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Democracy in 2023: 50 Years of the 1973 Constitution

Zafarullah Khan
Chief Executive, Ideas for Vision 2047

In 2023, Pakistan will be celebrating the Golden Jubilee of its Constitution of 1973. Despite disruptions (1977-1985 and 1999-2002), this historic product continues to serve as the ‘user manual of statecraft’ that provides contours of social contract between the citizens and the state, defines the soul and spirit of the nation and delineates our institutional architecture. The occasion provides an opportunity to embark on a review to examine what has worked well and what needs to be improved for further democratising and humanising the polity for posterity. 

Despite exhibiting unique resilience in many fields, the democratic project of 220 million Pakistanis remains weak, flawed and unstable; especially the functionality and efficacy of parliamentary institutions in Pakistan, which stand shrunken and undermined by two other pillars of the state. Pakistan today epitomises a classic case of troubled trichotomy. However, a good omen of 2022 was public manifestation of adherence to the Constitution by all institutions. Staying within constitutionally defined boundaries in 2023 and in all the coming years will be a great test to define our destiny.  

In 2021, the Economist’s Global Democracy Index ranked us at 104th position among 167 nations studied and placed it in the category of ‘hybrid regime’. In the longer run prior to 2021, there has been stunted democratic growth characterised by intellectual poverty, dearth of innovative ideas, weak framework/rules of the game and lack of norms and skills to negotiate among major political protagonists. All these eclipse trust in democracy, especially among youth, making it harder to engage them in our electoral processes.

During 2023, there will be a series of elections in Pakistan – starting with general elections, followed by election of the president, and then pending local government elections in Punjab and the remaining phase in Sindh. As we enter 2023 with our highly polarised politics, the chances of any meaningful or consensus based on radical electoral reforms are minimum if not negligible.

For the last nine months, opposition benches in the National Assembly are practically depopulated, which translates to the House having lost its two-thirds strength required for any constitutional amendment. Though minor legislative tweaks in the electoral laws are possible, it will be nothing short of a miracle if our politicians are able to sit together for some broad-based consensus on future elections. In this scenario, it will also be prudent of major political parties to market their future vision about electoral reforms in their manifestos.

On its part, although the Election Commission of Pakistan continues to face criticism from some opposition parties, it is asserting its independence, in line with the 18th, 20th and 22nd constitutional amendments and Election Act-2017. Delivering free, fair and credible elections in 2023 will be of utmost importance to bring the nation out of its prevailing quagmire and usher in an era of political stability. Word of caution for the Commission, in this context, will be to not indulge in any half-baked technological experimentation.

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