Citizens for democracy; no to undemocratic and unconstitutional change

LAHORE, Oct 3: Participants at a South Asia Free Media Association (Safma) seminar expressed on Sunday their concerns at an all-sided institutional, financial and societal destabilisation in a terrorism-ridden country, and demanded all state institutions work within their constitutional limits.

“We call upon all organs of the state to work in the parameters of the constitution and frustrate any effort at change through undemocratic and unconstitutional means while remaining in their limits, respecting each other’s legitimate constitutional space, people’s mandate and ensuring independence of the judiciary, media and a transparent and accountable government,” reads the resolution read out at the event.

It urged all major political parties and stakeholders to evolve a national agenda on terrorism, economy, foreign policy, national security and transparent and accountable governance with across the board accountability.

It said all state and non-state actors, institutions, political parties, civil society and federating units must join their forces to take the country out of its current predicaments on short-, mid- and long-term bases for peace and prosperity within and without.

Earlier, intellectual Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi said the country was facing religious extremism and militancy with decreasing tolerance, and poor governance by the civil government. He said that after securing electoral-legitimacy, the government failed in performance-legitimacy.

He said poor economy, wrong preferences of the political class and wishes of the superior judiciary to stretch its domain in the political system and affairs of the executive also affected the system.

He said toppling the government might be easy but what would be its aftermaths was what must be considered first.

He said though it was a must for society, the independent judiciary must not be over-whelming like the army.

Dr Rizvi called for a balanced approach from all state organs to make supremacy of the constitution in letter and spirit.

He said democracy, constitutionalism, tolerance and making the people discharge their social responsibilities could cure the ills facing the nation.

Rights activist Hina Jilani said they were planning to launch a movement against the efforts to bring about an undemocratic change. Referring to the civil-military relationship, she said there should be a civilian creative policy on security and foreign affairs. She lamented that a storm was raised whenever attempts were made to reform the security set-up.

About the corruption allegations leveled by certain quarters against the incumbent rulers, she said the issue became graver instead of being resolved in martial laws. Corruption, she said, would be eliminated only with the development of the (governance) system.

She said friction among the institutions had been caused by new stakeholders — the judiciary and media. She said civil society had given two messages in its 2007 movement — don’t tamper with the judiciary and that when the judiciary takes the right course, masses stand by it.

She said, “We wish that both messages are taken equally seriously.”

Journalist Najam Sethi called for an open discussion on Objectives Resolution and replacing it with the Aug 11 speech of the Quaid-i-Azam.

About the civil-military relationship, he said both major political players, the PPP and the PML-N, wanted civil supremacy over the military but wondered why the latter welcomed the army spokesman’s statement on Kerry-Lugar bill and why Shahbaz Sharif held clandestine meetings with the army chief.

He said the foreign minister looked towards the GHQ instead of the president or the prime minister for various diplomatic moves.

These steps, he said, were undermining their wish to make the military accept supremacy of the civilians.

He said the judiciary, like the present political government, was getting unpopular, for what he said, one-sided accountability by it.

He said armed forces were never held accountable while the judges were also on way to declare themselves above the accountability. He also criticised the mainstream media for their alleged nexus with the judiciary to join the club of unelected organs wishing to be unaccountable.

Safma Secretary-General Imtiaz Alam said only masses could choose the party to give their mandate to rule. But, he said, their will and verdict was never accepted, thanks to engineered election results.

Admitting that there was a serious issue of good governance, he said removal of four ministers would do no good as the menace of corruption had infected all departments from top to bottom.

The situation, he said, demanded across the board accountability, including of the army chief, judges and PML-N leaders.

Referring to press freedom, he said the situation in Balochistan was very grave but no news was being reported by the free media.

He cautioned that the PPP must not consider its mandate a blank cheque as it would have to perform to come up to the expectations of the masses.

Editor of English daily Arif Nizami said why change was being rumoured when all major political parties were in power.

He said the army did not need to take over as it was already holding a sway in important affairs like foreign policy and security and that “some people say that economic wizards recruited by the government have also been suggested by the army”.

Regretting that political parties lacked democracy within their own set-ups, he said the message about cutting the cabinet size should have come from parliament and not from the army as was being reported.

Lawyer Salman Raja was critical of civil society which, he said, responded poorly when negative remarks were given about the parliament in the five-month hearing of the 18th Amendment case by the Supreme Court.




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