Perils of power-sharing in Pakistan



November 5, 2022

Perils of power-sharing in Pakistan

The Perils of power-sharing in Pakistan & current crisis the country is facing pertain to power-sharing as this phenomenon is extremely lopsided with no defined features. Time and again Pakistan’s constitutional make-up and power-sharing among the country’s four provinces and ethnic minorities comes under intense debate. Pakistan experiences demographic imbalances and ethnic differences that exist among the country’s four provinces that make it difficult for the country’s ruling segments. The fast destabilising situation requires a constitutional formula that can satisfy all segments of society yet no serious effort is seen to be made by any quarter to provide a viable solution to this fundamental question. The situation has become further untenable when viewed in the backdrop that Pakistani political matrix has failed to even initiate a serious, academic and meaningful debate on a crucial issue.
The country has been witnessing almost an incessant state of unrest that is fast spreading to all urban centres with tremendous fear amongst the population. The national fabric is deeply divided and the most frightening aspect is the religious fragmentation that is causing widespread repercussions. While insisting upon the supremacy of democratic rule, it may however be kept in mind that democracy and the principle of representation go hand in hand and that neither can function without the other. In this context, it goes without saying that true representation is only possible under a genuine system of democracy whereas the stability of democracy is dependent on how content a country’s various stakeholders are with their representation in power.
The current Pakistan has become the classic example of failing to assess the level of resentment among the people over the issues of unjust socio-economic decision-making practices. Successive governments in the country have paid the price by losing their seat of governance and, in certain cases, facing the wrath of people. Pakistani founding founders were deeply mindful of the mistakes committed by the colonial rulers and intensely realised the importance of the principle of representation. They assiduously tried to resolve issues relating to the make-up of the constitution and representation of every federal unit as well as federal-provincial relationship.
The rigours of the initial years spent in formulating the constitution of the country were devoted to ironing out the discrepancies in the make-up of the country. Given the vast disparity between population sizes of the provinces, it was not easy to find a solution that could equally satisfy all the federal units. It was quite obvious that the provinces with bigger populations wanted larger representation causing fear to the smaller states of being perpetually subjugated under the majority areas. Unfortunately, the following years witnessed hardening-up of provincial opinion in respect of the federation that resulted in disintegrating the country.
The uncertainty gave rise to Pakistan’s power sharing problems that became acute with the passage of time. It must be kept in mind that various states such as Belgium and the Netherlands with diverse populations have faced the challenge of reconciling the wishes of majority groups with the fears of minorities but unlike Pakistan, these countries have not allowed this problem to obstruct the nation-building process and adopted various forms of power-sharing. The most common system of governance employed by such countries is what is popularly known as consensual power sharing.
The fundamental argument for consensual power-sharing is based upon the underlying assumption that democracy and majority rule may be incompatible under certain circumstances and depending on the multiplicity of such incongruity a system is devised settling all such issues. The theory does not challenge prevailing democratic principles and, instead, focuses on societies where the population is divided along various lines. It argues that the seemingly innocuous application of majority rule in such conditions could lead to disastrous results and that would be mainly due to the presence of influential minority groups who refuse to yield to majority rule.
Pakistani policy makers should keep in mind that consensual power sharing arrangement entails recognising that a single party cannot perpetually hold the reins of power by obtaining consistent majority in the electoral process. It implies that the essential possibilities of consistent coalitions should be nationally acknowledged. It also means that the existence all significant segments of an ethnically or religiously divided society are duly recognised and consequently represented in the exercise of power. It also entails a high degree of decentralisation and autonomy for the constituent communities inhabiting the federation. It also means devising a rough proportionality in political representation and civil service appointments along with allowing the exercise of a mutual veto concerning the most vital and fundamental issues facing the polity. Such veto though can appropriately be enshrined in the constitution but it would be more effective and practical if it grows out of a set of unwritten rules implying that the crucial national and provincial decisions not only would require the participation of the representatives of all groups but also their consent. TW


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