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.

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Changing the Rules

Source: Gary Cameron: Reuters - Business Insider

Source: Gary Cameron: Reuters – Business Insider

In response to the Republican filibuster of President Obama’s nominees for the DC circuit Court of Appeal judges, apart from record filibusters, the US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) used the simple majority to change the Senate rule requiring a filibustered nomination to be passed by 60 votes.

On November 21, 2013, the historic motion passed 52-48 simply majority votes in a 55 member Democrat-controlled Senate with 1 independent, ending an old rule that ensures protecting the minority party in this case.

3 Democrats went against party lines to vote against the call, including Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). I consider these three senators heroes and wise in their judgement indeed.

I am disappointed with the vote of the only independent senator joining the Democrats in this majoritarian ruling, who has actually participated in a filibusters before, and may know a thing or two about the ills of giving carte blanche to the majority party.

Of course, both parties blamed each other for going far enough to bring about this measure. But at the end of the day, it is the Democratic initiative that is the worse of the two, as it goes against the very spirit of the institution of the US Senate. The terrible part is people on both left and right are only advocating going much further than this, which makes you wonder how little regard they have for such measures that are meant to check absolute power.

Probably no one has described the rule change maneuver called “nuclear option” more clearly, comprehensively, passionately and articulately than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Here is what he had to say, and I second and endorse every single word.

It is appalling that some short sighted and authoritarian leaning commentators on the left are celebrating this measure as a political victory, because it really is a common, non-partisan loss for democracy.

Sadly, despite the excessive Republican filibusters and its alleged abuse, the Democratic party and President Barack Obama have only laid bare their authoritarian mindset by supporting this measure, which may appear to be democratic but is majoritarian and contrary to the spirit of the Senate and the function of the bicameral legislature. Particularly appalling because of the views of Democrat senators, including Barack Obama (D-IL), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Joe Biden (D-DE) against such an action in a Republican controlled Senate in 2005. Even though criticized by his own ranks, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared the more responsible of the two leaders, at least on this day.

While the constitution may provide for it, I would not hesitate to term this measure as leaning toward being undemocratic and authoritarian. And as John McCain put it, it was a sad day, for the system of government that makes America great. Especially for me, who looks up to democracy in America, living in a party leadership controlled dictatorship disguised as parliamentary democracy, with hideous provisions such as the 14th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution.

Why present an executive nomination in Senate for voting anyway, you would ask. It is merely an instrument of obstruction.

You just don’t change the rules when they do not fit your needs and call it fairness.