Democracy, no doubt, is the best system if it is run by the best people living in the state. It is unfortunate that Pakistan’s democracy is run by the worst of its citizens. There are a few exceptions but they cannot alter the well-entrenched trends of Pakistan’s democratic culture. Let us state a few undeniable facts about Pakistan’s democracy.
First, families and clans act as custodians of voters and political parties. Second, most voters in the rural areas do not cast votes of their own free will and many are not even aware of their basic fundamental rights. Third, corruption and coercion are part and parcel of Pakistan’s electoral process. Last, but not least, politics is deemed dirty and dangerous by law-abiding, educated citizens of Pakistan.
Along with these facts, there are certain misperceptions about democracy that have purposely been inculcated in the minds of Pakistanis by politicians. These include: elections lead to the establishment of democracy, parliamentarians are true representatives of the people and voters cast their votes freely.
In addition to these misperceptions, there are clear fault lines in Pakistani society, i.e., sectarian, ethnic, tribal, and provincial. Our so-called political parties are clearly divided along these fault lines.
The above-mentioned facts, misperceptions and fault lines have produced an electoral system that creates governments incorrectly termed as democratically elected. The political party is the fundamental institution of any democracy and is supposed to be structured democratically. However, in Pakistan, major political parties are controlled by a few influential families. The PPP claims that it is a democratic party but the change of leadership in the party happened through a will, after the demise of Benazir Bhutto. And the irony was that not a single seasoned parliamentarian like Raza Rabbani, Amin Fahim or Aitzaz Ahsan, uttered a single word against this undemocratic act.
In the rural areas, most constituencies are controlled by influential feudal families, who like seasonal birds, keep moving from one power broker group to another, according to their changing interests. The recent by-election results in DG Khan and Multan raise serious concerns for those who believe that only political awareness will change the status quo.
Another important institution in any democracy is an independent election commission, which is responsible for implementing election rules. In Pakistan, we have an election commission that is spineless when it comes to ensuring the implementation of election rules. Similarly, an independent judiciary that provides speedy justice and a bureaucracy free from political influence are also essential ingredients of a true democracy. These prerequisites seem to be absent in Pakistan.
In the remote areas of the country, people are not even aware of the existence of an election process. My visits to some coastal union councils of Thatta revealed that the people of the area had no idea about who the MPA and MNA of their constituency were.
Lastly, I believe that without elected local governments, no regime can claim to be a democratic one. All provincial governments in the country are unwilling to devolve power to the local leadership, which is the essence of a democracy.
Because of all these reasons, the track record of elected civilian governments is not at all impressive. The unpleasant fact is that the economic growth rate achieved during democratic regimes has compared poorly with the rates achieved during military regimes. I am afraid that this rotten system will continue in the future as well. Getting rid of the influential feudal families and the corrupt urban elite seems like an impossible task at the moment.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2012