Political Reforms-Lessons from History

Past present: About-face

By Mubarak Ali 

Institutions and traditions are products of time and space. Before they deteriorate and become irrelevant by losing their utility with the passage of time, they should either be reformed or abolished.

It is the responsibility of the politicians, intellectuals and the ruling classes to understand the degeneration of a system and hence introduce reforms to reconstruct institutions on fresh lines relevant to time.
Machiavelli, the scholar of Renaissance, in one of his books, The Discourse also referred to as The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy, advised that the political system should be reformed every 10 years.
Following his advice, Thomas Jefferson, the American president suggested that the American constitution should be redrafted after 20 years.
Both Machiavelli and Jefferson believed in change as every new generation has its own aspirations and ambitions to fulfill. Therefore, traditions and institutions which have become obsolete should be reformed in order to confront new challenges.
However, each society has conservatives who are beneficiaries of the existing system and oppose any change or reform. On the other hand, the progressives who are not radical or revolutionary but capable of dealing with new challenges wish to see a workable system.
The industrial revolution transformed the English society and the middle and working classes emerged powerful and ambitious to play a political role in the society. Previously the privileged English aristocracy dominated the political structure and refused to share political space with the middle class. They opposed the Great Reform Act in 1832 which was a law that changed the British electoral system. At this stage Wellington and Disraeli, both aristocrats who belonged to the Conservative party, warned the House of Lords not to oppose as any hurdle would cause resentment and anger in the middle classes. The members of the House of Lords decided not to attend the deliberation and the bill was passed which opened the gates for reform.
The 1867 Reform Act was the second major attempt to reform Britain’s electoral process. This extended the right to vote still further down the class ladder, adding just short of a million voters — including many workingmen — and doubling the electorate, to almost two million in England and Wales.
In France, the privileged classes including the aristocracy and clergy refused to change the structure of the traditional society. A bloody revolution followed that shook the society and disconnected it from the past.
In Russia, after the death of Stalin in 1954, when his successor Nikita Khrushchev disclosed Stalin’s abuses and crimes, some people were thrilled and others disappointed and disillusioned. However, Stalin’s diehard party leaders made Khrushchev’s efforts unsuccessful and the result of their conservative policy was that the system remained corrupt until Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms.
In the 19th century, revolutionary movements threatened European powers. Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany beleived that before becoming the victim of a revolution, it was advisable to implement reforms to economically improve the working class. It was a successful policy that prevented bloodshed and upheaval and yet protected the old system. Most European powers introduced constitutional governments which enfranchised more people.
In the case of Pakistan, now is the time to realise that our feudal, tribal and bureaucratic institutions have lost their utility as indicated by the chaos and disorder in our society. As no attempt is being made to revamp the institutions, they are on the verge of collapse. The only alternative is to abolish them and build new institutions to fulfil the need of the time. It requires a creative minority with a vision to initiate the process of building a new system. The question is: do we have a creative minority? For without one, there is no hope to bring about a change in the society.
Here a solution Italian style: 

The Monti option of Italy- A possible solution for Pakistan

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