Dr. Hasan Askari
The Panama Leaks case proceedings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan have caused much bitterness between the activists of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf.
They exchange bitter remarks and charges and counter charges against each other in the media talk when the Court adjourns the day’s proceedings. On January 27, 2017, the activists of these two parties used abusive language against each other and got involved in fist-fight on the floor of the National Assembly. Now, they are engaged in blaming each other for the ugly situation in the National Assembly. All this shows that the activists among the parliamentarian lack democratic culture and they cannot see anything beyond their narrow party interests. This is an insult to the parliament and democracy in Pakistan.
The ugly scenes on the floor of the National Assembly have revived the debate in Pakistan on the future of democracy. The other questions that are being discussed include why and how democracy functions smoothly in some countries but runs into problems in other countries? What are the pre-conditions for its continued working? Can democracy succeed in the absence of a democratic culture in the society?
Despite various disappointment from the current elected provincial and federal governments in Pakistan, democracy remains the most popular system of governance. This system of government gives freedoms and rights to people which no other political system offers. However, people cannot live only with freedoms. They need basic human and civic facilities, personal security and a decent livelihood.
Democracy evolved gradually in parts of Europe, North America and Australia which are considered good examples of democracy in action. Pakistan and most Asian and African states adopted democracy after the end of the colonial rule in the post-World War ll period. A large number of them faltered on road to full democracy. This gave rise to different types of democracy.
The rulers in many countries associate democracy with political status-quo; any challenge to their rule is described as an anti-democracy behavior of the opposition. History gives us many example of the rulers who come to power through democratic means but they adopt authoritarian disposition to manage the state affairs. At times, the ruling party uses its majority in the parliament to impose what is described as the “tyranny of majority” over the opposition groups by denying them their due role or passes laws that undermine the spirit of democracy. Democracy is such a delicate system of governance that, despite the holding of fair and free elections, it may not show progress towards democratization in a sustained manner. It can experience reverses, slow down or falter altogether.
The key issue is that any political and constitutional system does not become democratic only by labeling it democratic. What matters most is the “spirit” and “essence” of democratic norms and values. How far the political and societal leaders have imbibed the values of democracy and to what extent they manifest these values in management of the affairs of the political system? To what extent the main players in politics show restraint, moderation and mutual accommodation through consultation?
Fair and free elections are integral to democracy but having elections is not enough to ensure democracy. This is the minimal or limited meaning of democracy. The ideal model is the Liberal Democracy which includes fair and free elections plus a number of other attributes.
Democracy calls for a constitutional rule that is based on liberal political values that emphasize elected governance, the rule of law, equal citizenship for all, civil and political rights and basic freedoms, independent judiciary and civil and political rights should be protected not only against the excesses of the government but also against threats from powerful societal and non-governmental groups.
It is imperative in democracy that those who exercise state power must be accountable to the people for their actions. Major governmental transactions, especially those involving state funds, must be transparent and open to public scrutiny. Democracy must ensure that state resources are not being used in a highly partisan political manner. Corruption and nepotism must be discouraged. If a democratic government cannot control corruption, it is bound to fail.
No democracy can succeed if it does not provide basic human and civic needs of the citizenry. The state must assign a priority to education and health care for all; provide basic civic facilities and opportunities for earning respectable livelihood. Further, the democratic state must make sure that the disadvantaged sections of the society are taken care of. The affirmative action is needed for backward classes of people and regions as well as those suffering from poverty. The state must intervene in the economy and societal affairs in order to ensure that they get the state protection and support for leading their lives in a decent manner.
These conditions for liberal and human-friendly democracy show that sustaining democracy is a formidable task. It requires continuous effort on the part of the rulers as well as the public to secure and strengthen democracy. In fact, active citizenry is a pre-condition for genuine democracy.
Pakistan has a liberal democratic constitution and its federal and provincial governments are elected. However, there is a crisis of the quality of democracy. Pakistan’s democracy is challenged by poor governance, widespread corruption, the government’s failure to provide basic services to common people and religious-cultural intolerance and terrorism. There is a need to work hard to cope these challenges in order to improve democracy’s effectiveness and quality.