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> Assessment of the Quality of Democracy: Process of Democracy Improved; Performance of Democracy Dismal: PILDAT
   
 
Democracy Assessment Report
January 30, 2013
Islamabad


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January 30; In five (5) years since 9th General Election in Pakistan – held in February 2008 – while the processes of democracy have improved considerably, the performance of democracy or its product, the democratic governments, has been poor. This, in a nutshell, is the assessment of the quality of democracy in Pakistan by the Democracy Assessment Group at the end of year 2012.

 
 

Depicted in scores, this means that strengthening of democratic processes in 5 years has received the score of 44.2% as compared to Performance of Democracy which is rated at a low 20.9% by the Democracy Assessment Group. The aggregate score of all the questions amounted to 37.9%; the over-arching question on “how good is the quality of democracy in the country” received a score of 45%, below even the 50% mark.

It is worth mentioning here that the assessment and scoring presented and analysed in this report is that of a select group of Pakistanis. It provides one way to look at the quality of democracy, a method used in other countries as well. However, this report does not claim that views by PILDAT’s Democracy Assessment Group necessarily reflect the views of the public at large.

In a separate Gallup-PILDAT Public Opinion Survey conducted to gauge public opinion on quality of democracy in the past 5 years, Media, Judiciary and Provincial Autonomy have appeared as Gainers; whereas, in the public opinion, Parliament, Respect for Human Rights, Cabinet, Law Observance Executive Proprietary, increased Foreign encroachment on national decision making and Democratic Control over Military are Losers. Prospects of Free and Fair Election reflected through independence of Election Commission of Pakistan have not improved in the past 5 years in the public opinion.

 
 

The ability of the state institutions to provide good governance under the democratic rule has continued to deteriorate in 2012 with little or no emphasis on provision of good governance and efficient services by the democratically-elected governments.

Due to the poor performance of elected governments in Pakistan in general in the centre and provinces, the elite consensus in Pakistan on the hitherto-untested theory of continuation of democracy to result in an improved democratic order through a self-correcting mechanism, has become a somewhat mocked concept by a sizeable number of Pakistanis.

Even though a large number of people recognise that we have made huge and significant strides in electoral reforms in Pakistan in the past 5 years, and relatively freer and fairer election is expected to take place in 2013 but whether it will result in more effective Governments in the centre and provinces is a cause of near-national consternation today. This frustration with the democratic system and its ability to only bring to the fore the same tried and tested individuals and political parties is manifested in public opinion and among other things the march of Mr. Tahir-ul-Qadri (January 13-17, 2013).

 
 

The biggest cause of concern, therefore, is that unless the upcoming General Election results even if in a marginal change and some improvement in governance is seen in the country, public frustration with democracy will peak. But if the election results in bringing to power much the same quality of rulers, it is feared that teetering public trust in democracy will completely unravel and those people and forces who believe in change in government without democracy and election, such as Taliban and other extremist groups, will further strengthen in Pakistan.

Whereas conventional wisdom in Pakistan puts forward the argument that the existing democratic and electoral system is blocking the way for a fair change in system and effective and clean governance in Pakistan, it is worth arguing that where only 45% people vote in Pakistan, compared to over 85%in Bangladesh and 60% in India, systemic improvements will only come through when greater public involvement and trust is placed in the system. Nature and culture of political parties will not change unless more and more people join and reform them, nor change in more and better representatives will be seen unless public fields and supports better electoral candidates and rigorously engage with and oversee their performance. Overall policies and quality of governance cannot improve unless public votes for members of the legislatures who have the vision, competence and will to reform the system. Unfortunately a large number of voters vote for personal and local considerations mainly because in a poorly-governed state institutions, these elected representatives are increasingly expected to intercede on voters’ behalf with the State institutions to get them jobs, promotions, efficient delivery of services as a favour and not as a right. The absence of elected local governments during a better part of the current term of the governments has further burdened the legislators with public demands which otherwise would have been dealt with by the elected local government officials.

