Privatization, Authoritarianism and Democracy

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Nothing has aroused my curiosity about the Constitution of Pakistan as much as the plethora of executive decisions issued out of the Prime Minister House and the Federal Cabinet. Is that even democratic?

Whatever the answer, most people do not even bother about that.

There is no surprise that a parliament that unanimously voted to pass the 18th Amendment containing the Article 63 (A) would find excessive executive power the least of its problems. It goes without saying that most Pakistanis are not only happy with that, but many of them have no problems with authoritarianism in general.

There is no shortage of people approving excessive executive power all around the world, even in the United States, since things get done faster this way. Who wants to waste time in stupid voting procedures when the executive can get everything done with the stroke of a pen?

Well, there is a right way of doing the right thing, and then there is the wrong way. Which by the way, is what you think is the right way. It could really be a solution, or not.

This is why a lot of people think that a lot more things get done when dictators rule the country. Well, that is true, but their unchecked progress is also matched by unchecked tyranny and no accountability. This is why such authoritarian measures should have no place in a democracy.

Take privatization for an example. Consider the news report of the approval of the sale of 26% of shares of national airline PIA by the Privatization Commission Board and the relevant Cabinet Committee. Note how it reports that the decision of the Privatization Commission Board would be final. While it seems logical that experts are making the decision, it makes no sense politically.

Even if the Constitution allows for this channel of decision making, it would be largely flawed, in my opinion.

There is hardly any doubt that privatization is the need of the hour for Pakistan. I am all for it. Not only because of the burden of massive losses, but because the government is not supposed to and is unable to run corporations. Simply because these corporations are supposed to be managed like businesses and governments would not do that.

However, it matters how the process of privatization is carried out. It cannot simply be the decision of one man, or the Privatization Commission Board or ministry bureaucrats to convert ownership of the shares of an institution from public to private. The parliament must vote on the motion, in both the lower and upper houses.

As a matter of fact, the Constitution of Pakistan does provide that a Money bill should originate in the lower house, as per Article 71 (I), if I am not wrong. The sale of share of PIA or any other public entity could easily be considered a matter pertaining to money, as it would concern the change in capital, if not revenue, of the state at the federal level.

A lot of people would argue that referring the matter to the parliament would be another way of killing the issue at hand. That voting in the legislature encourages obstructionism. It may be so, but that is the right thing to do.

I am worried that Pakistani federal and provincial legislatures hardly ever vote for important issues, other than electing each other. Which makes me think they are not doing what they are hired to do.

And this, along with many recently introduced constitutional provisions, hint toward increasing trends of authoritarianism among democratic legislators in the country. Though it was never absent, arguably.

Allowing obstructionism is necessary for upholding democratic values.

Humiliating for a Living

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that human beings, as a species (for the sake of emphasis), take great pleasure in humiliating their fellow beings. Evidence so overwhelming that it hardly needs a demonstation for a proof, as it almost defines our lifestyle.

There is no greater dimension of social life to demonstrate this fact than politics. While there is no culture in the world, from the United States to India, where people would not have bitter resentment for their political rivals to the point of seeing them grovel, but in Pakistan, we have invented new fabulous ways for it which were never heard of before.

The newest innovation in this regard has been the qualification check or “scrutiny” from the election commission’s returning officers receiving the nomination papers based on the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

While in another country, they would be asking the candidates about their understanding of the law and the constitution, the Pakistani returning officer is interested in everything about the married life of the candidate to his or her knowledge of the religous rituals, funeral rites and of Islam. I wounder if they have asked them about their circumcised penises as well.

Basically, the idea is that these officials are verifying if the morality of the candidates is in line with the religious, traditional and conservative values of the culture. As a matter of fact, the eloquent PML-N MP Ayaz Amir was recently declared disqualified, only later to be declared qualified, on the basis of his column questioning the ideology of Pakistan. So much for freedom of speech.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

But one thing is for sure. These returning officers seem to be biased in favor of religious parties because if these questions are asked to their candidates, they would, or are supposed to have answers memorized like the back of their hands.

But obviously, this piece of news was a great source of entertainment for the Pakistani media, because incidentally a lot of candidates failed to dodge the loaded questions of the returning officers. Questions which ranged from the demand of recital of the funeral prayer to enquiring about the reason for marrying a second time.

Here I am not implying that any such idiocy be banned, which many often conclude when you voice such criticism. But nevertheless, it is an embarrassing state of affairs. Even the Lahore High Court, known for its youtube moralism, was embarrassed and condemned it.

Musarrat Shaheen - Source: journalismpakistan.com

Mussarat Shaheen – Source: journalismpakistan.com

But come on, it did put up a great show. Entertained the nation for a week or two.

For example, the sheer delight of Mussarat Shaheen, a Dera Ismail Khan dancer-actress turned politician candidate who I publicly and shamelessly support by the way (the more women in the parliament, the better for their own good. Besides she kicks Maulana’s ass), reciting Ayat-ul-Kursi or Verse of the Chair or Throne (2:255) from the second chapter of the Koran. (A Koranic mantra usually chanted to ward off evil spirits)

And the ecstasy of watching an older-than-middle-age woman shedding tears on the TV screen for being unable to recall some nonsense from Islamic or Pakistan Studies teachings.

Not long ago, the media came up with a clip which showed Senator Rehman Malik being unable to fluently recite in Arabic, which is by no maens his first language, the Sura-e-Ikhlaas  or the 114th chapter of the Koran, which is certainly a matter to be laughed at.

As if being able to recite the Koranic verses is imperative to qualify you not only for public office, but for public respect. And vice versa.

Source: CNBC Pakistan

Source: CNBC Pakistan

But apparently it is. And despite Rehman Malik’s apologies to the nation for the failure of the parliament to remove Articles 62 and 63 from the constitution, it was his party and none else who laid the foundation for that fanatic madness.

Though I consider his statement about Sadiqs and Ameens pretty heroic and very wise in the end. He said that only people named Sadiq and Ameen are the ones who are Sadiq and Ameen in Pakistan, clarifying the actual status of these Arab adjective-names taken for holy characteristics of the ideal Muslim. A lot of people mock him for his stupidity, but they would not have half the courage to utter this undeniable fact.

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

This rather reminds me of my days in the International Islamic University Islamabad, where you could not earn the degree without reciting one of the verses from the last 40 chapters of the Koran, whichever asked.

I, despite putting up with this ridiculous regulation, was openly against it. However, my classmates, without any exceptions whatsoever, all of them devout and pious Sunni and Shia Muslims, saw nothing wrong with it. They were pretty cheerful about it actually, making me doubt my motives as I was pretty bad at it.

Of course, what could possibly be more charming than being able to recite the good Word of God at a minute’s notice. Sadly, many a fanatic Muslims destroy and abuse the childhood years of their offspring who guarantee paradise for their seven ancestors through this glorious virtue.

What more could you possibly ask for?

But coming back to the most necessary provision of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and why criticizing which does not amount to treason, I fail to comprehend.

However, these provisions simply send out a message to the Christians, Hinuds, Sikhs, Parsis and other religious minorities of Pakistan that they do not have any business living and flourishing in this country.

Oh wait, I got it wrong. They have their rights as provided by the constitution.

It actually suggests that any one who is non-religious and supports secularism has no business living in this country, let alone take part in the public affairs.

As for the humiliation part, why complain?

That is probably all that our species derives its entertainment from.

Why not make a living out of it?