By Yasser Latif Hamdani
November 26, 2018
The poor performance of our successive parliaments when it comes to coming up with legislation that helps all Pakistanis regardless of gender, religion or ethnic origin is self-evident. If you take out the reserved seats for women and minorities, the makeup of the parliament, National Assembly and Senate combined, is majoritarian Muslim male. Thus the simple Westminster model without safeguards for women and minorities perpetuates the same majoritarian tyranny against which we fought and won Pakistan. I stipulate that without safeguards such a model can only alienate and marginalise minorities and women and our history is a living proof of this.
For diverse societies in conflict, the solution that has worked in other places in different forms is consociationalism. There is no one model of consociationalism and one can plausibly argue Federalism in itself, a negation of majority rule, is a form of consociationalism. The fact that Wyoming with a little more than half a million people has the same number of representatives in the US Senate as California with close to 40 million people is itself an example of consociationalism. In Pakistan’s case however the constituent units alone do not represent the extent of diversity that is Pakistan. Nor are people ready to vote outside their narrow constructs of identity, which poses a major problem for the integration of minorities as equal Pakistanis. This is further negated by the fact that Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution reserves certain key offices of the state like the President and Prime Minister for the Muslim majority in what can only be called a terrible exercise in majoritarianism. Given that the Pakistan’s Muslim majority significantly refuses to reconsider this grave injustice and body blow to the idea of Pakistani citizenship, Pakistan needs to consider the question of how it is going to ensure the women and minorities effective and adequate safeguards that were promised in the Lahore Resolution itself. Lahore Resolution of the All India Muslim League is a binding compact between Muslims and Non-Muslims of Pakistan which has always been conspicuously vitiated by the actions of an unthinking majority in Pakistan. Furthermore women in Pakistan, close to 51 percent of the population have less than 80 representatives in a house of 342 shows us the limitations of the present system.
In my last article I wrote about various steps that can be taken to ensure participation of Non-Muslim minorities in the Pakistani government. Here I will go a step further and suggest that we should radically re-think the composition of the National Assembly without essentially compromising on the principle of democracy. The counter-argument to any such proposal is always that any system of safeguards and guaranteed representation promotes tribalism of the modern form. This shibboleth of the so called liberal democrats that is most helpful to majoritarian fascists is sadly the product of a lack of imagination reinforced by centuries of thinking that permanent majorities have a god given right to rule over permanent minorities. I reject this notion. Pakistan’s minorities like I stated in my previous article require actual real and effective safeguards which must be built in without negating the idea of representative democracy. Instead of one-person one vote democracy, we should consider one-person four votes democracy. Without upsetting the balance in the Senate, every constituency of National Assembly should have four seats to the house, one mandatory Woman of any religion, one non-Muslim minority of any gender, one General representative of any background or gender and one academic in any useful field. This would mean a house of 1090. This may be considered a rather large number but we are talking about a country of 220 million people. Jointly the bicameral parliament at 1190 would still be smaller than 1443 members that form the Bicameral British Parliament, which represents only 66 million people. A number of exploded arguments can be deployed against this idea but it shows a paucity of creative and imaginative constitutional and political thinking. There is an absolute dearth of original thinking amongst our so-called intellectuals. Everything to them needs a precedent, when the march of humanity often takes us in directions that were previously unexplored. Such are the limitations of human thinking. It is almost a structural flaw in our makeup.
In Pakistan’s case the constituent units alone do not represent the extent of diversity that is Pakistan. Nor are people ready to vote outside their narrow constructs of identity, which poses a major problem for the integration of minorities as equal Pakistanis
The advantages of such a system, as one I propose, are patently obvious. Every citizen would have four representatives in the highest legislature of the country. Minorities and women would have guaranteed representation of 25 percent each with the option of getting more seats on general and academic quotas. Every such representative would be directly elected by the same principle. Instead of promoting tribalism it would make minorities and women answerable to a mixed electorate thereby promoting actual integration and equality of citizenship. Such a system would be more uniformly representative of Pakistan’s diversity without compromising on democracy. Once it is in place, it can act as a new constituent assembly to re-write the constitution and make it a constitution worthy of a great state that is cognizant of its responsibilities as a modern state in the 21st century ruled by the people and people alone.
The truth of course is that no one will ever consider such a system. Political expediency will stop beneficiaries of the currently entrenched political elite from ever allowing such a system to be put in place. We would instead continue to spiral into a cesspool of majoritarian bigotry and the kind of fraud that is played on the people for times to come. In my mind though the only worthy future for Pakistan and its complex constitutional and social problems can be addressed by such a consociational model designed to give everyone their due. When one talks of small minds, it means minds incapable of thinking outside the box and outside the established paradigms. We are wedded to outmoded ways of thinking about democracy, identity, culture and religion. All of us have established dogmas secular or religious, philosophical or downright inane, that we are incapable of discarding. Hence we end up racing around the same track and end up where we started. In a more sophisticated and civilized time, the posterity will look back and laugh at us. At least they would see that some tried to talk sense when talking sense was extremely hazardous to one’s well being.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practising lawyer and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School in Cambridge MA, USA.