Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Re-inventing Pakistan's Presidency

Dr. Haider Mehdi
(Courtesy The Nation)

“No culture has ever expected its leaders to be saints; in fact, some cultures have prized leadership that is decidedly un-saintly,” wrote an eminent academic, an expert in media and democracy.

Conceptualizations of the political character of leadership have changed since the inception of the idea of democracy which was founded in the ancient Greek “Republic,” when leadership character was defined in Aristotelian terms: “an observable collection of habits, virtues and vices.” In modern times, a significant and fundamental contribution added to Aristotle’s definition was made by Sigmund Freud. Freudian psychology has altered that definition to include “motivation, the subconscious and relationships that help to form all of us as people.” Consequently, political leadership is a sum total of observable personal habits as well as an aggregate of personality traits rooted in an overall development from childhood cognitive factors to career advancement to how a person steers through life – a complex combination of attitudes, motivations, ascribed moral values, self-perception, the perpetual view of others and the nature of interaction with them. Hence, political leadership in the modern sense is a holistic view of a leader’s overall personality development with special emphasis on the notion of what motivates such a person to what he/she does in the realm of political life.

Just like the world at large, the Pakistani masses do not expect their leaders to be saints. However, consciously or unconsciously, whatever the case, the majority of people have come to realize that leaders cannot be taken at face value or for what they say as symbolic rhetoric on a daily basis. The masses are now aware that a political leader’s “motivations” (hidden from visual observations) are the basic ingredient in how they conduct themselves and how they run the business of the state. For example, a self-centered leader bent on prolonging his/her rule or a leader with anti-democratic attitudes is obviously driven by personal motivational forces that do not serve the public’s interests and are consistently opposed and contradictory to the people’s welfare. Therefore, the masses have come to understand and question their present and past leaders’ intentions – they are looking through the prism of leaders’ personal motivational agendas and openly showing contempt and rejection of their politics.

Just like the world at large, the Pakistani masses do not expect their leaders to be saints. However, consciously or unconsciously, whatever the case, the majority of people have come to realize that leaders cannot be taken at face value or for what they say as symbolic rhetoric on a daily basis. The masses are now aware that a political leader’s “motivations” (hidden from visual observations) are the basic ingredient in how they conduct themselves and how they run the business of the state. For example, a self-centered leader bent on prolonging his/her rule or a leader with anti-democratic attitudes is obviously driven by personal motivational forces that do not serve the public’s interests and are consistently opposed and contradictory to the people’s welfare. Therefore, the masses have come to understand and question their present and past leaders’ intentions – they are looking through the prism of leaders’ personal motivational agendas and openly showing contempt and rejection of their politics.

No wonder then that the incumbent ruler of Pakistan, having been in the highest office of the state – the presidency – for eight years, is completely shut out of the public’s hearts and minds. The fact is that no matter what Pervez Musharraf does now or for the rest of his political career, he will never be restored in the public’s eyes. Nor would such a restoration be possible for Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan , or Zia-ul-Haq. The Pakistani presidency is in the ultimate crisis of confidence, distrust and historical evaluation by the public at large. The presidency in Pakistan needs to be re-invented.

The Pakistani masses do not wish the incumbent holder of the presidency or leaders like past military dictators to be in the presidency again (Just like Musharraf, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan , and Zia-ul-Haq all claimed political and constitutional legitimacy.). People want a Pakistani Nelson Mandela to lead this nation. They want a leader in the presidency that acknowledges the significance of the historical moment in the life of this nation, a commitment to the general public’s welfare and an exceptionally selfless attitude towards public life. They want a president above and beyond personal interests and manipulative politics -- a leader who has an absolute determination for the respect of constitutional democratic norms and fully complies with the principles of ethical political conduct. They want a president who will demonstrate complete understanding and respect for public sentiment and have zero-tolerance of self-propelled ego-centric political behavior. Pakistanis do not wish to be served by a ‘messiah’ in the presidency (that all military dictators have claimed to be), but they expect a leader who will work tirelessly for emancipating the masses (as opposed to women emancipation only) from poverty, illiteracy, lack of health services, polluted cities, unemployment, inequitable social injustice and the restoration of national self-respect, self-reliance and full sovereignty over matters of the nation’s internal and external affairs. The public expects a president to liberate them from the yoke of the American connection and break the traditional colonial pattern of diplomatic relations with the West. The people expect to live in their own country with self-respect and dignity.

