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 Democracy on steady decline in Pakistan: Economist Intelligence Unit

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ISLAMABAD, Feb 25: The fragile democracy is on a steady retreat in Pakistan despite the fact that the political government is nearing the completion of its term, says a fresh democracy index released by one of the most reputed publications in the world.

According to 10th edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, Pakistan has witnessed a consistent decline in democratic health for the last three years as the country’s score kept declining after 2014 when incidentally a sit-in was staged outside Pakistani Parliament for over four months.

The reputed British publication ranked 167 countries based on their score on a scale of 0 to 10 where 10 represents full democracy and 0 represents authoritarian regime. Pakistan which scored 4.26 last year is classified as hybrid democracy in the index. The Economist index comprises 60 indicators across five broad categories—electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties.

After 2013 elections, Pakistan obtained 4.64 but the democracy score started declining after 2014. In 2015, the score dropped to 4.40 followed by a further decline in 2016 to 4.33. Last year, witnessed the lowest score for Pakistan with 4.26 which was only better than 2006 under the dictatorship of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf when the country obtained 3.92 scores.

Within Pakistan, political observers are also complaining that the space for democratic government is shrinking with increasingly assertive establishment and judiciary. The latest verdict by the Supreme Court of Pakistan barring former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from heading his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is also being considered a blow to democracy.

“The immediate implications may centre on the political future of one individual, but the judgment has the potential to be hugely disruptive to the democratic process itself,” writes a daily newspaper in its editorial on Friday.

Sharif, who was ousted in July last year through the Supreme Court verdict in the Panama Paper case, continuously complains of conspiracy against the democratic rule. Sharif, a three-time prime minister says efforts are being made to exclude him and his family from Pakistani politics in the guise of corruption cases. Sharif and his family are currently facing three corruption references in an accountability court where they have to appear almost on a daily basis.

He claims that anti-democratic forces are not willing to accept Parliament's supremacy even after the restoration of “democracy” in 2008. Soon after his decisive victory in 2013 elections, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to face a massive movement launched jointly by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) leader Allama Tahirul Qadri which culminated at 126-day sit-in at D-Chowk, demanding Prime Minister’s resignation.

Sharif’s close aides claimed that the move was supported by anti-democratic elements who were not happy with an assertive political government. The sit-in only ended after the APS terror attack in Peshawar which claimed lives of 132 schoolchildren. But the anti-Sharif movement continued after the sit-in and he had to fight a battle in the Supreme Court to prove that the 2013 vote was not rigged. The trial of former military ruler General (retd) Musharraf also became a point of contention. Finally the issue was resolved when Musharraf was allowed to leave the country.

After the emergence of Panama Papers in April 2015, the PTI again launched a move to overthrow Nawaz Sharif whose offshore companies were mentioned in the leaked papers. The case ended up in the Supreme Court which announced its verdict in July 2017. Sharif was disqualified by the apex court for not declaring his receivable salary in a Dubai based company Capital FZE, owned by his son. The verdict was hailed as landmark by Imran Khan and other opposition parties but the ruling party complained that a democratic prime minister has been shown the door through a “judicial coup”. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the apex court to probe allegations of corruption against Nawaz Sharif was also criticised for political victimisation.

Even before the Sharif disqualification, democratic government did not have a smooth sailing as it had to sacrifice its minister for information over Dawn NewsLeak which refers to a story published in a newspaper. A strong notice was taken of the publication of the story and under immense pressure PML-N had to sack its minister Pervaiz Rashid for his “failure” to stop publication of the story. Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi was also sacked for his alleged role in Dawn NewsLeak. Earlier, another Senator Mushahidullah Khan was also dismissed by Sharif for his controversial interview.

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