Democracy in Pakistan

In Pakistan, democracy zigzagged over time. It got overrun by the top brass and it bounced back only to be pushed aside by the establishment, time and again. It is a sad story of ambitious generals, inept politicians, docile judges, some weak-kneed civil servants, wayward youth, insufferable feudal lords, myopic clerics and an ineffectual civil society as well as international interventions.


Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.

The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.
Niels Bohr

Freedom and democracy are dreams you never give up.
Aung San Suu Kyi

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
Winston Churchill

Democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.

The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.
Charles de Montesquieu


The term is derived from the Greek dēmokratiā, which was coined from dēmos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”) in the middle of the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens.

In essence, democracy implies that the man must take the responsibility for choosing his rulers and representatives, and for the maintenance of his own ‘rights’ against the possible and probable encroachments of the government which he has sanctioned to act for him in public matters. [Ezra Pound, “ABC of Economics,” 1933]


Oxford Dictionary

A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

United Nations

1. Democracy, and democratic governance in particular, means that people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, promoted and fulfilled, allowing them to live with dignity.

2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, clearly projected the concept of democracy by stating “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”

General Definition

Democracy is a form of government wherein citizens are allowed to govern themselves by letting them participate in the formulation and passage of laws and in deciding what is best for them. Its most basic characteristics are freedom and equality.

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens are meant to participate equally – either directly or, through elected representatives, indirectly – in the proposal, development and establishment of the laws by which their society is run.

Types of Democracy

There are two types:

1. Direct Democracy

2. Representative Democracy

Direct Democracy

It is a type of democracy where the people govern directly. Athenian democracy or classical democracy refers to a direct democracy.


There are no extant direct democracies. Switzerland is a federation of cantons with elements of direct democracy.

Representative Democracy

It is a form of government founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the people. It is an indirect democracy where sovereignty is held by the people’s representatives.


Pakistan, USA, India, Bangladesh, Japan and all modern Western-style democracies

Vehicles and Tools of Democracy

1. Supremacy of Constitution

Constitution of the country should be held supreme and it should be implemented in letter and spirit with no discrimination towards anyone.

2. Political Parties

Political parties are the most important tool to guard the democratic spirit. They should also hold intraparty elections in order to make sure that young blood is infused into country’s body politic.

3. Legislature

Federal as well as provincial legislatures must be efficient so that strategies are carved out to meet the emerging challenges.

4. Free and Fair Elections

Elections to national as well as provincial legislatures must be conducted after a specified limit. It helps new people with fresh ideas in taking the country forward on the path of development.

5. Independent Election Commission

An independent election commission is indispensable to conduct free and fair elections.

6. Independent Judiciary

Judiciary should be independent in all respects so that it may dispense justice and ensure the supremacy of law.

7. Free and Responsible Media

Media is often called the fourth pillar of the state. It points out the flaws, lacunae and misdeeds of the officials. This helps make every person accountable for his deeds.

8. Vibrant civil society

Civil society should always be vigilant and proactive because their chosen representatives are answerable to them.

Ingredients of Democracy in Pakistan
Quaid-i-Azam’s Views

Democracy is in the blood of Muslamans who look upon complete equality of man. I give you an example. Very often when I go to a mosque, my chauffeur stands side by side with me. Muslamans believe in fraternity, equality and liberty.

(Speech at Kingsway Hall, London. 14.12.1946)

There are no people in the world who are more democratic even in their religion than the Muslamans. (All India Muslim League Session, Lucknow, 1916)
It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver the Prophet of Islam (Peace Be Upon Him). Let us lay the foundation of our democracy on the basis of the truly Islamic ideals and principles. Our Almighty has taught us that our decisions in the affairs of the state shall be guided by discussions and consultations. (Sibi, 14.02.1948)

Constitution of Pakistan

Preamble of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 articulates the ingredients of democracy to be functional in Pakistan in the following words:

1. Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;

2. And whereas it is the will of the people of Pakistan to establish an order :-

a. Wherein the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people;

b. Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed;

c. Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah;

d. Wherein adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures;

e. Wherein the territories now included in or in accession with Pakistan and such other territories as may hereafter be included in or accede to Pakistan shall form a Federation wherein the units will be autonomous with such boundaries and limitations on their powers and authority as may be prescribed;

f. Therein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights, including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality;

g. Wherein adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed classes;

h. Wherein the independence of the judiciary shall be fully secured;

i. Wherein the integrity of the territories of the Federation, its independence and all its rights, including its sovereign rights on land, sea and air, shall be safeguarded;

3. So that the people of Pakistan may prosper and attain their rightful and honoured place amongst the nations of the World and make their full contribution towards international peace and progress and happiness of humanity:

History of Democracy in Pakistan

In Pakistan, democracy zigzagged over time. It got overrun by the top brass and it bounced back only to be pushed aside by the establishment, time and again.
It is a sad story of ambitious generals, inept politicians, docile judges, some weak-kneed civil servants, wayward youth, insufferable feudal lords, myopic clerics and an ineffectual civil society as well as international interventions.