The Pakistani masses do not wish the incumbent holder of the presidency or leaders like past military dictators to be in the presidency again (Just like Musharraf, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan , and Zia-ul-Haq all claimed political and constitutional legitimacy.). People want a Pakistani Nelson Mandela to lead this nation. They want a leader in the presidency that acknowledges the significance of the historical moment in the life of this nation, a commitment to the general public’s welfare and an exceptionally selfless attitude towards public life. They want a president above and beyond personal interests and manipulative politics -- a leader who has an absolute determination for the respect of constitutional democratic norms and fully complies with the principles of ethical political conduct. They want a president who will demonstrate complete understanding and respect for public sentiment and have zero-tolerance of self-propelled ego-centric political behavior. Pakistanis do not wish to be served by a ‘messiah’ in the presidency (that all military dictators have claimed to be), but they expect a leader who will work tirelessly for emancipating the masses (as opposed to women emancipation only) from poverty, illiteracy, lack of health services, polluted cities, unemployment, inequitable social injustice and the restoration of national self-respect, self-reliance and full sovereignty over matters of the nation’s internal and external affairs. The public expects a president to liberate them from the yoke of the American connection and break the traditional colonial pattern of diplomatic relations with the West. The people expect to live in their own country with self-respect and dignity.

The presidency in Pakistan has to be re-invented:

1. From now on, with the new legitimate and constitutionally accepted president to-be, the term of office for the president should remain only 4 years, non-extendable (remember Nelson Mandela, after 27 years of national liberation struggle, chose only a 4 year presidential term). The presidency must be elected by direct public vote.

2. From now on, military generals (serving or retired) shall be constitutionally barred from the office of the presidency.

3. From now on, the development of the presidency’s relationship to power and authority shall be regulated purely by strict legislative measures.

4. From now on, in order to streamline clause (3), the presidency shall have no powers to make appointments of the armed forces chiefs, judges of the apex courts or ambassadors. The presidency shall have only powers to recommend or nominate candidates for such positions. The relevant Parliamentary Committees must approve such recommendations with the presidency having no authority to veto the committee’s non-approval.


5. From now on, the presidency must demonstrate flexibility, adaptability and purposefulness by mature political judgments in all matters of national discourse. The presidency must obtain prior approvals of all of its political initiatives from the parliament.

6. From now on, the presidency shall have no powers to impose martial law, issue ordinances, and dismiss judges of the apex courts or order military operations within Pakistan territory.

7. From now on, the presidency shall have a credible manifesto on establishing direct contact with the masses.

8. From now on, the presidency’s public relationship manifesto must have detailed explanations of how the public’s sense of trust will be maintained in this institution.

9. From now on, the presidency shall have no powers to curb the mass media, regulate freedom of speech and expression or exercise overall control over the broadcasting air-waves. Neither shall the president have a monopolistic presence in the media.

10. From now on, the presidency shall not be the sole spokesperson for national policies, or the making of such policies, both internally and externally. All such powers shall remain vested in the parliament and made operational through the head of the elected government. The presidency shall remain in an advising role.

Demanding sainthood standards of conduct from political leadership is neither desirable nor advisable. But given the history of presidential excesses in Pakistan, this proposal sets the minimum reform expectations for the future democratically-elected presidency of this country.

In re-inventing the presidency, the Pakistani civil society must remain vibrant and engage itself in a deep exploration of the political character of anyone who wishes to occupy the presidency. This will help Pakistanis think deeply about what they, as a political system, mean by and need from leadership.

Indeed, the moment has arrived to change the equations of power in Pakistan from a single entity to the public domain…! Won’t you join in this struggle?

1 comment:

Piled, Higher and Deeper said...

I agree but its such a long wish list...
I don't think the even alah-deen's ginnie can do that.

Khushi say mar nah jatay ... ager aitbar hota...