A charter for democracy

Editorial Board
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

On Monday, the National Assembly – as has become a bit of a routine now – witnessed some heated remarks. The event started with Opposition Leader Omar Ayub saying that anyone who suspends or abrogates the constitution is guilty of high treason. Seemingly inspired by the speech, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also spoke up: agreeing with the opposition leader that Article 6 should be imposed against those who break the constitution. And then adding that the process should start with Field Marshal Ayub Khan who was the first to violate the constitution and who overthrew a democratic government. Asif then proceeded to say – unjustifiably and in breach of what should be any kind of decorum – that Ayub’s body should be taken out of his grave and hanged. Naturally, PTI leaders strongly protested and asked Asif to apologize, who said he would only apologize if the PTI apologized for the May 9 attacks. While Khawaja’s suggestion of exhuming a former military dictator’s body and hanging it cannot – must not – be condoned, history obviously does not favour Gen Ayub’s role in laying the precedence of abrogation of the constitution. That said, it is entirely wrong and unfair to saddle anyone with the actions of their fathers, grandfather or anyone else in their ancestry. If we started doing that, nearly all of our parliament may find it hard to make any moral speeches anywhere ever.

Regardless of political differences and unwarranted jibes, the fact really is that essentially both Ayub and Asif were pointing to the same problem: how democracy has been damaged and weakened in the country through various constitutional violations and abrogations over the last seven decades. It is high time that the political class finds a way to stop all this and ensures that voters are not disenfranchised and politicians are not undermined. What exactly is our political class hoping to gain by squabbling with each other in this manner? Because all this does is cede more space to undemocratic powers. The way out – the only mature way out – of all this is the sense and vision Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif demonstrated by signing the Charter of Democracy (CoD) after the political musical chairs in the 1990s that finally culminated in General Pervez Musharraf’s coup. This is the wisdom today’s political parties need to revisit – including the PTI.

It has been pointed out numerous times that the PTI is an obstacle to a grand dialogue between all political parties, but the party should understand that the only way to end the current standoff is by talking to other parties. To their credit, the PML-N and the PPP have consistently talked about dialogue between political parties. Pakistan needs a new CoD – Charter of Democracy 2.0 if you will – admitting that mistakes were made but will not be repeated, outlining the problems that the parties have faced and still face, and suggesting solutions as well as vowing that they will not be part of any undemocratic action just because it benefits their party. The judiciary’s red line was crossed and it has taken a stand. Politicians’ red lines have always been crossed. It is time for them to stand up for themselves and stick together for the greater good of democracy. This in no way means they won’t remain opponents; they are welcome to throw jibes at each other during election time but a charter of democracy means that they will be safeguarding democracy and parliament’s sanctity while also playing politics.