While progressing democracies all over the world work at moving forward and bringing their trends in line with democracy, we in Pakistan try to bring democracy in line with our hugely messed up trends. The result is a distorted form of democracy that looks more like a dictatorship and, in reality, is neither.
PMLN government is busy trying to rush a 22nd constitutional amendment aimed at discouraging and eliminating “horse trading”. Never in its two year term have we seen the ruling party so focused and tireless in its efforts. Not for eradicating the menace of load shedding, improving law and order in the country, providing better health care and education to its citizens, eliminating corruption, saving lives of children dying for lack of equipment at government hospitals, investigating into and bringing to justice the perpetrators of model town massacre or for any other cause that benefits the people and not themselves. The sense of urgency for the 22nd amendment is not for the noble cause of strengthening democracy, as claimed, but actually for the fear that party members may not vote for party candidates, owing primarily to the alleged autocratic decision making in selecting candidates and also to the dissatisfaction of members over party leaders’ indifferent attitude towards them.
If passed, said amendment will in effect deprive the members – of legislative assemblies – of yet another freedom to vote. Already dictated by party leaders – instead of voters or constituents – while voting in elections of Prime Minister, Chief Minister, money bills, votes of confidence and no confidence, the proposed amendment shall add another constraint. Labeled democratic, this move is anything but. The aim of said amendment is to make it mandatory for all MNAs and MPAs to vote exactly as told. To tag such move as “democratic” is nothing short of a horrendous joke. To give this farce a legitimate face, the government has chosen to present it as an antidote to defection or floor crossing; an act already kept under strong checks by way of Article 63A of the constitution. It may be noted that floor crossing or switching parties is not the same as voting against party lines.
The suggested amendments aim at ensuring that a member of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies votes for candidates who are backed by their party heads in the Senate elections. It revolves around the pretext that the only reason for a member voting against party lines and on his own accord is monetary or other benefits and not any valid, cogent or ethical reasoning. The justification presented for the need for an amendment is the assumption that MNAs and MPAs cannot be trusted and lack moral integrity. This puts a huge question mark on the electoral process. When a government or the Parliament acquiescently accepts its own moral ineptness, it is them who need to be changed and not the constitution.
Elected by their constituents, Parliamentarians ought to be bound by will of the people who elected them and not by the whims and wishes of their party heads. Article 63A is already the most undemocratic provision of our constitution. This dictatorial provision makes elected representatives answerable to party heads and not the people.
Let’s assume that all members sitting in the assemblies are honest people of integrity – which would be the case if Articles 62 and 63 were being enforced – and disagree with the party line in a money bill or an election. Say a member honestly believes that voting for a candidate is detrimental to his country’s interests and a breach of trust reposed in him by his voters. In a democracy that member should be allowed to follow his conscience and instinct, as he has been trusted to do so by all who voted for him and sent him to Parliament. But by virtue of Article 63 A, a member cannot follow his conscience, instincts or the wishes of his constituents, for if those are not in line with his party head’s whims they don’t really matter.
Article 63 A and the 22nd second amendment are justified only when the above assumed integrity and honesty of Parliamentarians is denied and when it is accepted that Articles 62 and 63 are not being followed in their spirit. The remedy is not to curtail the independence and freedom of Parliamentarians further, but to ensure access to Parliament for only those who would keep the nation’s interest before their own. This amendment, like Article 63 A, will only retard the democratic process. It is a step backwards that snatches power from Parliament and the people it represents and places it in hands of a few. It undermines the entire process of electing our representatives as they are abstained from freely representing us.