June 8, 2022No Comments

Political Stability: Pakistan’s Distant Dream?

Author: Mariam Qureshi

The recent political developments in Pakistan uncover several underlying issues within the government and public spheres. The widespread misuse and abuse of power for political gains and the subsequent corruption within government institutions have led to issues of abuse, misuse, and poor accountability. The issues have had severe impacts on the justice system and the economy. The growing rift between major political parties is occurring at the expense of the already struggling democratic setup.

Though Imran Khan assumed office in 2018 with people's mandate, he faced fierce opposition from opposing political parties. On April 9th, 2022, an eleven-party alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)brought forth a successful no-confidence motion and Khan was voted out of office. This was the first no-confidence vote to be successfully passed in the political history of Pakistan. The vote of no-confidence was preceded by a constitutional crisis and succeeded by a political one. 

Political leaders of the leading political parties in alliance against Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Image Source: https://www.thecorrespondent.pk/editorials/pdm-the-last-stand/

What was the Constitutional Crisis?

Originally scheduled for a vote on April 3rd, 2022, the no-confidence motion was abruptly dismissed by the National Assembly’s Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri. While citing Article 5 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which requires all citizens to be loyal to the state and obedient to the constitution, Suri argued the motion is nullified as the opposition acted against the interests of the state by bringing forth a vote of no-confidence at the insistence of foreign powers. This reference was to a diplomatic cable received by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States which Khan's government claimed contained instructions for PDM to remove Khan through a vote of no-confidence. Following this, President Arif Alvi dissolved the National Assembly. 

As per the country’s constitution, a no-confidence motion cannot be rejected, nor an assembly dissolved until the motion has been put to vote. Therefore, many legal experts argued that Suri’s decision to dismiss the motion and Alvi’s dissolution of the assembly was unconstitutional. However, many also dissented to say that the Speaker does hold the power to dismiss any motion not in line with Article 5. Though the problem appeared to be the lack of evidence to support the reasoning of foreign involvement. The discord raised a constitutional crisis leaving the opposition little ground but to move to the Supreme Court against the Deputy Speaker’s ruling.

On April 7th,  2022, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a short judgement in which it set aside the April 3rd developments, deeming both unconstitutional. While this move was hailed by many, who saw this as an impartial decision that strengthened the Constitution, qualms were also raised over Supreme Court’s interference in parliamentary proceedings, citing its order to the Parliament to reconvene on April 9th to put the motion to vote, as part of the original judgement. When the National Assembly session delayed voting on April 9ththe Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court were opened late at night to ensure implementation of their decision to hold voting on the no-confidence motion. The move was peculiar and beyond regular proceedings, which raised allegations the Supreme Court acted out of its purview and misused its powers. In the country’s 75-year history, the Supreme Court has intervened and averted many constitutional crises but has also been held responsible for leaving enough ambiguities in its interpretation of the Constitution to serve the political agenda of the executive branch at the expense of strengthening the democracy.

Who is in government now?

The April 9th, 2022 National Assembly session extended past midnight, successfully voted Imran Khan out of office, and voted in Shahbaz Sharif as the 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan. Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the political party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML N) and the younger brother of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently residing in London as an absconder. Shahbaz Sharif took the oath on April 11th, 2022, the same day he would otherwise have been indicted in a long-standing money laundering case of about Rs 14 billion laundered from 2008 to 2018, for which he is currently on bail.

Though hailed for his administrative contributions to Lahore when he served as the Chief Minister of Punjab (CM) from 2008 to 2018, there were allegations of corruption, money laundering and misuse of power, including the Ashiyana Housing Scheme scam and the Hudabiya Paper Mills Case. His much-hailed Metro Bus Project – a public transport initiative – later revealed corruption and irregularities of Rs 5 billion, though a full inquiry is yet to be conducted. He has also been accused of misusing authority in the Ramazan Sugar Mills Case where he ordered the construction of a drain to benefit sugar mills owned by his sons, causing a Rs 213 million loss to the national exchequer. Perhaps the most harrowing legacy of Sharif’s tenure as CM remains the 2014 Model Town incident. Under orders from the then CM Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab Police charged at the crowd of peaceful and unarmed civilian protestors with batons and tear gas shelling before opening fire, which killed 14 men and women and injured over 100. The judicial commission which acquitted officials involved and rejected complaints against political figures was criticized to have been politically manipulated. 

