Impediments to democracy - Dr Qaisar Rashid - Friday, March 11, 2011

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Military coups are a besetting problem Pakistan is faced with. So far, the democratic age of Pakistan has been reduced to about half of Pakistan’s total corporal age. People generally expect Pakistan to behave democratically in commensurate with its physical age. That may not be possible. Nevertheless, there are a few other impediments engendering the juvenile democratic polity of Pakistan.

First, the slogan of extra-constitutionalism is becoming a political ethos. The slogan to provoke the ‘patriotic generals’ into taking the reins of power into their own hands is again being marketed. In this regard, the slogan chanted by MQM’s Altaf Hussain a few weeks ago has been aired again but with certain modifications by Shahbaz Sharif of the PML-N. They have vocalised the slogan of extra-constitutionalism without even realising that Pakistan is repetitively cursed with derailment of democracy. Their remarks are tantamount to disenfranchising the people of Pakistan. To contrive a method to disabuse politicians of such hideous ideas is still an uphill task for the democratic minds of society.

After the recent general elections and restoration of the higher judiciary it was thought that such kind of slogans would be dumped but that seems not the case. Old habits die hard. Pakistani politicians have to reconsider the perils of declaring the military a counter-balancing force to parliament. Militating against the democratic norms has already cramped the progress of Pakistan. Apparently, the repetitive democratic failures have not yet chastened the Pakistanis.

Second, the religious parties active in the political domain are refusing to learn the way the political path be tread. Since 1973, they have been either acting as a pressure group practising ‘mob politics’ to unnerve a sitting government or becoming a default option for a military dictator to bank on to seek legitimacy. General Ziaul Haq exploited their talent to his advantage and even General Pervez Musharraf could not avoid capitalising on their utility despite the fact that he was peddling his enlightened moderation theory.

Further, the religious parties are not appreciating the point that in the recent general elections, the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the relevance of even those religious parties that took part in the contest. The left over space apportioned to them were the streets. The religious parties that opted out of the electoral exercise are now also utilising the full potential of the streets to stay politically relevant. Several issues ranging from imposition of the reformed general sales tax (RGST) to the immunity available to Raymond Davis have offered the religious parties ample leg room to spew acerbity to raise their credit ratings to be cashed in on in the next elections. In fact, these issues have gathered storm to an alarming proportion owing to the efforts of one religious party to outclass the rest of its competitors. Nevertheless, rumours are afloat that constituting of a neo-IJI is in the offing. Certainly, to dredge it up, the midnight ‘jackalism’ is the final hope of the religious parties to salvage themselves from the abyss of oblivion.

Third, the concept of liberty falling under the head democracy is considered to enfold a mandate of imitating western values of liberalism. In certain sections of the Pakistani society, it is firmly believed that an unchecked and unadulterated supply of democracy may construct effects detrimental to the Islamic and Asian values customary in the society. In that way, the moral aspect of liberty is accentuated and the resultant danger posed by liberty is appraised. Unfortunately, it is not extolled that the kind of liberty democracy broaches liberates people from the shackles of feudal lords and autocrats.

Moreover, it is also not realised that democracy-driven liberty tenders freedom of thought and action. If the societal environment surrounding the advent of liberty is full of Islamic and Asian values, the ensuing freedom may evoke a kind of response different from the one educed in the West. In fact, fewer are the reasons to be apprehensive of democracy and its attendant liberty.

Fourth, there is a dearth of the informed voters. On the other hand, the uninformed voters are in abundance around and can be spotted by their displaying parochialism and sentimentalism; to them illiteracy offers fuel to the proverbial fire. Much is being talked about the hidden – lethal – potential of the youth to bring about a revolution in Pakistan mimicking the one sweeping the Arab world. Given the high reproduction rate in the country, the consequent youth bulge in the demographic facade is now a bogey for any sitting government. The point is to make a revolution happen is one thing but to cause a democratic change – through the electoral system – is altogether a different proposition. Apropos of the latter, the youth bulge blighted by illiteracy is nightmarish for the country.

Fifth, during an electoral process, a considerable number of voters tend not to vote for or against contesting candidates of their electoral constituency. The voters opt to stay at home and act as bystanders. Those voters are considered a ‘silent majority’ which is the bane of the political parties but a hope for the military dictators to prop them up. It is said that the intelligence agencies exact the feedback from the silent majority. The same feedback, however, is fed to the empty boxes of referendum to acclaim an overwhelming victory against all supposed opponents. The final opinion of General Ziaul Haq about the silent majority is yet unknown; nevertheless, under the spell of presumptive politics, General Pervez Musharraf is still hopeful of teaming up with the silent majority to rout the politicians of all hues in the forthcoming electoral episode.

In short, in Pakistan, multilayered obstacles make the itinerary of democracy thorny.

The writer is a freelance contributor.


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