Nevertheless, it merits attention and recognition that among the Muslim states and developing world, Pakistan is one of those few states, where people have shown vigour and some vitality to adopt a democratic parliamentary system and through popular mass movements demonstrated disapproval of military dictatorships.

The passion for democracy continues to resurge, despite ethnic, social class, religious cleavages, strong authoritarian tendencies and prolonged military rule.

Causes of Failure of Democracy

Causes of failure of democracy in Pakistan lie in our socio-political system. Here are some main impediments to the growth of democracy in Pakistan:

1. Feudalism

Most people, who get elected, tend to be feudal landlords or the descendants of long deceased holy men called peers.

2. Illiteracy

The plant of democracy can thrive only where the people are well educated. In Pakistan, a lot of MPs are illiterate. That’s why many of them are mostly yesmen who blindly follow their leaders.

3. Apathetic People

Most people, especially belonging to upper middle class, are completely disinterested in country’s politics. This apathy and indifference leads to the influx of morons in the legislature.

4. No True Leaders

Most of the leaders in Pakistan have been of ordinary stature. No leader should even get closer to the astuteness and statesmanship of Jinnah and other leaders of that epoch in Pakistan’s history.

5. Dynastic Politics

Dynastic democracy, although an oxymoron, has increasingly become an established part of our political system, and one in which the youthful scions of the rulers see themselves as being gifted with a divine right to rule because of their ‘exalted’ birth.

6. Wide Poor-Rich Divide

Our ‘elected’ leaders hardly visit their constituencies and seldom meet the ordinary citizens. They show no concern for the welfare of the deprived communities.

7. Intermittent Military Intervention

Military takeovers impede country’s progress and development as continuation of democracy is inevitable if a country wants to get strengthened in all spheres. Pakistan has been under military rule for a period that far exceeds the democratic governments.

8. Lack of Unity and Visionary leadership

Political leaders of Pakistan always indulge in wrangling for baser interests. They hardly develop consensus on any issue or challenge faced by the country.

9. Politicians Prioritize Their Vested Interests.

Many of our politicians are accused of getting kickbacks or commissions in government procurements or development projects.

Getting Democracy Right

“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

(John Adams, Second President of the United States)

1. Democracy is not an event or process that can be rushed but rather a journey, involving several transitional phases.

2. It is not a winner-takes-all system, and requires the creation of a political order that is participatory and pluralist.

3. It also needs a society that is tolerant, humane and equitable, based on the rule of the majority but with protection and safeguarding of the rights of minorities.

4. Building institutions is direly needed to sustain democracy.

5. Democratic forces should continually fight the culture of authoritarianism, and the ensuing political exclusivism, divisiveness and distrust.

6. Democrats are time and again outflanked by autocrats and also by extremist oppositions. They should stick with the true sense of democracy.

7. Pakistan must continue to nurture the growth of critical thinking and expression, the degree of intellectual diversity and free discourse.

8. We must not only ensure effective governance but should also allow freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.

9. Government has to deliver in terms of reducing poverty and improving the quality of life.

10. Democracy coupled with economic development and the equitable distribution of resources is the only effective long-term antidote to authoritarianism and anarchy.

11. Judiciary and media are two most important fractions of democracy and both must perform well.

12. Education at the primary level is the best way to promote democracy because individual integrity and identity at this level will lead to an improved and far better form of democracy.

13. The process of improvement in the democracy and Pakistani society should begin from the grass roots level.

14. At this level, promotion of individual integrity and identity will give a boost to a strong democratic setup.

15. Corruption is the root cause of every failure; we must try to get rid of it first.

Future of Democracy

Democracy has had a rough ride in Pakistan but the essentials, which fortify democracy, are clearly discernible on the national horizon, such as the civil and the military trust; our democratic ethos; the agents of change and the end of dynastic politics. Our people desire change in our traditional politics. An equitable and just social order is demanded, which the true political leadership can deliver, that would result into a grim struggle against the powerful elite who dominate politics and power and have proven right the great philosopher, Ibn-e-Khaldun who once said: “When the rich and the powerful gain control of the government, the country declines and decays.”

That is where the tipping point is: demanding balance of forces to guide the movement for change, led by the educated youth of the country. That is the hope for democracy to survive and flourish.

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