Imran Khan addressing one of the political rallies after being voted out of office. Image Source: www.twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI

Imran Khan’s Power Show

PTI’s immediate step following the success of the no-confidence motion was to offer mass resignations. Though submitted, recently the new Speaker of the National Assembly has called a total of 131 lawmakers to verify their resignations before they could be accepted to remove the possibility of coercion. The move was heavily criticized as it meant that PTI essentially relinquished the opportunity to form an effective and powerful opposition in the National Assembly, ultimately harming the political proceedings and democracy in general.

Khan insists on his claim of foreign involvement in his removal stating the western powers did not appreciate his foreign policy shift towards the Muslim states, Russia, and China. He argues that the current government is foreign-backed and does not have the mandate of the people and therefore, not fit to govern. He proposes the only way forward is with early elections

Khan played to his strength of public support to gain legitimacy for his early election calls, by holding jalsas (political rallies) in cities across Pakistan, where scores of people responded to his call. His massive public support has been indisputable, even by his fiercest opponents. These massive rallies eventually culminated in a ‘march’ to Islamabad on May 26th, 2022, where scores of people poured into the country’s capital from all over Pakistan to register support for Imran Khan and his demands. Multiple illegal raids and attempts of arrests were carried out at the homes of PTI lawmakers the night before the march. On May 26th, 2022 Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad Police blocked all routes leading to the capital and used tear gas (some allegedly expired), batons on civilian protestors and arrested several of them from different cities. This was a blatant disregard of not only the constitutional right of civilians to stage peaceful protests but also in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow PTI to stage their protest in Islamabad. Fearing a fate like the Model Town Incident, given Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s threats to the PTI, Chairman Imran Khan called off the plan to stage a sit-in while remaining firm on his demand for early elections. 

What’s Next for Khan and Pakistan?

From 2018 until the no-confidence vote in 2022, Imran Khan, as Prime Minister, launched many public-oriented initiatives including the Sehat Card Scheme: the first-ever health insurance scheme in Pakistan. He also launched the National Poverty Graduation Initiative to uplift the poorest with skills and ease their social mobility in society, the Kamyab Jawan Programme oriented to aid youth in attaining education and employment, the Ehsaas Programme a poverty alleviation and social safety programme and, the Billion Trees Tsunami as an effort against global warming and climate change. His handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic was also praised. Though Khan attempted to increase the tax net, bring in foreign remittances and lower circular debt, the absence of a concrete economic policy, later also admitted by their finance minister, was a glaring mistake on the part of PTI’s first term in government. In recent months, along with the political turmoil, the rise in fuel and electricity prices, drying up of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the rupee against the USD has exacerbated the economic situation in Pakistan. For any political party eyeing power, the biggest challenge now is to bring forth and deliver on effective policies for the management of the economic crisis to secure the public mandate for the next elections.

Despite Pakistan’s current political climate, it has come a long way from dictatorial rule and abrogation of the constitution to now relying on the Supreme Court for interpretation of the constitution. Similarly, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf provides hope that grassroots political parties can emerge as a force in an otherwise dynastical democratic setup currently operational in Pakistan. For the political system in Pakistan to develop and strengthen, it is pertinent political parties adhere to the legal and constitutional course available, instead of sabotaging the system for personal gains. Unless the accountability bureaus and other institutes can function impartially without political interference, Pakistan may continue to struggle with similar economic and political woes in the future. 

February 17, 2022No Comments

Economic Security in Western Balkans: Challenges and Perspectives

By: Eleonora Shehu and Rosa Maria Torraco

Image Source: https://www.eesc.europa.eu/en/news-media/eesc-info/052021/articles/88044

In general, when we think of security we consider the fields of conflict resolution and prevention, crisis and catastrophe management, espionage, and military. However, this concept can be interpreted in a variety of ways, including economic security. Although there is not a unique definition of Economic Security, it can be described as individuals, households, and communities' ability to meet their basic needs in a sustainable and dignified manner. The notion is crucial when it comes to Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), as it is one of the greatest issues the region is currently facing. Organized crime, unemployment, poverty and democratic deficits have been threatening the stability of the area for many years.

