The success of democracy depends on how different state institutions interact with each other within the limits of the constitution. The disposition and behavior of the political parties and leaders is also critical to the future of democracy.
Democracy is the most cherished political system. Even dictators adopt some features of democracy in order to claim to be democratic. As every ruler wants to be known as democratic, there are countless kinds of democracies.
Having an elected government is one important criterion of democracy. No democracy can exist without giving a fair and free opportunity to the people to elect their rulers. The mode of election may vary but these have to be seen as fair and free. However, having elections is not enough. There must be supremacy of the liberal democratic constitution over individuals, groups and organizations. Other features include the rule of law, civil and political rights especially equality of all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, creed, region or gender. All must get equal opportunity to move up in the society. Independent judiciary is also an attribute of democracy.
In Pakistan, one can argue that a democratic system is currently working. The present federal and provincial governments were elected in February 2008 and all of these are working under a constitution that ensures civil and political rights to all citizens.
However, Pakistan falters on the operational side. The rule of law and equality of citizens is selective. It is not available to all in reality. In Balochistan there are serious complaints of kidnapping and killings of the people. The general perception is that some people are killed, especially non-Baloch from other provinces, by militant separatist Baloch nationalist groups. There are complaints against Pakistan’s intelligence agencies of kidnapping and killing of political activists. Though the ISI and the Army Chief have denied any involvement in such killings but not many politically active people in Balochistan take the statements of the ISI and the Army seriously.
We all know what has been happening in Karachi for the last couple of months. If the federal and provincial governments are clueless about the ways to deal with the Karachi Problems, the MQM and other political parties also lack imagination to deal with the problems. Instead of the political parties cooperating with each other to stop killings in Karachi, they accuse each other of having been involved in the killings. As a matter of fact, all political parties based in Karachi maintain militant wings that resort to violence to advance their partisan agendas.
Pakistan’s democracy and elected civilian political arrangements are on the edge. These can become dysfunctional and fall-apart but these can also be rescued. If the latest experiment with democracy falters the primary discredit will be that of the political and societal leader who would be missing another opportunity to sustain participatory political system. In case the elected institutions and processes overcome the current drift towards chaos and become efficacious the political and societal leadership will get the credit.
However, democracy cannot be salvaged merely by sloganeering or making verbal commitment. What matters most is the disposition of political parties and leaders how do they actually deal with concrete political and societal problems. The key question is if the principles and spirit of democracy reflect in their actions?
All political parties should tone down political rhetoric. They should not run day-to-day politics like an election campaign. The parties should not encourage the defiance of state authority by their activists. Sometimes the PPP and the PMLN engage in trading charges and counter charges. The PMLN and the MQM leaders exchanged highly personalized negative comments earlier this year. Now the PPP and the MQM are fighting a war of words.
The media should also recognize the growing threats to Pakistan’s internal harmony and democracy. They should emphasize soberness in the discussions rather than encouraging the leaders to make noisy and contentious statements or verbally attack their political rivals. This confuses the people and adversely affects the political environment. The media should not repeat the statement or visuals that inflame emotions or cause conflict in the society.
Democracy can also collapse if confrontation develops between different state institutions or an institution endeavors to overwhelm other institutions under the pretext of a self-proclaimed mission of rectifying the ills of other institutions. The military attempted that through four coups but did not succeed. Pakistan’s superior judiciary has now stretched its constitutional powers to what appears to be periodic encroachment in the domain of the elected federal government.
Some opposition leaders are hoping that the Supreme Court would one day knock out the PPP government. Some of them are floating the idea of setting up a government by technocrats in place of the present federal government under an order by the Supreme Court which would be enforced by the Army. Such speculations that involve going beyond the constitution are the latest threat to democracy.
The success of democracy depends on how different state institutions interact with each other within the limits of the constitution. The disposition and behavior of the political parties and leaders is also critical to the future of democracy. Hopefully, the political leaders will genuinely respect democracy and the constitution will restrain their politics. Above all, the political government should find solution to the problems of the common people. If they falter in governance and political management and fail to address socio-economic issue the future of democracy is uncertain in Pakistan.
By Dr. Hasan Askari