Rule by technocrats by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

For last few years whenever there is a political crisis an idea comes to the surface that a technocratic government should be installed. According to its promoters, the objective of this interim government, with a tenure of three to four years, should be to clean up the system through constitutional amendments; punish the corrupt; and stabilize the economy before handing it back to politicians through a free and fair elections. This idea was floated when Peoples Party government started its tenure and every month new dates were given for its installation but it never came to be. It was considered as a prime mover of the memogate scandal as well as the first long march of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri.


During the current political crisis, once again, there are suggestions that the script writers wanted to plant a technocratic or a national government to clean up the system. Once again this outcome looks highly unlikely and the credit goes to all political parties in the parliament to stand united against any undemocratic intrusion. The most energetic promoters of this technocratic government are ex-servicemen, retired civil bureaucrats, and members of business oligarchs. Many op-ed writers and certain media houses, especially those associated with conglomerates, came forward enthusiastically to create public opinion for this option. But nation was not ready to experiment yet again and decided to put their weight behind electoral, structural, social and economic reforms through a constitutional reform movement. It was for this reason the twin dharna’s of PTI and PAT did not attract large enough crowd as they declared their objectives to be overthrow an elected government. Although these efforts create sufficient pressure on politicians to give priority to the reforms agenda. So the dharna’s did achieve some of its objective although not the ones preferred by its planners.


PML N government will be wrong in delaying these reforms to their own peril. The government may have weathered the storm but any impediments to introduce reforms will unleash a tsunami that will destroy everything that comes in its path. The incidents at PIA flight where passengers prevented boarding of Senator Rehman Malik and people blockade of roads in Sukkur after a donkey cart driver was beaten by police to make way for CM convoy are just tip of the iceberg. People’s patience with politicians will run out if they did not amend their ways to ensure good governance, worked on extensive reforms package and reduce their elitist practices.


There are certain constitutional and political hurdles that prevent installation of a technocratic government. For instance, under which clause of the constitution it can be installed to give its decisions legitimacy and moral authority. Another issue is that how can its decision be incorporated into the constitution as amendments can only be introduced by elected representatives. Third question is how and who will select these technocrats. Lastly will the nation accept decisions of a handful of people that do not have people’s mandate that empowers them to speak for 180 million people rather than the special interest of those that installed them? Apart from legality and efficiency of a technocratic government, this idea has not worked even under the dictatorial regimes of the three military rulers General Ayub Khan, General Zia ul Haq and General Musharraf. They had to eventually revert back to political parties and politicians to establish a stable order. It is from this perspective that evolution of political parties should be ensured through the electoral reforms which has better probability of success without risking the whole system.


If a government of technocrats is not constitutionally possible then what are the other options to enable capable people with knowledge and expertise become part of an elected government. The most important step in this direction will be to institutionalize political parties and liberate them from the claws of feudal and families. Why should PML N or PPP be controlled by two families? This familial control creates hurdles for promotion of merit and instead introduce culture of loyalists. Another step should be that parties should announce and submit to Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) procedure for award of party tickets before a general election. Prospective candidates should be given the right to file a petition in an election tribunal against their party if these ticket allocation procedure is violated. An important component of ticket allocation process should be the voice of constituents for which a ticket is allocated. In USA a primary election is conducted in which constituents vote for their preferred candidate for a political party.


In senate there are certain number of seats designated to technocrats. Similar idea can be introduced for National Assembly (NA). Political parties should be required to award certain number of party tickets to technocrats to contest elections. An alternate could be to allocate certain number of NA seats for technocrats through proportional representation system currently used for women and non-Muslim members of parliament. It is important that the definition of a technocrat is developed objectively so that these seats are not awarded to party loyalists as that will kill the purpose of the whole exercise.


Many op-ed writers and specially Dr. Tahir ul Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehrike (PAT) have also raised this issue that the constitution of 1973 has failed to deliver on its promise and should be replaced by a new constitution. They may have a point but then what is the guarantee that next constitution will deliver. The effectiveness of a constitution is not just limited to its articles but also require a commitment by its practitioners to adhere to it. We require a change in mindset to give up parochial practice of justice and uphold rule of law uniformly. Politicians should respect the articles of constitution; judges should ensure unconstitutional acts are punished; and State institutions should function within their constitutional boundaries. We should also educate our next generation about government, democracy and constitutionalism. In many countries there is a mandatory subject to cover these topics in high schools curriculum (9-12th grade). Pakistan studies is important to learn our history but government studies is also important to educate citizens about their constitutional rights and functioning of government.


In my personal view, it is important to have an extensive review of the constitution after lapse of a generation i.e. 30 years. It is especially important for countries that are still at the initial stage of their democratic evolution and have irregular change of government through peaceful transfer of power. It is for this reason I would like to suggest that the next elections should be contested for a constitutional review assembly. Instead of opting for a new constitution, it may be more appropriate for us to pursue the path of constitutional review by an elected government with a mandate from the people for this purpose. During the general elections a proposition can also be added to the ballot paper whether people want an extensive constitutional reforms or not. A majority yes vote should empower the parliament whose proceedings should be telecast live.


The weathering of current political storm has provided an opportunity for politicians to act on behalf of the people. Their failure to live up to the expectations will have severe repercussions on the constitutional, political and democratic evolution of the country. Our Generals have shown restrained and I hope they will remain patient as politics throughout the world is a messy and chaotic business.

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