“All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society”—Edmund Burke (Reflections on the Revolution in France)
The election year 2023 is on in Pakistan with prospective candidates preparing themselves to once again take over the federal and provincial parliaments to become masters of the Pakistani nation’s destiny. One cannot but acknowledge the confidence of our so-called leaders in daring to face the electorate after constantly letting the country down, bringing it closer to a disastrous pit and playing with the fate of the new generation. There can be no two opinions about the acute nature of obligations that befall on any person claiming to be a leader. Whether the position is that of family’s head, chief executive officer (CEO) of a company, a teacher or a politician; all have committed to shoulder responsibilities for which no one else but they themselves have to bear the burden. If this is inconvenient for any reason, then they must abstain from participating in elections.
Our State is controlled and ruled by predators—trio of indomitable civil-military complex, corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen. Majority of those in assemblies make mockery of supreme law of land. The Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 vide Articles 62 and 63 enumerate a number of conditions which a prospective candidate has to fulfill in order to contest elections for the senate, parliament or provincial assemblies. These include being God-fearing, righteous, loyal, scrupulous, possessing good moral values, ardent follower of Islamic injunctions (where applicable), honest, just, trustworthy and not convicted of any crime.
Despite the hosts of parameters and obligations to be God-fearing and righteous, how many, in the present assemblies—national and provincial—fulfill these criteria? The fact is that heads of leading parties have enormous wealth stashed abroad and their stakes are so high in foreign lands that Pakistan is secondary to them—it is only a place where they come to rule for plundering the national wealth. ‘Compassion’ the most profound trait is conspicuous by its absence in the Constitution Hypocrites want Articles 62 and 63 to remain intact. They lack the moral courage to amend these provisions having non-pragmatic tests, which cannot be proved by any empirical method. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are thus, what we elect to the assemblies.
Instead of applying objective tests for eligibility of candidates for parliaments, the present Constitutional criterion is subjective. It is more in the nature of a futile quest for finding a “superman”. No one is ‘perfect’—under religious connotation ‘to err is human’—but the qualities required for membership of the parliament under our supreme law makes a person appear almost ‘perfect’ especially as far as observance of religion is concerned. Ziaul Haq mutilated the Constitution in many respects but this was his worst act of hypocrisy.
Functions of a leader come with multi-dimensional competency tags. Holding a position is one thing, deserving that position is another. Those who are desirous of competing on the political front must conduct a survey of their own worth and merit. Of course, no one is perfect but there are many human beings in this world who do come up to the minimum standards required for holding a public office.
The essence of leaders is deeply embedded in their ability to display a magnanimous character, minds that are focused on leading the nation towards progress, hearts that beat every second for people’s love and welfare plus strong conviction to remain upright under any circumstances. The logic behind these qualities is that those who are eventually elected to hold the reins of government are people of character, integrity and ability. After all, making policies and enacting laws can only be done by such persons who are qualified, possess wisdom, experience and far-sightedness to see the country’s future, hundred years ahead. They need to have substantial knowledge to meticulously lead the nation towards long term economic prosperity and not a momentary boom beneficial only to a handful.
Eugene V. Debs was not wrong when he said: “I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence”.
Just because certain people hail from prosperous backgrounds through which they can pay a good price to access corridors of power, do not automatically render them as eligible candidates. Just because a few observe Islamic injunctions, they cannot be assumed to be compassionate human beings. Not necessarily those who are articulate in oratory may be able to deliver, or those who have high academic credentials, may also have a practical approach or just because some are sitting on a senior post, they do not become more knowledgeable or competent than their juniors. In short, the role of a leader is enmeshed in a host of responsibilities bound by unshakeable scruples, embellished with utmost sincerity and absolutely open to accountability.
Only an uncompromising, competent, scrupulous person should qualify to contest elections for public office but then arises the million-dollar question: how can one determine who is or is not the right candidate? This can be gauged from the way a candidate leads his life. All that we need to do is amend laws requiring the Election Commission to check out a few things about the candidates and their relatives. Some pertinent questions, keeping in view the Pakistani milieu could be whether they hold assets or run businesses outside the country, whether they have a history of remitting heavy amounts of money abroad, are their entire/immediate family members resident in foreign countries, do they pay personal taxes proportionate to their incomes and wealth, were they beneficiaries of loan write-offs or tax amnesty schemes at any time during their lives, does their life-style exceed the average status of the country’s middle class, do they own assets purchased from their legal means or in the capacity of legatees, in the event of a personal/national crisis do they have the capability to escape the country to save their skins?
It is time now for masses to stop fooling themselves—bringing in the parliaments persons with dubious financial statuses having more interests outside than in the country. We will have to enact laws to block the way of the corrupt and incompetent to the corridors of power. The present monstrous size of ill-gotten wealth in Pakistan is symptomatic of a chronic illness of the system where the corrupt rule and the honest suffer, the rich thrive and the poor strive yet starve. The corrupt, occupying top positions in State institutions, give and are given blanket protection to offenders and plunderers of national wealth. In other civilized societies such anti-State elements are imprisoned, their ill-gotten money and assets are seized. In Pakistan on the contrary, we elect them to further bleed us out. Time has come that a public campaign is launched for amending electoral laws that can pave way for allowing scrupulous, compassionate, selfless, committed and competent human beings to contest elections.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)