‘Pakistan has had a de facto one-party system in place.’

Justice (R) Wajihuddin Ahmed talks to SouthAsia in this exclusive interview with Faizan Usmani.

November 2021

Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, human rights activist, and former Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court, took up a leading role in the Lawyer’s Movement in 2007. He was Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court from November 5, 1997 to May 4,1998. He was moved to the Supreme Court in 1998. During his tenure as Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court, a large number of suo moto actions were taken. In 2011, he joined the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), being the party’s candidate for the presidential election in July, 2013. He lost the election to Mamnoon Hussain of Pakistan Muslim League (N). Later, Justice Wajihuddin left the PTI owing to differences with the party’s top leadership and formed his own political party ‘Aam Log Ittehad.’

What are your views on a one-party system? Would such a system be suitable for Pakistan?
Pakistan has been a guinea pig when it comes to putting different forms of governments to test. Honestly speaking, Pakistan has had a de facto one-party system in place, particularly during the military regimes, with a tendency to call the shots by setting up their own political parties. Elected through democratic means on the surface, however, the civilian governments also adopt a dictatorial approach to governance as they rarely consult other political and state stakeholders in matters of governance. The role of the Parliament in the legislative process is also limited since most legislation is carried out through the Presidential Ordinances. That’s the way the ball bounces in the name of democracy and electoral authoritarianism.

In the early stages, the democracies in the West were also not mature, but they kept improving their political systems on the basis of trial and error. Now democracy in the Western countries has reached a stage of maturity and all the political parties, including the ruling party, cannot move away from the basic tenets of democracy. Principally, the multiparty system is better than one-party rule. Different European states such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, etc. take dissimilar electoral routes to form a government, but despite such procedural differences, the entire spirit of democracy remains intact. On this account, democracy is the name of achieving political awareness and applying the acquired political consciousness the right way.

I do not subscribe to the notion that Imran Khan is an honest and upright person.

A true democracy does not require the electorate to be highly educated, but they must have a certain level of political awareness and be able to exercise their electoral rights independently on their own. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pakistan owing to a confluence of factors. First and foremost, the people living under the feudal system cannot vote against the will of their feudal lords, be it a sardar, chaudhry, a vadera, and the like. The same is equally true for a well-entrenched baradri system, blindly followed by a large number of people in both rural and urban Pakistan. In the baradri system, people always vote for an electoral candidate, who belongs to their family’s caste. When I was part of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), for instance, I was quite surprised to see that the candidates for the local bodies elections in the Punjab were mostly chosen from the Gujjar clan. Sectarianism is another factor that drives the people to vote for a candidate from their own sect or religious order during the general elections. Whether it is a one-party form of governance or multiparty rule, no system would ever produce the desired results unless we uproot the baradri system, feudalism and sectarianism, together with those stakeholders who are serving their vested interests.

What are the factors that don’t allow democracy to flourish in the country?
There are many factors that do not allow democracy to consolidate and become a social norm. For example, in an attempt to make sure that all the registered political parties adhere to the norms of democracy within the party, the Election Act 2017 made it obligatory that no political party will be registered by the Election Commission of Pakistan unless the party has a membership base of at least 2,000 people. One way or the other, political parties are able to observe these formalities but they have no intent to hold intra-party elections. At the PTI, I have been a witness to their intra-party elections and also once headed the PTI’s intra-party tribunal. However, those elections were rigged to the maximum and we were left with no option but to set aside the elections altogether. Since then, Imran Khan has not held intra-party elections in the right manner and the process of holding intra-party elections at the PTI is totally derailed.

If you examine the country’s three leading political parties, namely the Pakistan Peoples Party, the PML-N and the PTI, they all don’t even have a membership base on the ground. In the name of intra-party elections, the party leadership nominates a panel of candidates, who are elected unopposed and thus returns are submitted to the Election Commission. That’s it. One must say the multiparty situation is worse than the one-party system. In Western democracies, those who lead the political parties select the right candidates for the elections and don’t nominate themselves as electoral candidates. The situation in our political scene is just the reverse. For example, when I was a member of the PTI Parliamentary Board I found that other than myself the rest of the board members were standing in the elections. How can a member of the board of a democratic political party nominate himself as an electoral candidate? I think there must be a law to curb this anti-democratic practice. However, many things cannot be corrected through legislation such as the systematic development of democracy, the establishment of democratic norms, etc.

At the time when the Soviet Union was alive, the top leadership of the Communist Party, despite being the sole political party of the country, could not become part of the government. The secretary of the communist party was the most powerful person in the Soviet Union, but he never put himself forward to play a role in governance matters. The most pressing thing which must be addressed through legislative means is the mandatory inclusion of technocrats in the government. Similar to the reservation of seats for women and minorities in the Assembly, about 20 to 25 percent seats in the upper and lower houses of the Parliament, including the lower bodies, should also be reserved for technocrats at federal, provincial and local levels. Seemingly, the government in the United States is based on elected representatives, but in practice it is the form of the government, which is based on technocrats who have relevant experience and expertise in their respective fields. In short, we cannot have a real democracy in political parties in Pakistan unless various issues are effectively addressed, a task which is difficult to achieve given the present situation ruled by vested interests of the powerful elements.

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