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Governance and Democracy

Dynamic young leadership is usually taken to be a boon for any nation, what we have seen happening in Pakistan over the past 5 years or so makes us cry out for those with experience of more years on Planet Earth. Usually intelligent and articulate, youthful leadership’s potential is often hamstrung by a whole bunch of informal Advisors from the inner circle dating back to school and college days who tend to influence/take part informally in crucial decision-making. This Under-19 lot that seem to surround youthful leadership and remove them from reality (a la Ms Benazir’s astonishing “Karachi is not boring” has undercut the system of governance as both elected representatives and selected officials have had to give way to those who do not have any idea (or expertise) of running an administration or for that matter even have a vested and accountable interest in doing so. Hardly able to find Grozny on the map (or for that matter Kigali), these “Yuppies” near the seat of power have become “experts” on foreign policy, influencing the hot and cold football with the media and as far as law and order is concerned the over-riding perception is that of a bevy of beauties let loose to run amok in a China shop (no pun intended). The hormones of our young leadership need constant companionship (remember John Kennedy’s young Presidency) to while away the time away from the rigours of Statecraft. Americans may remain nostalgic about “Camelot” that the Kennedys brought with them to Washington, the later knowledge about John F’s romp with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Mafia-moll Judith Exner, etc gives shivers to historians about alien influence in the then decision making process.

To compound all this, a suffocating, hide-bound election mechanism has thrown up a very poor quality of leadership, without drastic reforms positively, we will have more of the same. Other than bad advice by dilettantes (and even yesterday’s debutantes) our political leadership is forced to depend upon “special interest groups” (and individuals) for survival once they are in office rather than on the electorate that voted them into office. The major problems thrown up by the present electoral system are nepotism and corruption (and accountability thereof) among our elected elite. Unless an innovative fresh (and natural) approach is made to minimising the predilection of our elected legislators for misusing the powers and privileges bestowed on them by the system, the debilitating process in our fraying society will continue.

Decision-making can hardly be institutionalized in the presence of our “Yuppie” inner circle or the farce of our electoral system and its “first past the post” policy. The split vote (rather than an absolute majority) allows a small tight-knit minority (the “Baradari” or race or religion) into office in spite of the fact that a majority of the populace in that particular constituency may not accept that candidate. The elected candidate concerns himself (or herself) only with those who voted him (or her) into power, leaving the rest of the populace bereft of their fundamental democratic aspirations till the next elections. The “first past the post” elections must be replaced by a “simple majority” mechanism,  i.e. if anyone fails to get more than 50% of the votes cast in the first round of elections, then the first two candidates who get the maximum votes must face each other in a “run off” round. Leaders having the confidence of the majority are better able to serve their conditions. Though ex-President Kravchuk of Ukraine had substantial support (43%) in the first round of Presidential elections, in the run-off round a majority of the populace either liked his rival former PM (who got 33% in the first round) or did not want Kravchuk in office and so the vote was reversed and he lost 53% to 47%. Usually 25-30% of the voting populace in any country do not normally vote for one reason or the other, in the present system at least another 18-20% of the registered voters stay away from the voting booths out of sheer apathy since they feel that their vote cannot change the results in the face of vested core groups in each constituency. This makes for almost half the electorate (around 50%) absent from the exercise of adult franchise. Followed by a split vote, it only serves to impose minority will on the majority while a run-off election would give a clear choice between two candidates as well as ensuring that the voter can be sure that his vote will certainly count in keeping an undesirable person out of office like in Kravchuk’s case. Perhaps, more importantly in Pakistan’s case, it makes the population more homogeneous as the need for alliances works against polarisation i.e. Sunnis have to perforce ally with Shias, Sindhis with Mohajirs, etc. etc. This is extremely important for nationhood. An indignant (and homogeneous) majority will vote a bad performer, whatever his (or her) background, out of office. A fair chance is given to the electorate in preference to the candidate from “Special Interest Groups”. Party leaders can then be free to use their own popularity with the masses and commensurate “coattails effect” to get such candidates elected who will serve the nation, not aspire to be served by it.

Similarly indirect elections to the Presidency and the Senate has become a farce, tending to promote nepotism and corruption. As a matter of principle, no elected office should be gained in this manner. The present system allows those with money or support of “special interest groups” to become President or get into the Senate. Without casting aspersions on most Senators, it is an open secret that a significant number could never get directly elected. What motivation does one expect from them except for vested interest once in the corridors of power?.

