a) The turnover test in Pakistan

Indians wouldn’t know much about democratic transitions. However, numerous countries which have had military rule, often for decades, have had to pass through pivotal moments in their processes of democratisation. The paths have varied, as have circumstances and expectations. There have been reversals, counter coups, revolutions and so-called ‘springs’, and some successes and many failures. Transitional paths are littered with diverse examples of a wide variety. Often international and regional powers upset domestic processes.

Different transitions

After the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt followed by a democratic victory of the Muslim Brotherhood, we ended up with a former military general backed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. In Thailand, a long democratic transition found complete reversal with the military coup of 2014, and now three years later, elections seem a long way away. In Indonesia, the democratic transition, after 32 years of military rule, in 1998 took at least ten or so years before Indonesia was said to have become a more stable democracy. Most countries in Latin America seem to have made perhaps the strongest and most thorough transitions towards democratisation, albeit, as the cases of Brazil and Venezuela show, not without their own specific problems and issues. In South Asia, despite its flawed democracy, the military seems to have been sufficiently marginalised in Bangladesh, to ensure that it remains a democracy, and if there are any threats to democracy in Bangladesh, they are on account of its civilian politics – much like Zimbabwe – not the military. In Myanmar, it becomes increasingly difficult to assess if any transition towards democratic rule has even been made. Turkey’s strong anti-military democratic tradition has morphed into a civilian authoritarianism. If each case offers very specific circumstances to how democratic transitions faltered or progressed, Pakistan’s incomplete transition, while still underway, has its own set of specificities which makes generalisation difficult. The wobbly transition since 2008 still continues, though not without its challenges.

Turning point

While 2008 was rightly celebrated as the year when a military dictator was forced out by civil and political forces, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who was elected that year, was forced to relinquish power in 2012 and was replaced by another of his party. After Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007, which allowed the PPP to win power and oust General Pervez Musharraf, real power rested with Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP, who became President of Pakistan in 2008. Following Pakistan’s much-celebrated first civilian democratic transition in 2013 — Nawaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister, and since he was from Punjab, had a complete majority in parliament and was seen as the establishment’s man — many of us were convinced that the next step of strengthening democracy, the ‘two turnover test’, when two relatively peaceful civilian elections take place, was set to take place effortlessly in 2018. While this is still a probability, with Mr. Sharif being debarred from public office by the Supreme Court in July this year, he joined the long list of the 19 Pakistani Prime Ministers, elected and appointed, none of whom finished their full terms in office. While Pakistan might pass the ‘two turnover test’, it still has to wait to have a full one-term Prime Minister. Pakistan is a country of conspiracy theories, and as social scientists, we often do not know the truth. The dismissal of Mr. Sharif was done by the Supreme Court on grounds of misreporting his income to the Election Commission of Pakistan. He has been barred from contesting elections, although there has been some debate amongst lawyers whether this ban is for life or not. Regardless of the nature of the ban, what continues to be discussed in the media, always as proof and never as speculation or conjecture, is that it was the military which put pressure on the judiciary so that it gave a verdict which ousted Mr. Sharif. Even international newspapers and magazines quote respected Pakistani journalists and anonymous military sources stating that ‘the Supreme Court knew which way the Army wanted to go, and obliged’. A retired general has stated that the Army was ‘definitely’ behind this ouster, for the “judges would not have had the courage to do what they did otherwise”. Perhaps the judges did. The truth is that we really don’t know. One could argue that democracy (or Nawaz Sharif) had not acquired the strength or confidence as yet to take on the military over some fundamental policy issue, and there seems to be no apparent reason for the military either to push Mr. Sharif out. He was not rocking any military boat and was busy building power plants and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, going about his job in an apparently non-obtrusive manner with the economy showing signs of significant improvement. There was no apparent tension brewing, no signs to challenge the military’s well-established control of foreign policy or that with regard to India or Afghanistan, or of the military’s anti-militancy programme which the civilian government supported. It is only after the fact that people have said that the military had a hand in his ouster, but again, reason and rationale seem to be lacking. Even though Mr. Sharif was removed as Prime Minister, the government got another one – just like in 2012 – and has continued its daily duties with an eye to the elections in the summer of 2018. There is clearly an absence of leadership and civilian power, or confidence, which there were signs of under Mr. Sharif, but there is some business as usual. In fact, perhaps because there is no strong single leader, some progress has been made on some fronts. For example, while Mr. Sharif was Prime Minister, Pakistan did not have a Foreign Minister, but the current Foreign Minister has been emboldened enough to even criticise the U.S. Similarly, another senior Minister, the Interior Minister, has, through social media, even criticised the Chief of the Army Staff’s interfering comments about the state of Pakistan’s economy. He even went on to say, on Facebook, that “some hidden hands and inertia of history are trying to drift the democratic process into [the] same old design” (meaning coups), but “we will break the cycle this time as all are committed to preserving continuity of [the] democratic process”. Perhaps the only worrying sign is that the Pakistan military continues to tweet that it supports democracy.

