Why democracy should stay

Published: January 22, 2012

True democracy needs time, and demands patience from the public. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pakistan’s administrative setup was modeled after the British system: an elected legislative assembly was to give form to an executive government headed by the prime minister. The president was to hold a symbolic role while the judiciary was set to be independent. It remains a reality that despite the narrow scope in the electorate, Pakistan was a product of democracy, and will only thrive and succeed if it is democratic in structure and spirit.

The continuous hampering course that Pakistan is passing through is not helping it become a truly democratic nation which can grow strong economically and deliver welfare to its people. We have military dictators who rule for about one decade or so only to be sacked (or get killed in an airplane crash) and replaced by democratic elected feudal elite who are interested in protocols rather than their subject’s wellbeing.

These days the government is struggling against the army regarding the ‘Memogate‘ scandal and the Supreme Court regarding the NRO verdict. Both cases have got national attention and can conclude in the government either to be ousted by force in a coup (highly unlikely) or made to by court ruling.

Back-channel pressure from the army and huge unpopularity from the grassroots movements can support such a downfall. The upcoming election to Senate in March 2012 is quite important as the governmental Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is believed to bag the biggest majority ever in its legislative history. This will pave the way for a PPP power even if it loses the 2013 general election.

In these tense times, where the army puts pressure on the government and where many pockets of the nations territory are under army operations, it is healthy that all political parties join hands to strengthen what is best for them all.

You can have a difference in opinion on what kind of penal code Pakistan needs, on the amount of provinces needed and so on but all the political parties do agree that democratic process is the only possible way out of this quagmire.

Why, you ask?

It is simply because the political parties are registered as parties under the Political Parties Act by the Election Commission Pakistan. They all understand that their function is to make umeedvaar (candidate)  to fight and campaign elections, to fill assemblies and to pass legislation. When this very process is at risk, being undermined by a powerful Generals Head Quarter (GHQ) which dictates much of the defense, foreign and parts of finance policies then one voice needs to be uttered:

“Enough is enough!”

Enough of blackmailing of political office holders, of directing public opinion through mass media and enough of rumours where force was oncused. The gentlemen in khakis are highly professional in their training, discipline and conduct when it comes to their own chain of command. They need to remain so and nothing more. Only then can the political parties try and err, election after election, government after government, being tried and voted out by the people so democratic institutions can become transparent in the long term, and therefore auditable. (too much?) 

True democracy needs time, and it demands patience from the public. True democracy is not the name of assemblies and elections each five years only, it is the result of rule of law with all its citizens equal before the law.

Further on, if our political leaders, despite their faults (and those are many) and despite their short term memory (because much of the past is murky) manage to form a principle platform to end the current constitutional crisis they also need to democratise their own political parties.

As a bonus, the elected governments and legislators can thereby finally determine what Pakistan’s national interest really is; the rate of literacy among men and women, the rate of unemployment, the fertility rate, students getting higher education and many others will be the indicators of national interest. Attracting investment in a stable period will generate jobs. The tax system will be effective when politicians slowly deliver, as voters will gain trust and our dear minorities will finally be able to call this land their home, too, while being proud of their culture and religion at the same time.

Do you support military rule in Pakistan?

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Usman Asif

Norwegian born of Pakistani descent, writes on politics, society and religion. He blogs at www.usmanasif.wordpress.com. He tweets @UsmanBaghi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    For a democratic system to grow and flourish it is essential to first have a democratic mind set. If you argue that a democratic system will produce a democratic mind set, then you have the cart before the horse. Recommend

  • http://zaidzamanhamid.wordpress.com/ Ahmed Quraishi

    No it should not… Demo-cracy in conspiracy theory means Demon-Crazy.Recommend

  • Irshad Khan

    Mr.Pervez is very right. Further, our social system of Wadera-ism, Moulvi-ism, Peer and sardar systems will never allow the real democracy to prevail in this country. Haris and farmers of smaller lands make 70% population of this country and they have no rights of expression and live lives of slaves. How can they go against Peer and wadera/sardar. Has anything been changed in the last four years of so called democracy and this will not change for the next 100 years if systems remain unchanged. Further, the staff, supervising the elections, is under the influence of powerfuls, who are candidates, and most of the time they have been appointed and posted by the influence or sifarish of the candidate himself or his father. Their are still no signs of end to ancestral systems of heading of Political parties and thus ruling the country. Further- more idealise the person is a great reason not allowing the genuine persons to come to lime light and in right position.Recommend

  • Majid Urrehman

    Thank you very much ET for stamping on Sher! A ray of hope at least even in pictures.Recommend

  • ansa44

    What is democracy? ‘WORDS 4M ALLAH’. NO than why u ppl make it indispensible 4 us despite the fact that country is suffering in hands of democratic ppl. PPL of pakistan needs food light gas security not 17th ammendment 2 solve problems. 2 bear democracy based on hypothesis that it is the best form of govt is utter nonsense. Same medicines is not given 2 every patient suffering 4m same diseases. I think tany system, b it dictatorship, IF It solve problems its best. Let me tell u the ppl in libya will lament n repent what they v done as like they v burnt their house with their own fire. When i read the facilities available 2 them than i understood the meaning of NASHUKRI . They can v zardari in xchange of qaddafiRecommend

  • http://www.usmanasif.wordpress.com Usman Asif

    The democratic mind set is to be found in the local panchayats which are several centuries old. The narrow legislation from British era is also there as experience. The political life of Pakistans architecture. Pakistans halted democratic process with elections on federal, provincial and local level is also known. Democracy is in the roots of the nations institutions and constitution, but it needs time, and get rid of power seeking Generals direct and indirect influence. To deny democracy to the public, is to deny them their basic rights.

