The reforms package that restored parliamentary democracy in Pakistan also abolished the constitutional provision of intra-party elections.

The Newtonian law, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction” seems to be at play in Pakistan these days as political parties scramble to explain why they “ganged up” to abolish the constitutional provision of intra-party elections while restoring democracy to the country.

Had the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (CRC) not deleted Article 17(4) of the Constitution as part of the reforms package aimed at putting Pakistan back on the course of parliamentary democracy, this provision would probably have remained on paper; forgotten, unnoticed, observed in the breach or practised more in letter than in spirit.

But, by removing it from the Constitution, the CRC has actually drawn attention to the provision that “every political party shall, subject to law, hold intra-party elections to elect its office-bearers and party leaders”. Now, questions are being raised about the commitment of Pakistan's political class to democracy. “How can they claim to be democratic when they run their own parties like personal fiefdoms?” is the general refrain.

Voice of concern

Among the first voices to be raised against this deletion was that of Kashmala Tariq of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (Like Minded Group). Having broken away from PML(Q) over the party reworking its constitution to allow Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain contest a third election, she raised her voice in the National Assembly when the 18th Amendment was put to vote.

Speaking at a discussion on “Democratic Practices within Political Parties of Pakistan” — organised here by Liberal Forum Pakistan — Ms Tariq said all parties had hand picked people for the CRC to protect their respective interests within. So, if Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) wanted to get rid of Article 268(2) and the Sixth Schedule, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was keen to see Article 17(4) out.

Article 268(2) states that “laws specified in the Sixth Schedule shall not be altered, repealed or amended [expressly or impliedly] without the previous sanction of the President”. And, entry 34 of the Sixth Schedule — The Qualification to Hold Public Offices Order, 2002 — debarred everyone from holding the office of Prime Minister more than twice; a major sore point with two-time former Premier, Nawaz Sharif.

While Mr. Sharif stands to directly benefit from the omission of Article 268(2), the abolition of Article 17(4) is widely perceived to be beneficial to most leading parties that are controlled by one family. The Bhutto dynasty is known to all but other parties are no different. In the PML(N) — which has called party elections in September — the Sharifs rule the roost with Mr. Nawaz Sharif's brother Shahbaz Sharif calling the shots in Punjab as its Chief Minister. The former Premier's son Hamza Shahbaz Sharif is already waiting in the wings, having been elected Member of the National Assembly (MNA) in 2008.

The PML(Q) has almost become synonymous with the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, dubbed as among the most powerful and richest families of Pakistan. Three generations from the family have already dabbled in the country's politics: Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain — a second generation politician — managed a short stint as Pakistan's Prime Minister and his cousin Pervaiz Elahi has been Punjab's Chief Minister. The third generation is ready and waiting in Mr. Elahi's 34-year-old son, Moonis Elahi.

Sham elections

While PML(Q) has held party elections in the past, Ms Tariq dismissed them as a sham. “We challenged the last elections because the leadership changed the constitution to allow Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain a third term. Fearing that the stand we took would spread like a virus to their own outfits, all party leaders got their representatives in the CRC to support the abolition of Article 17(4); citing reasons that do not stand scrutiny.”

Conceding the point, a senior Awami National Party (ANP) leader said feudalism continued to plague all parties and described it as the “mother of all ills”. Though the ANP has held party elections in the past, leaders maintain that only descendents of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi) can hold the flock together. Frontier Gandhi's grandson Asfandyar Wali Khan heads the ANP now and his nephew Amir Haidar Khan Hoti is the Chief Minister of Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa (formerly, North-West Frontier Province).

So entrenched are these families in Pakistan's polity that the inevitability of dynastic rule within parties is conceded by most party leaders with the former MNA, Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed (PPP), and Senator Zahir Ali Shah (PML-N) pointing out that sub-continental politics revolved around personality cults. His party colleague, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, who spoke out in the National Assembly against abolition of Article 17(4) insists that military dictatorship may have been shown the door but its civilian incarnate was being nurtured zealously by a bloodline-conscious ruling elite who preach democracy but practice autocracy at home.

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