next higher levels of each administrative requirement of the citizenry. Let them make mistakes, at least the electorate can throw them out of office the next time around. Institutions like the Senate should have  directly elected representatives of the people unlike at the present where some who are normally unelectable, are rumoured to have been elected by influence of various kinds. The stranglehold that the influence of feudal Baradaris has on respective Assembly seats will be broken by having a more refined form of stage-wise election including Run-Off voting.

We have a serious crisis on our hands in Pakistan in general and Sindh in particular because the representatives of the people have made themselves unaccountable to the people. Charisma and promises are media-fed to the masses while the real rulers, the bureaucrats, exercise their authority quite independent of the populace.  Anyone can rule, history is replete with morons who have governed, posterity’s pages are full of their misdoings but is there anyone among us who can sit up and dare to change the system to one that is suited to the true genius of our people by allowing the people to really govern themselves?

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