    @Ahmed Quraishi
    You right! Lets wage Jihad against Burma, because we are destined to do so :P

    @Irshad Khan
    India and Bangladesh also suffered from the same issues as Pakistan. But in indias case, it let democracy be tested in and out. Slowly the whole institution became transparent and ineffective political leaders were voted out to be represented by the opposition. Such decreases the wadheraism. But it needs time. Things cannot be changed overnight. It is not possible with any socialist revolution, neither in any so-called islamic theocracy, the only solution lies in strenghtening democracy, it was how Pakistan was born in the first place.

    The basic needs of people will only be solved if people rules the country. That will not happen if a punjab-centric general sits in power. Panjabis are surely comfortable with a General, but Baluchis suffer, dont we care about them? For Pakistan to fully develope it needs to get in peace accords with neighbours and reduce the size of budget allocations to army, at the same time it needs to increase allocations to health and education. Slowly the process will change the country.Recommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    I think you fell for the typical trap of giving a bit more credit to GHQ for ruining the practical process than necessary. Other than that a great article. I agree that democracy is a self-correcting path. Systems improve through evolution and if we look at the total benefits vs. costs in the long run rather than in the short-run, we will come to agree that democracy is a path worth it specially taking into consideration diversity of our nation. Recommend

  • Noor
  • Parvez

    @Usman Asif: Appreciate your response and to some extent agree. There is no disagreement on democracy being the way forward. The question is that democracy has to be brought by humans and what we have in the human quality department of our leaders has much to be desired. What we need is honesty, hard work, patriotism and common sense – democracy will follow.Recommend

  • Irshad Khan

    You can not compare our people either with the people of India or Bangladesh. People in Pakistan have a good sense of militancy and taking revenge from others on individual or collective basis on any matter, big or small. Majority of people are short tempered and do not have patience to listen others point of view. They are easily exploited, particularly on the basis of religion, sectarian and linguistic/clans. They are lesser educated and have also lesser general awareness sense. People have very little awareness about their rights and how to fight for it individually or collectively. They generally think that their waderas, sardars and peers are the only remedy of their sufferings and are highly impressed by them so much so that at many places they lie down insajda` before these people. In such conditions how can you expect that democracy will prosper in near or long future. First you have to educate the people on mass basis, particularly in rural areas and all real democratic forces should devote their attention to the people living their and educate them about their rights. At the moment any force which can exploit or attract the rural population will continue to govern the country and one knows who are such forces.Recommend

  • yousaf

    Contents of the article and view poll do not match Recommend

  • http://www.usmanasif.wordpress.com Usman Asif

    @Falcon, Parvez and Irshad Khan
    I so much agree with you. The democratic mindset is not ideal, yet it is a bit culture around it. Still, the reason i am calling for supporting democracy is the recent tussle which harms a continuincy in the democratic process. We should have governments fall through ballots, so that they can search for the reasons why they lost power. Voters will in this sence be more attractive and their voice might be heard even more.

    Secondly, in the long term. When unconstitutional means are rejected, so is other institutions barred from interfering, implying that COAS cannot meddle in the Defence, Foreign and Finance-policies.

    What that means, is that the civilian administration will no doubt find good stable dialogues with nieghbours and end conflicts like Durand-line and that of Kashmir/Siachen and Rann of Kuch. Once done with, civilians can also reduce the big burden of defence spendings (23% of budget) and increase the funds into health- and education departement. Long term consequences are a more educated population, which in turn will create quality and related jobs.

    Regarding the common peoples perception. I believe the nature of pakistani people is as diverse as indian and any other. They have the same interests and probably also hot tempered. But financial stability, shelter and secure job is the most basic. Such is only possible through good budget priorities.

    And i do agree with Irshad Khan, we need to end this collective “sheepish”-cult. Stop relying on powerful leaders wheither it be religious or feudals. But again, India dealth with it, they are from our own lot, but they got a continious democracy, we didnt. Recommend

  • Aamir

    Its funny how people think running a country of 200 million is a simple task of just having everyone vote. Its like having 5th graders vote for who should get the nobel prize for physics. Every so called intellectual has the same advice; just keep voting and everything will magically become okay. It won’t. When you have to get brain surgery done, you send for a neuro-surgeon. You don’t summon all the floor sweepers and hold a vote.Recommend

  • Aakasa

    @Ahmed Quraishi:
    Then what form do you suggest? Caliphate system?Recommend

  • http://www.usmanasif.wordpress.com Usman Asif

    I have said it clearly in the article that democracy is not the name of ballots or elections, it needs transparency which leads to auditability. Further on it needs the rule of law and that all citizens are equal before the law. These pillars are either weak or missing, so time needs to strenghten these, they will be strenghetened if governments are alloved to fullfill their time if in majority, and that governments walk away if they loose election or are voted out in the parliament

    I think he was ironic :)Recommend