 
 

PILDAT’s Democracy Assessment Group includes Mr. Omar Khan Afridi, Former Caretaker Minister; former Chief Secretary Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP); Mr. Iftikhar Ahmad, Senior Journalist; Mr. Cyril Almeida, Analyst; Assistant Editor, Dawn; Dr. Huma Baqai, Chairperson, Department of Social Sciences Institute of Business Administration (IBA); Dr. Kaiser Bengali, Former Member, National Finance Commission; Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo, Senior Vice President, Balochistan National Party; Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani, Chairman, Gallup Pakistan; Justice (Retd.) Manzoor Gilani, Former Chief Justice, Azad Jammu and Kashmir; Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider, Former Governor, Sindh; former Federal Minister for Interior; Mr. Shahid Hamid, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court; former Governor, Punjab; former Federal Caretaker Minister; Dr. Parvez Hassan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court; Mr. Riaz Khokhar, Former Foreign Secretary; Senator Javed Jabbar, Former Senator; Federal Minister for Information and Media Development; Mr. Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Secretary General, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz); Mr. Wazir Ahmed Jogezai, Former Deputy Speaker National Assembly; Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Defence and Political Analyst; Mr. Ghazi Salahuddin, Senior Analyst; Mr. Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami, Editor in Chief, Daily Pakistan; Mr. Illahi Bukhsh Soomro, Former Speaker, National Assembly; Senator S. M. Zafar, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court; Constitutional Expert; Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT and Ms. Aasiya Riaz, Joint Director PILDAT.

 
 

Positive and Negative Factors in Year 2012

Factors that have contributed positively to the quality of democracy in 2012 include the uninterrupted Parliamentary process in Pakistan as well as smooth transfer of power from one head of Government to another. Parliament of Pakistan has also begun to play a role in influencing national security and foreign policy decisions of the country, another welcome development indicating maturing of the system.

For the first time in the history of Pakistan, a full-time 5-member Election Commission including the Chief Election Commissioner has been appointed through a bi-partisan process.

2012 also saw the newly-inducted Prime Minister resolve the long-drawn NRO Implementation case to end the paralysis of state on Executive-Judiciary relations that had distracted the state and society from focusing on other important issues of concern. The passage of legislation providing for the appointment of caretaker governments during Election through a bipartisan process, timely conduct of the Senate election, and greater parliamentary oversight of the national security also constitute as positive developments for the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan during the year.

Holding of broad-based and transparent internal elections in Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) has introduced a new and positive paradigm in Pakistan.

Superior Judiciary aggressively followed the case of missing persons especially in Balochistan and personnel from the Armed Forces were summoned to the court several times. The Supreme Court finally concluded the 17-year old Asghar Khan case holding the former Chief of Army Staff and a former Director General of Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) guilty of interfering in the political / electoral process.

The National Accountability Bureau summoned a former Director General of ISI and other two senior Army officers for investigation into a case which related to their posting as Minister for Railways, Chairman Railway Board etc. The Military also investigated into the allegations against at least three former Army Generals for their wrongdoings in the National Logistics Cells, based on the recommendation by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly to the Defense Ministry.

These developments indicate a greater degree of accountability of even military and a trend of assertiveness of democratic institutions without according any exception to military.

On the other hand, lack of initiatives by elected democratic governments to provide good governance to the citizens of Pakistan is the single most important factor negatively contributing to the quality of democracy in the country.

2012 has also witnessed the State’s declining capacity in containing terrorism and militancy, the most potent threat faced by Pakistan at present. Terrorists have attacked at will anywhere in Pakistan including our most sensitive security sites. Although the Parliament passed a bill to authorize interception of digital technology used for terrorism purposes, it failed to develop across-the-board political consensus on providing a comprehensive framework dealing with terrorism in general and its financing in specific.

Rise of sectarian violence in Balochistan, Parachinar and Gilgit Baltistan and spiralling deterioration in law and order in parts of Balochistan as well as in Karachi also question the capacity of state institutions, in particular, law enforcement agencies, to contain target killings, capture and convict criminal elements.

2012 also brought to fore the lack of proper mechanisms on the part of Government in dealing with untoward incidents. It was during this year that the Government started suspending cellular services on sensitive days often marked to observe religious or political activities. Moreover, the Government continued to place restrictions on access to social media site such as YouTube.

Poor performance of the economy coupled with institutional weaknesses could be detrimental for systematic growth. Increasing political influence in postings, transfers and purely administrative and business decisions is further undermining the governance in Pakistan.