Capacity for attrition

One consequence of the disqualification of Mr. Sharif will be that while he may emerge as godfather, like Mr. Zardari of the PPP, others in his Pakistan Muslim League (N) will get a chance to lead and perhaps this may allow many other voices to emerge, as his absence has already made possible. Without an established and strong centre in his party, the chances of re-election might also be undermined, and this might allow the military and other anti-democratic forces to manipulate intra-party fissures in Mr. Sharif’s party, creating an opening for Imran Khan’s pro-military, conservative Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to become a serious contender for power. It seems that Pakistan’s democratic challenges will continue to entangle with the more conventional civilian/military contestation over hegemony and power, as well as new challenges related to intra and inter-party dynamics.

b) Trying politicians: on setting up special courts

The Supreme Court’s order directing the Centre to frame a scheme to establish special courts exclusively to try cases against politicians marks another milestone in the higher judiciary’s continuing campaign to cleanse politics of the taint of crime. The court has handed down many rulings that make legislators and holders of public office accountable for corruption. In recent years, it has grappled with the disturbing phenomenon of criminals entering the electoral fray. In a landmark verdict in 2013, the court removed the statutory protection for convicted legislators from immediate disqualification; and in 2014, it directed completion of trials involving elected representatives within a year. The court is now keen on establishing a time-bound and exclusive judicial mechanism to expedite trials involving “political persons”. The order requires the Centre to provide details of the funding necessary to set up special courts, and indicates that State governments be involved in the exercise. True, cases involving offences by serving or past legislators move rather gingerly in the present criminal justice system. It is apparent that those with political influence have taken full advantage of its inherently languid nature by delaying hearings, obtaining repeated adjournments and filing innumerable interlocutory petitions to stall any meaningful progress. A few prominent leaders have been successfully tried and sentenced, but these are exceptions rather than the rule. For influential politicians, a criminal prosecution is no more than a flea bite; and, sometimes, even a badge of victimhood that redounds to their electoral benefit. However, establishing special courts may not be the ideal way to expedite cases. From the viewpoint of the accused, the idea could smack of victimisation and engender a feeling of being chosen for discriminatory treatment. There is already a provision for special courts to try various classes of offences. For instance, corruption, terrorism, sexual offences against children and drug trafficking are dealt with by special courts. However, creating a court for a class of people such as politicians is discriminatory. While corruption charges against public servants are being handled by special courts, it is a moot question whether there can be special treatment for offences under the Indian Penal Code solely because the accused is a politician. A possible legal and moral justification is, of course, available. It is in the public interest to expedite cases in which those in public life face serious charges. It would be primarily in their own interest to clear their names quickly, lest their candidature be tainted. Also, the earlier order for completion of trial within one year appears to have had no significant impact. Special courts may indeed address these issues, but the ideal remedy will always be a speedy trial in regular courts. If only the routine criminal process is pursued with a universal sense of urgency, and if enough courts, judges, prosecutors and investigators are available, the expediency of special courts may not be needed at all.


1) Pivotal

Meaning: Of crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else.

Example: Japan’s pivotal role in the world economy.

Synonyms: Central, Crucial

2) Coup

Meaning: A sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.

Example: He was overthrown in an army coup.

Synonyms: Overthrow, Takeover

Antonyms: Election

3) Albeit

Meaning: Although

Example: The evening was very pleasant, albeit a little quiet.

4) Flawed

Meaning: Having or characterized by a fundamental weakness or imperfection.

Example: A fatally flawed strategy.

Synonyms: Unsound, Defective

Antonyms: Sound

5) Marginalised

Meaning: Treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral.

Example: By removing religion from the public space, we marginalize it.

6) Wobbly

Meaning: Tending to move unsteadily from side to side.

Example: The car had a wobbly wheel.

Synonyms: Unsteady, Unstable

Antonyms: Stable, Steady

7) Relinquish

Meaning: Voluntarily cease to keep or claim; give up.

Example: He relinquished his managerial role to become chief executive.

Synonyms: Renounce, Waive

Antonyms: Keep, Retain

8) Conspiracy

Meaning: A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

Example: A conspiracy to destroy the government.

Synonyms: Plot, Scheme, Stratagem

9) Barred

Meaning: Prevent or prohibit (someone) from doing something or from going somewhere.

Example: Journalists had been barred from covering the elections.

Synonyms: Prohibit, Debar

Antonyms: Admit, Accept

10) Conjecture

Meaning: Form an opinion or supposition about (something) on the basis of incomplete information.

Example: Many conjectured that she had a second husband in mind.

Synonyms: Guess, Speculate, Surmise

Antonyms: Know

11) Verdict

Meaning: A decision on an issue of fact in a civil or criminal case or an inquest.

Example: The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

Synonyms: Judgement, Decision

12) Ousted

Meaning: Drive out or expel (someone) from a position or place.

Example: The reformists were ousted from power.

