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FIRST PRINCIPLES

Those who raised the rallying cry for democracy in Pakistan and Nepal are now caught in a stalemate over the first principles of power sharing. Last week, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz won five by-election seats to the national parliament and 19 out of the 23 provincial assembly seats. Yet the thorn in Pakistan's flesh, President Pervez Musharraf, remains firmly lodged. Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and once again the popular choice for the office, was stopped from contesting by a court order because of previous convictions. The judiciary, installed by a Provisional Constitutional Order during Mr Musharraf's military dictatorship, is now void of any legality. Nepal, too, continues to struggle with procedural glitches even after the overwhelming victory of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (‘Prachanda’), over the monarchy. Girija Prasad Koirala, the former prime minister, was forced to make way for the fulfilment of Mr Dahal’s dream of succeeding him in the job. But, in the absence of a president, who is solely authorized to accept such resignations, this gesture remains legally dubious.

The king may be no more, but the kingmakers continue to reign: this is the paradox at the heart of the crises in Pakistan and Nepal. Parliamentary democracy presumes an equitable distribution of power that would facilitate nation-state consolidations as well as economic reforms. The new dispensations in Pakistan and Nepal have been keener on control — over the army, for instance — than on nation-building. The transition to democracy does not simply involve growing a new skin by shedding off the authoritarian past. Rather, it takes a structural and institutional overhaul of the very notion of statehood to usher in people's rule. A free and fair constitution must precede political takeover to forestall procedural gaffes, followed by the total separation of the judiciary from the executive. These checks and balances should not be entirely modelled on the presumed superiority of Western liberal democracies, but must be interpreted locally. It is imperative for the PPP not to lose sight of the expectations of the middle class — the PML-N’s support base — as it strives to rule the roost. The Maoists also have to make the difficult shift from being a politico-military organization to a democratic political party. Anti-establishment is often the stepping-stone to a new establishment.

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