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August '05: Power to grass roots or grass without

Power to grass roots or grass without roots?
(August 2005)
Can elections be really non-party?
As the first vote is being cast for local representatives on August 18th 2005, individu-land's maiden individu- spotlight attempts to put to pen some of the lessons that have been learnt from the local bodies schedule announced and election campaigning. This issue of the individuspotlight will attempt to plead the case for amendment in the Local Bodies Ordinance to bring political parties legally in the local bodies elections fold as practically, for all intents and purposes, they have been involved in the present local elections.

The month of August is significant for Pakistanis for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the country's Independence Day falling on Aug 14th.However, the month of August in the year 2005 is especially significant because power is being devolved to the grass roots level. The Local Bodies Elections are being conducted in two phases all over the country, with the citizens going to the polls on Aug 18th 2005 for the first phase. These elections being conducted under the Local Government Ordinance are being conducted on a non party basis as the previous local bodies elections were conducted namely the 2000 elections in more recent history and the party less elections under General Zia ul Haq and President Ayub Khan. The Basic Democracies system under President Ayub Khan, as political analysts would recall, served as the electoral college of the election of the Field Marshall Ayub Khan. Local bodies' elections in Pakistan have been frequently conducted by military dictators and they have always been party less. The rationale for conducting party less elections that has been frequently given is that political parties are allegedly corrupt, undemocratic, party politics leads to violence and division of the community along partisans lines. Party structures in Pakistan, it is alleged, is such that citizens with meager resources cannot win party tickets. This has been the oft repeated rationale for conducting elections on a non party basis in the past as well as the present.

Individu-land would like to submit that while there may be some element of truth in these allegations of weak political parties' structure, the solution does not lie in conducting elections on a non party basis. It will be an understatement to say that political parties are the essential tools of democracy. Parties, all over the world, essentially not only provide people with a platform to voice their opinions but also give people a voice. A political party, as an organized platform of citizens that raises their issues, is the most appropriate vehicle for democracy. History has shown that attempts by people like France's General de Gaulle or America's George Washington to do away with political parties have always ended in disaster and both of them had to facilitate the establishment of party based political system. In recent times, Russian Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin tried to undermine the party based political systems. Gorbachev tried to modernize the system without replacing the Communist Party with competing alternatives and this is considered as one of the factors for the fall of Soviet Union. Although Boris Yeltsin organized regular competitive elections in the new Russia but curbs were set on effective political activity with devastating results. Closer to home, we have also seen how political parties have been systematically demonized in Pakistan.

However, this is also true that political parties in Pakistan need to evaluate the extent to which they serve as a platform for articulation of citizens' voice. Political parties need to organize themselves, need to invest recourses of finance, time and energy in citizens' outreach and definitely need to be internally democratic. At the very least, political parties need to have a manifesto which should be widely distributed. It is tragic to note that the Pakistan Muslim League formely known as the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) does not have a manifesto. Political parties need to have functioning secretariats etc. However, in order for parties to do so they should have finances with everyone, including citizens, contributing to the kitty, as opposed to the present practice of only party leaders financing the activities of the party. With the party being dependent on a large part on the pocket of its leaders, it is not surprising that the Chairperson of that party is frequently the main financer. Thus, in a nutshell, it is true that political parties in Pakistan need to organize themselves better.

Having said this, individu- land would like to point out that since the creation of Pakistan ,fifty eight year ago, political parties have been existing in extremely challenging circumstances. Systematic attempts at de-politicization of society, hanging ,arresting of political leaders and members occurred, leading many political workers to either go underground or leave the country, persecution of parties in the name of accountability , ban on student politics, conducting even non party general elections, frequent military interventions are all factors that posed challenges to parties . It is interesting however, that political parties were constantly blamed for the cause of the Pakistan's political problems but each time a military man took over the reigns of the country , he created a political party for his support. If political parties were so ineffective, unnecessary and cause of all evil then why was there a need for the creation of military backed parties? This leads some political commentators to conclude that this very act of creation of a party by a military man is itself the greatest unspoken acceptance of the necessity and effectiveness of political parties.

History and even the present have furthermore shown that an election without the involvement of political parties is not possible. The present Local Bodies Elections are a case in point. As mentioned earlier, these elections are on a non party basis. However, a vast majority of candidates are affiliated to parties and are using them to muster up support for themselves. It is also an open fact that each political party including the ruling party has formed groups which are directly involved in the local bodies elections. The ruling PML introduced its candidates in the local bodies' elections with the name of Roshan Khyal (enlightened moderates), the PPP with Awam Dost, Jamaat-e-Islami as Khidmat group, PML-N as Watan Dost, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement as Haq Parast, ANP as Khidmatgar and JUI (F) as Islam Dost. In addition to this the Election Commission of Pakistan also announced that provincial, federal parliamentarians and office bearers of parties can also contest elections. The question at this point that individu-land would like to raise is that if an office bearer of a party can contest local bodies' elections, than are these elections technically non party?

In addition to this, the election campaigning that was conducted from July all through the first two weeks of August , parties, ministers and even Chief Ministers were directly involved addressing meetings of their supporters and even announcing names of their party's candidates in clear violation of the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan. These instances of violations were documented by individu-land in our regular e-inputs and are also available at our website. It is also important to mention that the session of the Senate and the National Assembly was not held as ``the parliamentarians were busy in the local bodies' elections"

The impossibility of conducting non party local bodies elections was also recognized by the Acting Chief Election Commission who on Aug 9th 2005 in a press statement urged a review of the decision of having non party local elections in the future.

As the country goes to polls and national and international observers go out to different polling stations to observe the elections, individu-land would like to call for review of the non party clause for future elections on the following grounds:

> Political parties are organized and peaceful platforms for citizens' expression.

> Investment in terms of finances, human resources and administrative set up are imperative for Pakistani political parties. For this purpose, public funding of political parties may also be considered.

> Pakistani political parties definitely have a strong support base amongst the citizens. This is the reason that in spite of all odds they have survived to this day in spite of systematic de-politicization efforts.

> Elections are by their very nature an exercise where citizens express their confidence in the programs and manifesto of different political parties, be it at the local, provincial or Federal level.

> Involvement of political parties would facilitate power devolution to the local level rather than impede it.

The Mutahida Quami Movement (MQM) came out with a booklet titled `` MQM's vision for Local Government" in which they've identified the different problems of Karachi such as sewerage , water etc and have come forth with their solutions and what they did in the past etc. This was done for the 2005 non party Local Bodies Elections, of course in clear violation of the code of conduct . Individu-land, in spite of being non partisan, would like to use this as an example of how organized political parties can use local elections as a means to articulate before the citizen their solution to local issues.

Political parties are based on the classical notion of Lord Acton who said, `` I disagree with you but will fight for your right to disagree with me," It is time to create a political environment in Pakistan where there is competition of ideas instead of the present situation where there is a competition of might, keeping the citizens voice, expressed through different political parties, totally out of the equation.




individualland.com (Last Updated Wednesday, 26 October 2016)

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