Synonyms: Expel, Remove

13) Apparent

Meaning: Seeming real or true, but not necessarily so.

Example: His apparent lack of concern.

Synonyms: Ostensible, Outward

Antonyms: Genuine

14) Brewing

Meaning: (Of an unwelcome event or situation) begin to develop.

Example: There was more trouble brewing as the miners went on strike.

Synonyms: Develop, Loom

15) Rationale

Meaning: A set of reasons or a logical basis for a course of action or belief.

Example: He explained the rationale behind the change.

Synonyms: Reasoning, Thinking

16) Emboldened

Meaning: Give (someone) the courage or confidence to do something.

Example: Emboldened by the claret, he pressed his knee against hers.

Synonyms: Encourage, Hearten

Antonyms: Dishearten, Discourage

17) Inertia

Meaning: A tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.

Example: The bureaucratic inertia of the various tiers of government.

Synonyms: Inactivity, Inaction

Antonyms: Activity, Energy

18) Fissures

Meaning: A long, narrow opening or line of breakage made by cracking or splitting, especially in rock or earth.

Example: The bacteria survive around vents or fissures in the deep ocean floor.

Synonyms: Opening, Crevice

19) Contender

Meaning: A person or group competing with others to achieve something.

Example: A presidential contender.

20) Entangle

Meaning: Cause to become twisted together with or caught in.

Example: Fish attempt to swim through the mesh and become entangled.

Synonyms: Intertwine, Entwine

Antonyms: Disentangle, Release

21) Campaign

Meaning: Work in an organized and active way towards a goal.

Example: People who campaigned against child labour.

Synonyms: Crusade, Drive

22) Taint

Meaning: Affect with a bad or undesirable quality.

Example: His administration was tainted by scandal.

Synonyms: Tarnish, Sully

Antonyms: Improve

23) Handed down

Meaning: Passed on to a later generation or age.

Example: Handed-down family recipes.

24) Grappled

Meaning: Seize hold of (someone).

Example: He grappled the young man around the throat.

Synonyms: Seize, Grab

Antonyms: Release

25) Statutory

Meaning: Having come to be required or expected through being done or made regularly.

Example: The statutory Christmas phone call to his mother.

26) Expedite

Meaning: Make (an action or process) happen sooner or be accomplished more quickly.

Example: He promised to expedite economic reforms.

Synonyms: Accelerate, Hurry

Antonyms: Delay, Hinder

27) Gingerly

Meaning: In a careful or cautious manner.

Example: Jackson sat down very gingerly.

Synonyms: Cautiously, Carefully

Antonyms: Carelessly, Recklessly

28) Languid

Meaning: (Of a person, manner, or gesture) having or showing a disinclination for physical exertion or effort.

Example: His languid demeanour irritated her.

Synonyms: Relaxed, Unhurried

Antonyms: Energetic, Action-packed

29) Adjournments

Meaning: An act or period of adjourning or being adjourned.

Example: She sought an adjournment of the trial.

Synonyms: Suspension, Halting

30) Interlocutory

Meaning: (Of a decree or judgement) given provisionally during the course of a legal action.

Example: This is entirely consistent with the familiar field of interlocutory injunctions granted ex parte.

31) Prosecution

Meaning: The institution and conducting of legal proceedings against someone in respect of a criminal charge.

Example: The organizers are facing prosecution for noise nuisance.

32) Flea bite

Meaning: A very minor insignificant inconvenience or cost.

Example: The proposed energy tax amounted to little more than a flea bite.

Synonyms: Pittance, Trifle

Antonyms: Fortune

33) Victimhood

Meaning: The state of being a victim.

Example: The society nurtures a sense of victimhood.

34) Smack

Meaning: Smash, drive, or put forcefully into or on to something.

Example: He smacked a fist into the palm of a black-gloved hand.

Synonyms: Bang, Slam

35) Engender

Meaning: Cause or give rise to (a feeling, situation, or condition).

Example: The issue engendered continuing controversy.

Synonyms: Cause, Generate

36) Trafficking

Meaning: Deal or trade in something illegal.

Example: The government will vigorously pursue individuals who traffic in drugs.

Synonyms: Trade, Deal

37) Moot

Meaning: Subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty.

Example: Whether the temperature rise was mainly due to the greenhouse effect was a moot point.

Synonyms: Debatable, Open doubtful

38) Solely

Meaning: Not involving anyone or anything else; only.

Example: He is solely responsible for any debts the company may incur.

Synonyms: Only, Simply

39) Pursued

Meaning: Continue to investigate or explore (an idea or argument).

Example: We shall not pursue the matter any further.

Synonyms: Conduct, Follow

Antonyms: Give up

40) Expediency

Meaning: The quality of being convenient and practical despite possibly being improper or immoral; convenience.

Example: An act of political expediency.

Synonyms: Convenience, Advantage

Antonyms: Disadvantage

Other Editorials from the month of November


THE HINDU EDITORIAL – 2nd November 2017