Practising Democracy



September 18, 2022

Practising Democracy, as the concept stands, is not the kind of governance system practiced in Pakistan and it is an obvious conclusion drawn by many. The reasons for the failure of flowering of democratic spirit in Pakistan are multiple and are often pointed out. The fact that is often ignored is the historical legacy of governance bequeathed to the areas of the British Indian Empire that became part of the state of Pakistan.

The plains of Sindh and Punjab and the mountainous regions of KP and Balochistan were the ones where British democratic seed was planted very late. The only reason the British paid heed to these areas was their turbulent nature and the spectre of recalcitrant elements coming down from the mountains and disrupting life in settled areas; a situation still faced by Pakistan.

The colonial masters consequently ringed these areas with cantonments and devised a governance system of co-opting local influentials who were supported by the British appointed administration that was, in turn, supported by military force. The British rarely altered this pattern except detaching NWFP from Punjab during the viceroyalty of Lord Curzon and maintained a strong military presence throughout these areas.

The democratic model followed by the British compelled them to slowly introduce it to the subcontinent but it was not until the powerful sweep of Muslim League in 1946 that pushed the governance arrangements laid down by the British to accept the dominance of democratic order in areas that became Pakistan. The agitation against foreign rule gave way to a new state but after its acquisition, things reverted to the original scheme.

Essential Attribute Of Democracy

It was certainly not unexpected and what is currently observed is precisely the same approach to governance that is heavily underpinned by force with the overt difference that the application of force has assumed more than one shape. The essential attribute of practising democracy is consensus building and Pakistani governance model has not been able to attain it.

Consensus building is a substantial process of intense give-and-take but Pakistani polity has only shown marked tendency to take and is callously negligent about the requirement of giving. All governance efforts since the last seven decades were geared towards creating and sustaining entitled elements and this pursuit unfortunately was legitimised through arbitrary as well as democratic means.

The result is that successive electoral exercises have failed to create the spirit of consensus-building. Instead, the repeated electoral exercises have created more schisms than unity. They have certainly failed to usher in a more predictable and stable governance and their after-effects have made democracy in Pakistan unrealistic and obsolete.

The opposition to democratic norms has become endemic despite the return to democratic rule, a pattern that is contradictory in essence. The democratic principle ordains dispersal of power that keeps its exercise more equitable but it is lost on Pakistani governance perception.

The democratic belief system vouches that even poorly-performing democratic dispensations are better than any undemocratic system and that regular power transitions produce political stability but Pakistan appears to pay lip-service to it.

The glaring example of this perennial dichotomy is that despite democratic practice in the country no prime minister was packed off through laid down parliamentary practices. It has become very visible that forces other than parliament exercise more weight, and in close collaboration of other segments of the polity, possess the ability to disrupt the political process.

Practising Democracy In Pakistan

In Pakistan democracy does not follow the optimal trajectory posited by democratic consolidation theory but instead aids uncertainty and unpredictability. The electorate betrays more faith in individual messiahs and considers it to be the shortest route to progress.

Pakistani perception of democratic governance begins and ends with an honest leader and it has no place for an institutionalised exercise of power characterising actual democratic needs. Pakistani people prefer governance models of China, Russia, South Korea and Singapore and widely laud their charismatic leadership.

Patronage politics is still the favourite form of governance and neither street credibility nor individual honesty has been able to break its grip. The recent populist agitation is an ample proof of the pervading public perception but even the staunch political leaders are forced to compromise on basic principle to acquire high office.

They proclaim that they resisted the onslaught of traditional undemocratic belief system but had to ultimately give in to the forces of status quo without realising that this assertion goes against the very essence of democratic governance.

The multiple structural constraints Pakistan faces are deeply entrenched and it is almost impossible to alter them. The pulverised public perception and conduct do not allow public representatives to function on scarce financial resources and growing public demands.

The situation is more than challenging for any leader however charismatic he or she may be. The only solution is following the laid-down democratic principles but the current Pakistani political system does not sincerely believe in it. Practising democracy in Pakistan is a never-ending paradox. The Weekender


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