Impediments to democracy

Daily: The News
Date: 11.03.11

Military coups are a besetting problem Pakistan is faced with. So far, the democratic age of
Pakistan has been reduced to about half of Pakistan’s total corporal age. People generally
expect Pakistan to behave democratically in commensurate with its physical age. That may
not be possible. Nevertheless, there are a few other impediments engendering the juvenile
democratic polity of Pakistan.  

First, the slogan of extra-constitutionalism is becoming a political ethos. The slogan to
provoke the ‘patriotic generals’ into taking the reigns of power into their own hands is again
being marketed. In this regard, the slogan chanted by Altaf Hussain of the MQM a few
weeks ago has been aired again but with certain modifications by Shahbaz Sharif of the
PML-N. They have vocalized the slogan of extra-constitutionalism without even realizing that
Pakistan is repetitively cursed with derailment of democracy. Their remarks are tantamount
to disenfranchising the people of Pakistan. To contrive a method to disabuse politicians of
such hideous ideas is still an uphill task for the democratic minds of society.

After the recent general elections and restoration of the higher judiciary it was thought that
such kind of slogans would be dumped but that seems not the case. Old habits die hard.
Pakistani politicians have to reconsider the perils of declaring the military a counter-
balancing force to parliament. Militating against the democratic norms has already cramped
the progress of Pakistan. Apparently, the repetitive democratic failures have not yet
chastened the Pakistanis.

Second, the religious parties active in the political domain are refusing to learn the way the
political path be tread. Since 1973, they have been either acting as a pressure group
practising ‘mob politics’ to unnerve a sitting government or becoming a default option for a
military dictator to bank on to seek legitimacy. General Zia ul Haq exploited their talent to
his advantage and even General Pervaiz Musharraf could not avoid capitalizing on their
utility despite the fact that he was peddling his enlightened moderation theory.

Further, the religious parties are not appreciating the point that in the recent general
elections, the electorate rejected overwhelmingly relevance of even those religious parties
that took part in the contest. The left-over space apportioned to them all was streets. The
religious parties that opted out of the electoral exercise are now also utilizing the full
potential of streets to stay politically relevant. Several issues ranging from imposition of the
reformed General Sales Tax (rGST) to the immunity available to Raymond Davis have
offered the religious parties ample legroom to spew acerbity to raise their credit ratings to
be cashed in on in the next elections. In fact, these issues have gathered storm to an
alarming proportion owing to the efforts of one religious party to outclass the rest of its
competitors. Nevertheless, rumours are afloat that constituting of a neo-IJI is in the offing.
Certainly, to dredge it up, the midnight jackalism is the final hope of the religious parties for
salvaging them from the abyss of oblivion.

Third, the concept of liberty falling under the head democracy is considered to enfold a
mandate of imitating western values of liberalism. In certain sections of Pakistani society, it
is firmly believed that an unchecked and unadulterated supply of democracy may construct
effects detrimental to the Islamic and Asian values customary in the society. In that way, the
moral aspect of liberty is accentuated and the resultant danger posed by liberty is
appraised. Unfortunately, it is not extolled that the kind of liberty democracy broaches
liberates people from the shackles of feudal lords and autocrats.

Moreover, it is also not realized that democracy-driven liberty tenders freedom of thought
and action. If the societal environment surrounding the advent of liberty is full of Islamic and
Asian values, the ensuing freedom may evoke a kind of response different from the one
educed in the West. In fact, fewer are the reasons to be apprehensive of democracy and its
attendant liberty.

Fourth, there is a dearth of the informed voters. On the other hand, the uninformed voters
are in abundance around and can be spotted by their displaying parochialism and
sentimentalism; to them illiteracy offers fuel to the proverbial fire. Much is being talked
about the hidden – lethal – potential of the youth to bring about a revolution in Pakistan
mimicking the one sweeping the Arab world. Given the high reproduction rate in the
country, the consequent youth bulge in the demographic façade is now a bogy for any
sitting government. The point is to make happen a revolution is one thing but to cause a
democratic change – through the electoral system – is altogether a different proposition.
Apropos of the latter, the youth bulge blighted by illiteracy is nightmarish for the country.

Fifth, during an electoral process, a considerable number of voters tend not to vote for or
against contesting candidates of their electoral constituency. The voters opt to stay at
homes and act as bystanders. Those voters are considered a ‘silent majority’ which is the
bane of the political parties but a hope for the military dictators to prop them up. It is told
that the intelligence agencies exact the feedback from the silent majority. The same
feedback, however, is fed to the empty boxes of referendum to acclaim an overwhelming
victory of a military dictator against all supposed opponents. The final opinion of General
Zia ul Haq about the silent majority is yet unknown; nevertheless, under the spell of
presumptive politics, General Pervaiz Musharraf is still hopeful of teaming up with the silent
majority to rout the politicians of all hues in the forthcoming electoral episode.

In short, in Pakistan, multilayered obstacles make the itinerary of democracy thorny.

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