Struggle between autocracy and non-autocracy

ByUzair Ali

He is in the finance sector


August 20, 2023

Autocracy and democracy

Uzair Ali comments upon types of regimes

Autocracy and democracy – The role of force is vital in distinguishing among political systems in terms of the exercise and control of power. Pakistani power matrix is a combination of autocratic and non-autocratic tendencies overlapping each other though the balance is understood to tilt in favour of autocratic intention and content. At the very outset it is pointed out that political life is shaped by a wide variety of factors, including social and cultural conditions, economic organisation, intellectual and philosophical influences, geography, climate and historical circumstance. These areas of influence are usually taken into consideration while looking at specific types of political systems to stages of economic development or particular kinds of socioeconomic organisation. It musty however be borne in mind that such variables may be present in a state in different combinations from one society to another. All political orders are unique as products of history and creations of the peculiar forces and conditions of their environment.

The current emphasis on constitutional rule with the ultimate aim of assuring pluralism in governance matters has made it mandatory to seriously question and to judge the maturity of a political system in terms of the extent to which it adopts any particular set of institutions or techniques of rule is an equally doubtful procedure. It has also become obvious that political change is not simply a reaction to objective factors such as economic forces but also the product of conscious manipulation. In this context, the growth and development of political systems is to be explored keeping in view the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of government. Moreover, the nature of the interaction between political systems and their environment is extremely complex as the outgrowth of particular patterns of social or economic organisation is to ignore the fact that changes in social and economic structures are often the product, sometimes the intended product, of governance patterns followed in states.

In this backdrop it is mentioned that autocracy is characterised by the concentration of power in a single centre, be it an individual dictator or a group of power holders such as a committee or a party leadership. This centre relies on force to suppress opposition and to limit social developments that might eventuate in opposition. The power of the centre is not subject to effective controls or limited by genuine sanctions: it is absolute power. In contrast, the practice of non-autocracy is characterised by the existence of several centres each sharing in the exercise of power. Non-autocratic governance pattern allows the development of social forces that generate a variety of interests and opinions. It also subjects the power holders to reciprocal controls and to effective sanctions of law.

Despite their centralised intention and predilection, autocracies attempt to borrow legitimacy by adopting the language of the constitutions of non-autocratic governance patterns or by establishing similar institutions. It is a common practice in many modern autocratic states to establish institutions—parliaments or assemblies, elections and parties, courts and legal codes—that differ little in appearance from the institutional structures of constitutional democracies. Similarly, the language of autocratic constitutions is often couched in terms of the doctrines of popular rule or democracy. The difference is that in autocratic regimes neither the institutions nor the constitutional provisions act as effective checks on the power of the single centre: they are essentially facades for the exercise of power through hierarchical procedures that subject all the officials of the state to the commands of the ruling individual or group. The underlying realities of autocratic rule are always the concentration of power in a single centre and the mobilisation of force to prevent the emergence of opposition.

The autocratic systems do not have qualms in employing the organs of state power to impose their own preferences in shape of official ideology on their compatriots and go to any length to enforce it. Nonconformity of opinion is treated as the equivalent of resistance or opposition to the government and a formidable apparatus of compulsion including various methods of coercion are applied to keep people in line and curb opposition. A single party, centrally directed and composed exclusively of loyal supporters of the governance apparatus, is the other typical feature of autocratic control. The party is at once an instrument of social control, a vehicle for ideological indoctrination and the body from which the ruling group recruits its members. It does not allow citizens to organise any other political group and seldom tolerates any other form of social organisation except the kind it approves of.

On the other hand, constitutional democracy with its attendant attributes is the chief type of non-autocratic governance pattern. The minimal definition in institutional terms of a constitutional democracy is that it should provide for a regularised system of periodic elections with a free choice of candidates, the opportunity to organise competing political parties, adult suffrage, decisions by majority vote with protection of minority rights, an independent judiciary, constitutional safeguards for basic civil liberties and the opportunity to change any aspect of the governmental system through agreed procedures. Two features of constitutional democracy require emphasis in contrasting it with autocratic governance practices namely the constitution or basic law and the political party system operating in governance sphere. A constitution formalises a set of fundamental norms governing the political community and determining the relations between the rulers and the people and the interaction among the centres of power. Its provisions usually include assignment of certain specified state functions to different state organs or offices, delimitation of the powers of each organ or office specifying arrangements for their cooperative interaction and protection of individual rights or liberties against the state power. Such an arrangement is brought about to prevent concentration of power in the hands of a single ruler or his cabal with making political and social life immune to governmental intervention along with peaceable change in the governance matters.

Non-autocratic governance systems inherently rely on political parties as they are taken to be political the agency through which the electorate is involved in both the exercise and transfer of power. In contrast with the centralised, autocratic direction of the single-party organisation with its emphasis on ideological conformity and restricted membership, the political parties of constitutional democracy are decentralised, concerned with the integration of many interests and beliefs and open to public participation. In constitutional democracies there is usually some measure of competition among two or more parties, each of whichhas some ability to influence the course of matters of state. Political parties are a manifestation of public representation and peaceful transfer of power taking place after the result of a public mandate.

Amidst autocratic and non-autocratic dispensations there exist intermediate types that combine elements of both. In such cases attention is required to be paid towards the power configurations underlying the formal structures and the extent to which power is concentrated in a single centre or the role that is played by force in the maintenance of the governance. While looking at this hybrid type due cognisance is required to be paid to the relative weight of coercive and consensual power and the scope of individual freedom in such a political order. Pakistan is widely known to be subjected to the rigours of such an arrangement that keeps individual liberties under severe check compelling the concerned international quarters to raise frequent objections. The Weekender


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