Defending democracy “Minus One Formula”

Defending democracy “Minus One Formula”

Article By Sabahat Ghzal
A very curious thing is playing out in the national media: some officials known to be close to President Zardari are fiercely rejecting the possibility of the implementation of a so-called ‘minus one’ formula.

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Without explaining the origins of this rumour or why they are denying something that has yet to be traced back to any public statement, the president’s supporters are rallying around him and decrying ‘undemocratic’ forces trying to ‘undermine’ the present set-up.

It is difficult to assess the ‘threat’, if any, because not much, indeed nothing, is known about it publicly. However, there is little doubt that a mere 18 months since the country’s latest return to democratic governance, the threats to democracy that have bedevilled Pakistan over the decades have not been defeated. While mere rumours cannot of themselves create great instability, the fact is that a stable institutional framework has yet to be erected from the detritus of Pakistan’s constitutional and political history.

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We need look no further than the debate over the fate of former president-cum-general Pervez Musharraf to find some of the dangers to democracy today. Nawaz Sharif, speaking at an Independence Day function in Lahore, has rightly asked: ‘If a violator of a traffic signal can be penalised, why should a person who violated the basic law of the land go scot-free?’ But in the same speech, as reported in this paper, he also said that
the ‘country could not afford another martial law.’

Therein lies the rub: while holding Gen Musharraf (retd) responsible for his unconstitutional actions is an independently sound demand, the possible repercussions for the present democratically elected set-up in Pakistan must be carefully weighed. This is not to say that holding Mr Musharraf accountable is necessarily precluded, but that if it is to be done it must be done in a way that does not pit politician against politician or the judiciary, the politicians and the army high command against one another.

As with many other political problems faced today, the Charter of Democracy signed by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in May 2006 has some good suggestions that may lead to a sense of closure on the Musharraf era. Specifically, the CoD’s Code of Conduct section calls for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission ‘to acknowledge victims of torture, imprisonment, state-sponsored persecution, targeted legislation, and politically motivated accountability. The commission will also examine and report its findings on military coups and civil removals of governments from 1996.’ The country clearly needs truth and reconciliation more than it needs politics potentially infused with vendettas.


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