Pakistan has been in quest for stable democratic system since its very inception. It’s almost 7 decades since it came into being, and still we find that ‘endeavours’ are being made for not only developing a ‘democratic’ political system but also for introducing the true phenomenon of democracy in every socioeconomic aspect of the country. Before listing the challenges that democracy in Pakistan is faced with, it seems imperative to outline the true definition of the word democracy itself.
Democracy is actually the means by which people choose their leaders who are accountable for their policies and their conduct in office. Abraham Lincoln defines Democracy as: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people …” Dr Hasan Askari terms democracy a process which people initiate by conscious decision and sustain by subscribing to its principle by theory and practices. These wise words aptly describe the primary dilemma that Pakistan faces today i.e. even though the elected decision-makers represent majority, they still tend not to fulfil the demands of the people. This raises the question as to why democracy in Pakistan tends to face a number of challenges and gridlocks.
One of the fundamental causes for the failure of democracy is the socio-political system present in Pakistan. Feudalism, illiterate and apathetic people, and hereditary politics are a few ‘undemocratic’ features of this system. Most of our political leaders are feudal lords who have assumed an identity as messiahs for the poor. Interestingly, Feudalism has also been the stimulating force, leading toward the dynastic politics in Pakistan. Thus, in this feudal culture, millions of people are landless and illiterate and hence their social status is not more than that of a slave. In addition to this, the communities of these landless peasants tend to live in abject poverty.
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The underlying question, however, is that as to how can such impoverished, deprived and economically-marginalized people express their will freely — as democratic process demands — when they do not even have the resources to exploit their skills or be aware on their fundamental rights? The essence of democracy lies in the general will of the public, but during elections, such people express the will of their lords. In these circumstances, can we expect from landless rural peasants that they are able to evaluate the credibility of their so-called leaders and the manifesto of political parties before voting? It can’t be so because almost 70% population of Pakistan comes from pastoral background, engulfed by feudal and rural traditions. Consequently, general election becomes a selection of only a few; based upon the will of a few who are powerful and privileged.
This feudalistic nature of leaders undermines the true essence of democracy and therefore the only viable solution to dynastic politics is “meritocracy”; the idea validates the existence of democracy through free and fair intra-party elections. Not only will this democratize parties, but leaders will also refrain from running their parties as their personal “jageers”.
Illiteracy is yet another root cause of the failure of democracy in Pakistan. According to Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015-16, literacy rate in Pakistan is only 60% and that for the rural population falls to merely 51%; an increase of only 17.36% since 1998 — a period of 18 years — and these are official figures where the manipulation cannot be ruled out. So a major chunk of our population is still reeling under the vicious cycle of illiteracy and poverty and they are unable to contribute anything toward the development of Pakistan.
Illiteracy begets poverty as an illiterate and economically-impoverished person is concerned only to earn his livelihood, with no interest in whosoever comes at the helm of the country. They remain unable to comprehend and assimilate to the true spirit of democracy. Resultantly, through the election process, a community of people gives guns in the hands of monkeys as inept, undemocratic people emerge as leaders. They lack competence and acumen needed to cope with the contemporary challenges. Such people then involve in pillaging the national resources and hoodwinking the less literate people. Another aspect is that many of our politicians have been disqualified for contesting election with fake degrees. In such morally corrupt and illiterate nation, how can democracy flourish and become a functional effective tool of good governance?
Thus, it is important for democracy to become middle-class-oriented since this is the class that predominantly consists of the mixture of the intelligentsia and working class and these are the people who are more aware of their rights and duties, and this consciousness helps encourage the true essence of democracy. Hence, establishing more trade and labor unions will make the middle class as well as the working class more influential, thus enhancing democracy.
However, what further undermines democracy is the nature of civil-military relationship in our country. Our democracy is primarily based on legal legitimacy i.e. democracy in our country only means a 5-year tenure of a ruling elite. However, the true of essence of democracy entails performance legitimacy. This can only be done if our civilian leadership performs better, and sets a precedence of good governance. Civil institutions i.e. the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the legislature should deliver. Only then can the civilian government overcome the supremacy and vibrancy military leadership withholds in Pakistan.
Encouraging more political participation through pressure groups can help democratize institutions since mass collaboration will pressurize the government to work according to its manifesto, as well as checks and balances will be kept. Most importantly, the general public needs to become more politically aware. However, inculcating political awareness among the masses is only possible through the useful practice of media. Media is known to be the fourth pillar of the state and over the decades it has become unassailably powerful. It is thus the most powerful way of promoting democracy in our country since it boosts the notion of democracy. Furthermore, massive international interference is a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty which has become a menace to democracy in Pakistan. Political socialization is also needed. However, this is only attainable through the awareness and mass consciousness about politics. Hence, awareness by all means can only be promoted through media, which will help reverberate the true essence of democracy within our country. Party offices and government offices should be separated as well since the chairperson of the party ends up being the prime minister of the country, if the chosen party wins the general elections. This undermines the democratic spirit since the party in power becomes less accountable.
However, for Pakistan to become truly democratic the only viable solution is to have a credible civilian alternative. As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” Thus, the prevalent democratic regimes should showcase better performances, so that people start residing their trust in democracy as the only true form of governance.