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Legitimacy of political power by Abdul Q Kundi

No society can grow and prosper unless and until it is able to experience a long duration of legitimate political power. A king legitimize his power by seeking oath of allegiance from aristocrats of the country as well as acceptance by the religious authority. A benevolent King that enjoy mass support further entrench his political mandate on the other hand a King engaging in social injustice experience instability and rebellions undermining the legitimacy of the regime. Death of a king usually ensues either a bloody struggle for succession or peaceful transfer of power to crown prince. But in both cases the new King has to gain legitimacy from most stakeholders. A key difference between a popular monarchy and democracy is peaceful transfer of power according to wish of the people. Modern democracy rests on the legitimacy of an elected government whose authority is defined in a constitution. In the absence of legitimacy the decisions of a regime does not enjoy the necessary support from all stakeholders resulting in usually more damage than good to the society.

In Pakistan we have experienced three martial laws. These rulers did not had legitimacy which undermined their ability to make decisions that were binding on the nation. This forced them to seek acceptance from foreign powers which was available to them by pawning national interest at a terrible cost. For instance Ayub Khan allowed use of Pakistani airbases to fly U-2, spy in the sky, planes to conduct espionage in USSR air space which damaged our credibility as a non-aligned country. General Zia converting Pakistan as a front line state against USSR occupation of Afghanistan. And finally General Musharraf allowing Pakistan land route to be used as a logistics support for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan against a government that was recognized by us. Not only that almost all historians agree that these long military regimes weakened the social fabric of the country; gave rise to nepotism, cronyism and corruption; and damaged Pakistan’s foreign policy positions in dealing with other countries.

But the question of legitimacy is not limited to running a government but also applies to controlling political parties. It took Benazir Bhutto over a decade to establish herself as an undisputed heir to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to become Chairwoman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) but Asif Ali Zardari (AAZ) elevated himself to position of co-chairman based on a handwritten will whose authenticity is not established. This has resulted in lack of legitimacy of AAZ among the grass roots members. It is probably because of this reason AAZ chose to rely on non-PPP friends to ensure his control like Rehman Malik, Hussain Haqqani, Babar Awan or Dr. Asim Hussain etc. Nawaz Sharif turned out to be politically savvier in this regard. He has added his name to the name of the party which is the main reason that any effort to create forward block has never succeeded. A splinter group loses its legitimacy as soon as Nawaz Sharif denounce it because whomever he supports is legitimate PML N. JUI F has adopted similar technique. Altaf Hussain has used similar technique but in a different form. He has demanded that everyone accepts that humain manzil nahi rehnuma chahia (we don’t want destiny but the leader). That means that whoever is endorsed by Altaf Hussain becomes legitimate office holder of MQM. Another tool used by Altaf Hussain is to become the legitimate voice of Urdu speaking voters which resulted in failure of MQM Haqiqi and Paksarzameen to garner support. In PTI Imran Khan emphasized that merit, ideology and rule of law should define the culture of the party. Now it is turning against him because any time he appoints people unconstitutionally they do not have legitimacy in the party. Majority members in PTI accept Imran Khan as Chairman but demand from him to walk the talk. Jahangir Tareen, Shah Mehmood, Aleem Khan, Pervez Khattak and Ch. Sarwar never enjoyed legitimacy in the party and hence political power because their titles were not earned constitutionally.

The political chaos in Pakistan will not subside until and unless the system is strengthened to ensure that all institutions are managed through legitimate powers. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has to play a significant role in this by demanding institutionalization of political parties as well as hold free and fair general elections. Unfortunately most of the electoral reforms are focused on Election Day management rather than the whole political process. ECP should better regulate political parties to ensure that party officers represent will of party members and tickets are awarded through a transparent process. One idea that may help in strengthening democracy is introduction of proportionate representation. Turkey and Germany practice proportionate system and should be studied to learn from their experience. Unfortunately there is no discussion on that in electoral reforms committee and if we continue with current system of first-past-the-post there will be hardly any improvement in governance especially since parliamentarians are driven by constituency level concerns.

People in Pakistan are aware of the failures of the political parties. They expect intellectuals, political scientists and politicians to reform the system so that it has more legitimacy and ability to solve our social, economic and security problems. Failure will give rise to a bloody retaliation that was experienced by other nations when they failed to reform at an appropriate time.

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