The crisis of democracy

Daily: The News
Date: 11.08.11

Indentifying a villain responsible for actuating a crisis is a good practice. In Pakistan, the
trend is to look for a foreign hand in any trouble caused around. Democracy in Pakistan is
also confronted with a kind of crisis. Nevertheless, all facets of the crisis stem from the local
factors – made in Pakistan.

First, democracy is afflicted with a crisis of ownership. Democracy is practised as (if it were)
a historic compulsion bequeathed on the Pakistanis by the accident of creation of Pakistan.
Democracy has not become a part of culture and is disowned at the micro level of society. It
seems that politicians have failed to convince people how democracy can serve them better
and how destiny of Pakistan is intertwined with democracy. There is much work needed to
be done in the area how to make democracy disseminate in society and be owned by
people. Nevertheless, a battle of survival is still being fought between democracy and
authoritarianism.

Second, the reach of democracy is delimited by certain factors. For instance, democracy is
barred from peeping into the family and political institutions. Democracy is considered more
to run affairs of the country than those of a household. Autocracy is still rampant at the
family level. Democracy finds breathing space mostly out of the household affairs. Political
parties are a one-man show fashioned and doomed by one man, head or chairman. The
attendant feature is the surfacing of dynastic politics. Political shenanigans of various sorts
are brought into action to fetch votes and resurrect a semblance of democracy at the
national level. Otherwise, the society from inside is still undemocratic. The resultant
paradox emerging from the internal rigid core and external flexible democratic façade of
society is hurting the spirit of democracy.

Third, all efforts are made to keep the Election Commission susceptible to manipulation.
The narrow political base of political parties renders them vulnerable at the hands of
‘political outsiders’ who tinker with the electoral system and bring forward a lot of
compromised politicians. That is how the concept of controlled democracy is born. Attached
to that is the notion of a controlled parliament, a soft-option to handle once the system is
erected. That kind of parliament is amenable to any in-house change brought about by the
actors external to parliament. In such a format, politicians enjoy just trappings of high office
sans real power to formulate a policy. A weak electoral system offers space for a
clandestine intrusion into the political domain. Independence of the Election Commission is,
thus, vital for making the electoral system foolproof and introduction and continuation of
representative democracy possible.

Fourth, corruption done by politicians is blighting the face of democracy. In the past, the
collusion between the bureaucracy and military to run the affairs of the country dwarfed the
relevance of the political institution. The rest of the job was done by politicians themselves
when they got indulged in financial corruption whenever they took a spell at the wheel of
power. Every democratic regime carried a list of corruption cases to be condoned by the
law enforcement agencies and courts. The scourge of corruption has acted as a self-
destructive measure and soiled the reputation of politicians badly. People think that
democracy is tormenting them more than yielding its promised fruits of prosperity.

Fifth, bad governance mars the standing of democracy. People are seething with
discontent on mismanagement of Railways and Electricity supply affairs by the government.
Further, in the face of price hike, people are now labouring diligently and living frugally. In
fact, people are forced to skimp on necessities to make their supplies outlive prevalent
inflation. Consequently, politicians are discredited and deemed incapable of running the
democratic system. On the other hand, the idea of running the country with the help of
technocrats is getting popular: Pakistan can be run better by technocrats (specialists) than
politicians. The way governance is delivered, it is sapping people’s confidence in
democracy.

Sixth, the absence of local government system has impeded the road to country’s
democratic future. Since 1947, if any dream has been left unfulfilled, that is, to have
elections regularly at the local level. It seems that a sting in the tail of the electoral episode
of 2008 was that the local bodies’ elections would not take place during the ongoing
democratic period. Non-party based elections held by the past military regimes at the local
level engendered a political interest group which became military regime dependent. That
group has still been waiting for the next stint of the military at the helm of affairs. By not
holding local bodies’ elections under one pretext or another, the government is manifesting
a sublime lack of concern not only for the democratic rights of people but also for people’s
democratic education.

Seventh, failure on the promise of delivery in the post-electoral success beckons the crisis
of credibility of a democratic regime. Recognizing how effective slogans such as bread,
housing and jobs could be, a political party likes to cast itself as the true guardian of the
dispossessed. Failure on the promised deliverance is offset by whining about victimization
of the political system by diabolical conspiracies. Consequently, the wave of compassion is
generated, the sympathy vote is garnered and lapses in performance are papered over.
The practice is continued unabated. People, however, are getting aware of these
stratagems, thanks to the efforts of the media, and may not be hoodwinked time and again.

Back to columns in 2011