Words like “transparency,” and “accountability” remained keywords used as rallying points by the opponents of the Government. The Government failed in presenting any roadmap for accountability of public officials; it failed to pass the National Accountability Commission Bill which had been pending in the National Assembly for about four years. A controversy was created when the Chairman of National Accountability Bureau remarked that a daily loss of Rs. 5 billion is incurred upon national exchequer due to corruption.

Yet another year went away without any action from all the four provincial Governments to hold elections for the Local Governments, a necessary third-tier of governance structure in Pakistan as per the Constitution.

President of Pakistan, who is supposed to be a ceremonial head of the state, is visibly taking the lead in major policy and decision-making functions reducing the Prime Minister to a figurehead. President Asif Ali Zardari continues to hold the office of the head of his political party – PPP and holds many party activities within the Presidency. The Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan also took serious exception to the partisan activities of the President.

The milestone achieved by Parliament of appointing opposition as chair of the Public Accounts Committee was reversed in 2012 after the resignation of PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, MNA, from the chairmanship. It is, however, to the credit of the incumbent chair, Mr. Nadeem Afzal Gondal, MNA that despite his affiliation with the ruling party he has rigorously carried forward the work of the PAC.

 
 

Key Concerns

Based on the assessment of the quality of democracy in the period, key concerns have emerged for the future.

Assertion of Judiciary which, while upholding supremacy of law and judicial institutions, has sometime been seen to be at the cost of encroaching upon Executive’s domain. Whereas the implementation of SC’s judgments enhances the institution’s moral authority, there is a fear that the same authority may get eroded with time as it encroaches upon areas exclusive kept for Executive to administer.

The mixed set of events along the journey of civil-military relations in Pakistan are seen to be as much conducive to democracy as these can be described as detrimental to it. While in some cases, the military’s support for un-interrupted democracy in the past 5 years has been seen as a positive development in the context of Pakistan’s history, the Military’s public statements on political issues on various critical junctures in the period, frowned at by those believing in complete civilian control of defence, point to the need of revitalizing and reforming the Cabinet Committee on Defence as an effective forum of civil-military consultation on national defence and security-related issues.[1] The judgment by Supreme Court on the 17-year old Asghar Khan Case has been received as a great milestone in Pakistan’s civil-military relations. It must, however, be pointed out that the involvement of the Presidency and the ISI in the political process neither began nor ended in 1990. The judgment underlines the need to strengthen civilian supremacy and sustainable democracy in Pakistan. There has, overall, been a considerable improvement in civil-military relations over the past 5 years. However, there is still a need to work in this area for improving the quality of relationship through a graduated approach. Pakistan needs institutional balance where all State institutions work within the limits defined by the Constitution and Law and demonstrate respect for each other’s domain.

The neutrality and integrity of the caretaker Government is fast becoming a point of concern among political parties. The mechanism, laid out after insertion of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, calls for an arrangement to be decided among parliamentary forces from both Government and Opposition sides, but calls for involving other political parties outside the Parliament are gaining voice. Any lack of trust in the caretaker Government, administering the country when elections will be held, will have a direct impact on the validity of polls.

While a neutral caretaker government during the election is now guaranteed by the Constitution, the continuation of a highly partisan President and almost equally partisan provincial Governors during the election raises questions about the neutrality of the system. It remains to be seen how effectively the ECP is able to control the partisan activities of the President and the Governors during the period of election and the period immediately prior to that.

While we have seen the consensus appointment of independent Election Commission amongst other much required electoral reform necessary for holding a free and fair election, the inability of the ECP in taking timely and effective action on issues impacting upcoming election is seen as a cause of concern. Despite an elaborate system of preparing largely credible and mostly error-free electoral rolls, the ECP failed to take timely and effective action on correcting electoral rolls in Karachi, even though the issue had been noticed not only by the ECP but pointed out, in some instances through political protest. This lack of timely and effective action resulted in parties petitioning the Supreme Court on whose orders the process of re-verification was initiated. It is feared that despite its independence, if the ECP fails to take timely and effective action on electoral malpractices and issues, especially in the period leading up to General Election, it will fail to ensure a free and fair election credible for the people of Pakistan.

 
 

Reference
[1] For details of PILDAT-proposed reforms on strengthening Cabinet Committee on defence, please see: http://www.pildat.org/events/12-09-19/pdf/PILDATRecommendationsonImprovingCMRSeptember2012.pdf