In this article, we are going to highlight which are the main challenges in the Western Balkans’ Economic Security, in order to understand the security perspectives of the region.

One of the major threats the Western Balkans are currently facing concerns the labor market, at the point that also in times of economic growth of the region, the recovery is often jobless. In fact, all countries of the area have high unemployment rates, especially when it comes to women employment. Nonetheless, the most challenging issue in Western Balkans’ labor market is the youth unemployment rate, which is one of the highest in the world. There are several reasons for the soaring unemployment rates in the area, among which the inadequacy of the supply of skilled labor, as many people, especially the youths, lack an appropriate education, and political instability..Consequently,decision-makers are prevented from implementing medium-terms strategies and foreign investments are not encouraged.

Another obstacle that threatens the Western Balkans’ economic security is the democratic deficit that characterizes the area. As stressed by the outcomes of the 140th session of the European Committee of the Regions, democracy in Western Balkans is currently facing several challenges, including a limitation of press freedom, a refusal to recognize genocide and war crimes, unsettled territorial disputes, leaders' and ruling parties' authoritarian tendencies and a fragile democratic culture. In particular, one of the greatest dangers of local democracy is the “local state capture”. In other words, Western Balkans are affected by influential individuals or groups that use corruption to manipulate a country's policies, rules, and economy for their personal gain.

Unfortunately, corruption plays an unfortunate role in the governments of the majority of Western Balkans’ states affecting the everyday life of peoples. Albania and North Macedonia, however, have earned the title of frontrunners in the fight against corruption, registering the fastest progress in this field and thus giving hope for a future in the EU. In fact, countries wishing to join the EU need to have firstly stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the respect for and protection of minorities; secondly, a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU; lastly, the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

Albania has yielded great results in the fight against corruption through a vast vetting process of the members of the judiciary and administrative bodies. This process thus shows to be pivotal to the restoring of public trust in law enforcement bodies of the State. North Macedonia has continued to consolidate its track record on investigating, prosecuting, and trying several corruption cases, including high-level cases. Moreover, the country has been strengthening its institutional frameworks in the fight against corruption, particularly the SCPC and the Prosecutor for Organized Crime and Corruption (OCCPO). Other countries, on the other hand, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro have not delivered as expected, and corruption even at the highest echelons of power still remains a large-scale problem.

In conclusion,''Considering all the information above, what can be done to further reinforce the Western Balkans' economic Security?'' The countries in the Western Balkans region welcome investments needed to improve their infrastructure projects and this eagerness makes them vulnerable to regulatory capture via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), loans and grant money. Shoud the EU not provide what the Western Balkans have long asked for, they will likely turn to non-EU actors for investment funds, such as Russia, Turkey, China and even the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These influences by non-EU actors have been more so influential during the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent need for medical supplies and vaccines.

Dr. Valbona Zeneli trusts in regional cooperation between Western Balkans and the European Union as a beneficial tool for the stability of the region.This is because it would cease the perplexities of foreign investors but the prolonged accession process and the critical convergence with richer EU countries have contributed to a plunge of public support for the EU. It is important to remember the geostrategic position and role of the Western Balkans for the EU: in fact, as integral part of the natural European continent, any destabilization in the Western Balkans can quickly become a problem for Europe. With this key factor in mind the EU has two choices, according to Dr. Valbona Zeneli: treat the Western Balkans as the key strategic asset the region represents, or let Moscow, Beijing or the Gulf Countries influence domestic and regional relations.

December 28, 2021No Comments

Democracy and Politics of Emotions with Marianna Griffini

The International system & World order - Italy Team interviews ​​Dr Marianna Griffini from King’s College London. She is a Lecturer in the Department of European and International Studies at KCL and her research currently focuses on populist parties and their institutionalisation. In this interview, she discusses the concept of democracy and how it relates to the politics of emotions. 

Interviewing Team: Maria Chiara Aquilino and Sarah Toubman