WORLD NEWS TOMORROW —Pakistan – The country is gearing up for May 11 Election Day. Election Commission the elections are on schedule and slowly and gradually the Election Commission of Pakistan is taking real charge of the important affair. Meanwhile, election campaigns are a noisy and messy affair in Pakistan now.

Election Commission

A good development in Pakistan was the formation of a more powerful Election Commission of Pakistan by the country’s parliament.  The overall performance of eth Election Commission is surprisingly good. All things are happening as is per the schedule given earlier.  The Election Commission is also strictly following the mechanisms in place to operationalize Articles 62 and 63.

The scrutiny phase could have been better handled by the Returning Officer from the country’s judiciary. Frivolous question had been asked and the media had a field day to expose the ridiculousness of the whole affair. . Numerous candidate and politicians getting were embarrassed. Election surprises are still to come.  Some candidates shall be surely knocked out. Seemingly, the whole scrutiny and appeal phases are going smoothly. Overall, not bad at all. Meanwhile, General Musharraf’s nomination were rejected in two places but approved in the third one.  It is good for the country that General Musharraf is contesting the elections.

There are many weaknesses in Pakistan’s electoral system as well as the country’s party system. First-Past-the Post single-member electoral system allows winning through a plurality and not necessarily a majority in the election results on the basis of aggregate votes. . Smaller parties are left out unnecessarily. It would be better if the country moved towards a PR type election system of the European kind. A PR-Party List, or it many variants, are fairer as the votes cast aren’t wasted.  The First-Past-the post system is conducive to create a Two-Party system which may not be necessarily better than a strong multi-party system.

Meanwhile, the personalistic party structures in the political parties of Pakistan have considerably weakened the party system in the country. The party system was never allowed to grow by the military establishment. It is hoped that with time the country’s party system would mature and become strong. But today it is in a mess. The development of Pakistan’s political culture has also been thwarted by inept political leadership on the one hand, and repeated military interventions on the other hand. Therefore, these e coming elections are critical for Pakistan’s democracy. The country needs to build a foundation for a robust democracy.

Indeed Musharraf will stir things a bit.  However, he won’t make any dent in the political scene this time around. Musharraf simply doesn’t have the required support. The strongest party in now the PMLN followed by the PTI. The PPP will do badly in the coming elections and will remain confined to Sindh and southern Punjab. The real threat to fair, clean and credible elections is the use of money in the election campaigns. Vast amounts are being spent on the campaigns.

Politics in Pakistan was now a criminalized phenomenon and in it the one who has money matters the most.  This general election will be singularly different in this aspect. Vast amounts of money will surely be spent on media campaigns. The signs are clear. Meanwhile, the restrictions put on political campaigning by the Election Commission of Pakistan are proving to be a farce, to say the least. The limits are too low and will therefore be violated with impunity. Meanwhile, the people just hope that there will be fair, clean and credible elections. Pakistan is facing acute instability because of bad governance and political turmoil. It is faced with complex multiple challenges not easily surmounted. Pakistan has suffered from long spells of military rule and there were many hopes pinned on the PPP-led coalition government which came into power in early 2008 and successfully completed its 5-year term. Pakistan’s fragile democracy is simply not delivering, at least as per public expectations. Personalistic party structures in the political parties of Pakistan have considerably weakened the party system in the country.

The party system was never allowed to grow by the military establishment. It is hoped that with time the country’s party system would mature and become strong. But today it is in a mess. The development of Pakistan’s political culture has also been thwarted by inept political leadership on the one hand, and repeated military interventions on the other hand. Therefore, these e coming elections are critical for Pakistan’s democracy. The country needs to build a foundation for a robust democracy.

The last parliament’s performance was poor by all measures. Most importantly, the historic transformation from military to civilian rule isn’t looking promising at all.

PPP-led collation government squandered a golden opportunity to turn around Pakistan. It had a lot of support when it came into power in early 2008, but has lost it now. There is now talking of a systematic collapse in the Pakistan state edifice. State institutions have corroded from bad governance. The bureaucratic machinery isn’t delivering the required public services by any imaginable stretch of the imagination. Inertia is making matters worse and a crisis situation has now developed in Pakistan’s state institutions. Undoubtedly, public expectations were dashed in so many ways.

Pakistan’s economy is in a state of crisis. Corruption, lack of discipline and bad management has crippled the state institutions. Meanwhile, the national debt has doubled since the incumbent government came into power. The Pakistani citizens do not pay taxes. The tax-to-GDP ratio at only about 10%is one of the lowest in the world. Surprisingly, only 2% Pakistanis pay taxes. Hardly any politicians pay their fair share of taxes in Pakistan. Foreign direct investment has never been lower and foreign exchange reserves are now paltry. Inflation is wrecking the economy and unemployment remains high. The rich and poor divide is now formidable and is also alarming. Corruption is endemic and regulatory institutions weak. Pakistan is ruled by callous elite which often confuses personal interest with that of the national interest.

Overall, Pakistan has weak institutions. Political party system is weak because of personalized party structures. Bad governance is the norm and not the exception in Pakistan. Given the global economic crisis, Pakistan’s economy will remain fragile for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the military still controls the country’s security and foreign policy by default. The Zardari Government didn’t have the will or the capacity to take charge of Pakistan’s affairs in these two vital areas of policymaking. This is Pakistan’s tragedy and most unfortunate for the people of Pakistan. The state resources are skewed in the direction of the military establishment. The public expenditures in the defense sector are far higher than those in social development sectors. State expenditures on health and education are puny as compared to that of defense. Meanwhile, the economy of Pakistan faces a formidable challenge and requires immediate attention of its rulers.

Unfortunately, the PPP-led coalition Government is too preoccupied with the internal crisis.  More importantly, it simply didn’t have the capacity to take any meaningful action. Meanwhile, the Islamic radicals are also vehemently opposing a rapprochement with India which they consider as an arch-enemy. Thus, the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism poses an existential threat to the country now. Parts of Pakistan are facing political unrest and strife. Unrest in Baluchistan has grown into a full-fledged insurgency situation. Violence has wrecked havoc in the province. There are some external factors also that are making an all ready bad situation into something even worse.

The main separatist force – the Baluchistan Liberation Army – continues to be supported by India through neighboring Afghanistan. This is pay-back to Pakistan’s earlier support of the Kashmiri separatist forces in India. These external factors and historic legacy is significant in understanding Pakistan’s situation today. A new trend is sectarian violence in Pakistan in which India is allegedly involved also. Bombings and killings inside the country continue on a daily basis. Overall, Pakistan’s political issues are not being addressed in a political manner but instead being handled as law and order and security issues instead. This is most unfortunate as political issues are best handled by political means and not through the use of force.

The PPP-led coalition Government’s handling of the Baluchistan crisis was very inept and therefore the security and political situation of the province was now becoming problematic.  Meanwhile, the country was faced with several seemingly insurmountable challenges.  It will be a very big challenge for the new government which will come into power after the May 11 general elections.

Given the deep ant-American sentiments in the country, there is a great suspicion and distrust of the United States. Ironically, Pakistan is still an ally of the United States in the on-going Global War on Terror and receives billions in assistance from it. Perceptions matter and the widespread distrust on both sides are to be acknowledged and dealt with in quickly. The United States and Pakistan are hardly allies anymore. It is fervently hoped that a new government is quickly given power and is then able to change direction. Pakistan must do whatever it takes to bring stability and peace in neighboring Afghanistan, It is hope that the new government will work with the United States towards this end.

Exclusive for World News Tomorrow By Dr Sohail Mahmood

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