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Dr. Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Daily Dawn, Lahore
Dated: Monday, March 10, 2008

The will of the people regarded as irrelevant by recurrent military regimes, lives on because the present is forever pregnant with its potential. The people have spoken with stunning clarity to articulate their will: The PPP, PML-N and ANP which stand against extremists and for the downtrodden, for democracy, an independent judiciary and regional autonomy, have in the aggregate won the elections. They have the ability to form strong coalition governments in the center as well as in all four provinces. The outline of a future polity is clear. It would be defined by constitutional rule exorcised of the exigencies of dictatorship: a polity in which a sovereign parliament, an independent judiciary and an executive functioning according to the rule of law would guarantee the rights of all citizens and the provinces they inhabit; it would give voice to the oppressed by providing equality of opportunity to all citizens, not just a few, to participate in the political and economic life of the country.

The outline of an economy denoted by the will of the people is also clear. It would be an economy of the people for the people: an economy characterized by an equitable growth process whereby poverty is overcome rapidly and the poor through the actualizing of their productive potential, acquire economic citizenship and contribute to the national economy.

The question that now arises is how such a polity and economy can be achieved. We would argue that this requires establishing democratic institutional structures in the polity, society and economy. An institution is a set of formal rules and informal norms which together with their enforcement mechanisms structure human interaction. (Douglass North, 2005). Institutions in this sense need to be built in the polity, economy and society: Within the current constitution that has been mauled by recurrent military interventions, within an economy distorted by the imperative to grant rents (unearned income) to the elite and within a society ruptured by the assault of obscurantist extremists. Establishing democratic institutions means creating a set of rules at a formal level in each of these spheres, as well as informal norms within our culture and consciousness through which the formal rules can be enforced. The purpose of these rules and enforcement mechanisms is to create the necessary constraints to state organizations, such as the military and executive authority, to ensure freedom, the rule of law and equality of economic opportunity for the people.

The constitution embodies the will of the people to the extent that they hold that their core values are represented in the constitution. Therefore it is the people fully aware of their core values, mobilized and organized, who ultimately enforce the constitution. We have seen this in the great sacrifice for democracy made by Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto when in receiving the violence of the extremists on her body she gave new life to the people and strength to their struggle for peace and democracy. Another example is the recent Civil Society movement led by the lawyers. The emergence of heroes such as Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, bears testimony to the fact that through their actions they have articulated the aspirations of the people. These great sacrifices of Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto and the leaders of the lawyers’ movement mobilized the popular will and determined both the results of the elections and the agenda of the main political parties.

The popular will is dramatically expressed through the passionate rationality of heroic individuals as we have seen recently. Yet the popular will is sustained by a myriad of civil society organizations, political parties and the media. Equally important are universities, poets and artists, who nurture creativity and self awareness in a people. It is these organizations that need to be strengthened. They enable a people to become conscious of what is essential to them. It is then that their forms of love, sacrifice and rebellion can be articulated. So it is that the people through their heroes, organizations and their collective action ensure that the constitution is defended, preserved and protected.

The next question is how to create a people’s economy. A change in the policy paradigm is required: Establishing the institutions for enabling all citizens, not just the few, to actualize their productive potential and thereby sustain high GDP growth. Pakistan like other underdeveloped countries belongs to a “Limited Access Social Order”, where the elite preserves its rents (unearned income), through an institutional structure which excludes the majority of the people from both political power and economic wealth. The incentive systems embodied in the institutional structure, restrict competition, constrain efficiency and innovation and hence prevent sustained economic growth. At the same time since most of the people are excluded from both the process of governance and growth, poverty is endemic.

The central economic challenge for Pakistan is to create the institutional structure for an economic democracy, which would enable equality of economic opportunity, allow merit based selection, competition and thereby efficiency, innovation and sustained growth. Economic policy would aim to create the institutional structure for providing access to a wide section of the population over credit, capital, land and high wage employment. Allocation of state resources should aim at providing high quality education, health and training infrastructure for the poor to enable them to increase their productivity, incomes, savings, and thereby engage in the investment process. In so doing they would enable a higher and more equitable GDP growth. Thus the poor would become the subject as well as the object of development.

Essential to Pakistan’s progress towards economic democracy would be to establish the institutional structure for sustaining democracy and the rule of law. As North has argued the polity is the fundamental basis of economic performance. This is because the incentive systems and the rules of the economic game are specified by the system of laws and regulations within the polity.

The people of Pakistan have made their own history in these elections by positing to the political parties as much as to the world that they too wish to live in freedom, and aspire for justice, peace and economic welfare. The challenge for national policy is to establish the institutional foundations for fulfilling these aspirations.

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