Pakistan owes its creation to a by and large a peaceful democratic struggle. Although it had to live half of its post-independence existence under military regimes, yet we must give credit to the people of Pakistan for their overwhelming preference and constant struggle for the restoration of democracy during all the three periods of dictatorships. Two dictators, Ayyub and Musharraf, had to leave office due to public agitation against their authoritarian methods of governance. Zia would have met the same fate if God had not been kind to him to let him die with boots on.
Ishrat Hussdain has rightly pointed out
“The lesson to be learned from this experience is quite obvious but worth repeating. Democracy, with such flaws and shortcomings as corruption and patronage, may cause economic disruptions and slow down development in the short-term. But it should be allowed to run its course as the inherent process of fresh leadership and governmental accountability through new elections provides a built-in stability to the system that eventually brings the economy back to equilibrium. Interruptions to the democratic process in the name of economic efficiency have created more problems than solutions in Pakistan”
Democracy has three dimensions-how the public representatives are elected, how the perform their respective roles as in power or in opposition and finally what the system delivers to the society. The first dimension relates to the electoral process, which starts from the announcement of the decision to hold elections to their actual holding by a neutral election commission in a peaceful and transparent way, finishing with the formal induction of those elected as public representatives, the second dimension. Second dimension of a working democracy is the actual conduct of those elected, whether they belong to the government or in opposition. Essentially it reflects whether the demands of the electorate are accurately presented before the government and those in government ar responding to them in positive way?
Broadly there are three areas in any political system-structures, processes and culture
- Political Structures: Pakistan inherited a fairly well functioning political structures like the offices of the governor general, parliament, election commission, provincial legislatures etc. Over a period of time they would have evolved into a well-oiled political machinery but due to inadequate experience of the people and the elite, they started degenerating and fell into disrepute and paved the way for the non-democratic forces to fill the vacuum thus created by the dysfunctionality of the system. After many errors and trials, we are back on track but the structure which have gone weak during this tribulation need to be strengthened if we want to see Pakistan as a functional democracy
- Political Processes: According to Sartori, democracy has two sides-input side which is the procedure for electing the representatives while its output elements such as political stability, protection of minority rights, and the ability to achieve economic progress with a reasonable degree of social equity. These two must synchronize to have an effective model of democracy. Anything short on output side will create crises of legitimacy for those elected with due process of electoral laws and regulations. That is why we see outbursts of violence soon after holding of elections and governments are forced to hold early elections or are overthrown by non-democratic forces. Some major weakness of the political system is the flaws in the political process like the voter registration, constituency delimitations, holding of fair and free elections, political succession. Although they are getting stronger but it will take time to mature them
- Political Culture: Perhaps the biggest weakness of our political system is the weak political culture of the society in general and of the political elite in particular. A mature political culture demands acceptances of dissent, tolerance of others’ views, acceptance of political results etc. However, in Pakistan this intolerance is evident at every level of our social and political interaction starting from family to schools to business and politics
All the above shortcomings are having a heavy toll on in the form of political instability, violence, institutional overstepping, marginalization of minorities and other segments of society, bad governance, women status etc.
How to improve the democratic structures, processes and culture which could increase the participation of people in policy making and implementation at all levels of governance. Here are a few random thoughts:
- Drive for reforming the political system should come from the political elite itself because they are the biggest stakeholders and the beneficiaries of an orderly function political setup. Let there be consensus about certain fundamentals such as continuity of parliamentary democracy as the only mode of electoral system, holding of free and fair elections on the basis of adult franchise, orderly political succession, constitutionalism as the only way for political dispute resolution, independence of judiciary, freedom of press etc.
- Joseph Schumpeter defined democracy as the “institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote”. There is thus need for proper d determination of roles of various institutions and their strengthening particularly relating to the voter registration, constituency delimitations, holding of fair and free elections, political succession. Although they are getting stronger but it will take time to mature them
- Perhaps the biggest weakness of our political system is the weak political culture of the society in general and of the political elite in particular. A mature political culture demands acceptances of dissent, tolerance of others’ views, acceptance of political results etc. However, in Pakistan this intolerance is evident at every level of our social and political interaction starting from family to schools to business and politics. Let the political education start from the school level. Holding of local bodies elections regularly is the quickest means of imparting political education at grass roots levels. Another option worth consideration is holding of national and provincial elections in different years instead of present system of simultaneous electoral process for both levels.
- If charity begins from home, then democracy starts from the political parties itself. Let democratic principles should be applicable at all levels starting from political parties. All major Pakistani political parties should hold regular elections, limit their candidates to contest election from their respective home constituencies, and establish a transparent mechanism by which funding can be provided to those candidates who cannot afford the electioneering expenses.
- Last but not the least is to consolidate and strengthen civilian-led democratic institutions by strengthening professionalism in the armed forces, making the Pakistani military’s budget transparent, and involving civilians in strategic decision-making processes
Before concluding, I would like to emphasize that neither the Pakistani society nor its state is in decline. Actually what we see now a days in Pakistan through the media is just a snapshot of fleeting moments in history. Pakistan is in transition due to external and internal developments ranging from globalization, geopolitical re-alignments to internal demographic changes accompanied by its economic transformations. These cataclysmic changes are forcing its institutions, structures and culture to change and adapt themselves to new realities.
Army as an institution is relinquishing some of its roles and responsibilities which it acquired long ago as a result of threats to the state. There is a now struggle by the other institutions to get maximum space in this vacuum before dust is settled. Hence the news about the tussle between judiciary and the political forces which to a common man may look like a decline in society but to keen observer it is a healthy development as all the struggle is through the institutional framework.
Similarly, the media is becoming more responsible as compared to few years ago while civil society is becoming more active and effective. These are turbulent but transitory times shaping the state and society towards progress and not decline.