The most profound display of “citizen mainstream” was by the middle-class heavy MQM where they performed exceedingly well at the grassroots level of a city like Karachi till their own militants took over. Today a leadership vacuum points to an immediate need to (1) induct elected representatives and (2) re-structure the administration to solve the worsening socio-economic and political situation. Karachi already has 5 districts, with certain adjustments (in which the four Cantonment Boards must also become Districts), a total of 9 Districts must be formed. At a rough estimate, Karachi has a population of 9-10 million, that would make it about a million people per District. Each District should have 4 Sub-Divisions, each Sub-Division having 5 Police Stations which for administration unit should be called a Precinct of 50,000 people. This basic unit must be used as an immediate rule of thumb to plan the city administration up the tier. As a rough estimate the 180-200 Precincts in Karachi should each have magistrates, both professional and Honorary (preferably from the same or adjacent Precincts) attached to it permanently. Crimes of petty nature should be settled at this level so that public is available at the citizen’s doorstep, at the most definitely not beyond the Sub-Divisional Courts. Each should have 10 elected members on the slate pattern i.e. the first ten candidates getting the maximum votes should be elected as Precinct Councillors. Taxation, law and order, Justice, education, medical services, water and sewerage and garbage disposal can be decentralised down to the Precinct level. The first three candidates who get the maximum votes would then be eligible for the Sub-Divisional elections i.e. 15 candidates could conceivably stand for the election, the first 5 who get the maximum votes should get elected to the Sub-Division Council which must form the higher tier coordinating the services aforementioned while adding fire services, electricity, hospitals, telecommunications, colleges, etc at this level. Similarly the first three who get the majority votes in the Sub Divisional level, i.e. 12 are then eligible for election on a slate basis for the District Management Group for 5 District Councillor’s posts with a proviso that the all 5 are eligible to stand in an election for District Mayor in an election where the candidate must get elected on a simple majority basis i.e. if he or she do not get more than 50% in the first election, then a run-off election must decide the winner, the Mayor thus being elected by a majority of the people through a grassroots approach. The District Government would have an elected Governing Board composed of elected representatives and an Executive Board composed of both the elected representatives and selected technocrats as their deputies, with Deputy Commissioners of Police, General Managers for Electricity, Gas, Water, Sewerage, Garbage disposal, health services, telecommunications, education, etc. The Mayors would then be eligible for direct election to the post of Lieutenant Governor of the Metropolitan area. The Lieutenant Governor of Karachi Metropolitan area has to be the executive head of the city with all the civic and law enforcement agencies, education, health services, KESC, Karachi Gas, KWSB, KTR, etc under him. We can only ensure commitment and participation by our normally absentee legislators who only appear in their constituency intermittently by not allowing them to stand for PA, NA or Senate elections unless he (or she) is at least a Precinct or Sub-Divisional Councillor.

Ms Bhutto may not want to upset the applecart because she is presently in power but given the fact that she is an intelligent, well educated entity one expects that she is not going to indulge in Nero-like fiddling while institutions keep on collapsing around her. As a politician and student of history she must know that if the process of decay persists and there is no democratic change for the better, there may be intervention of some kind, a situation tailor-made for disaster. The signs of the times may well keep the men in uniform away from any such adventure but there is always someone lurking in the shadows feeling the Bonapartist urge to be an Ataturk. The Sindh experience and then that of Moin Qureshi’s interim government have been invaluable lessons in how to nudge things along (the catch phrase being “persuasion by influence and inference”) while staying in the background. While Constitutional purists may consider this as manipulation, a vast silent majority may see it as salvation, a far more subtle (and suitable) process rather than a ham-headed self-glorification oriented dictatorship. Ms. Benazir definitely needs cooperation from the Opposition in trying to reform the system, the modus operandi could be a coalition consisting of the majority parties in a power-sharing “national” government formula that can institute such Constitutional changes that cocoon it from future minority dictatorship (whether civilian or military). Reforms that allow genuine political workers to come into the mainstream of political leadership (and decision-making) must be instituted by adopting a pragmatic grassroots form of democracy.

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