This ‘democracy’ is not enough - Ameer Bhutto - Saturday, March 05, 2011

Source :

With several Arab rulers bearing the brunt of public wrath, a number of our parliamentarians have recently appeared on television talk shows to pre-empt a similar fate by mocking and condemning public political activism. They say that it has become fashionable, since the success of the lawyers movement, to try to settle all scores in the streets. They argue that there is no need for such extreme measures in the presence of an elected parliament. Have they forgotten that they are sitting in parliament and enjoying the perks of power only by virtue of the mandate issued to them by the public? Who are they to preach complacent inaction to the people when they have failed to solve their problems? The people are the political sovereign. They are the fount of political legitimacy and authority. Their role in the democratic process does not end at the polls, nor is their mandate a carte blanche for rulers to run amok and unchecked for a whole term. It is constant and continuous public scrutiny that keeps governments honest in western democracies.

Far from limiting the role of the public, there is an urgent need for greater public awareness and involvement, because the ship of state is floundering and needs to be rescued. We need a salvage operation which only the people care about and are capable of carrying out. Some reject this outright because their political survival depends on the status quo and are busy making hay while the sun shines. Others are of the view that Pakistan cannot be bracketed with the Middle Eastern countries because the scenario here is different.

They argue that, unlike Middle Eastern states, we have democracy. Do we? Where is it? Elections alone do not define democracy. There was an elected parliament and president in Egypt. Should a government ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ not be founded on a genuine and palpable commitment to serve the people, particularly those in desperate need, rather than feathering its own nest? Is duping the people by begging for votes in the name of a slain leader and then letting her killers walk scot-free after forming a government democracy? Is stabbing political allies in the back democracy? Is sacrificing public and national interests at the altar of expediency before foreign masters’ democracy? Is record-breaking corruption and sleaze that has rubbed national pride and honour in the mud all over the world democracy? Do democratic leaders take off to visit chateaus in France or for a sojourn in the presidential suite at the Churchill Hotel in London, while their country is drowning in the worst flood in nearly a hundred years? Does democracy condone a daily budget of 2.5 million rupees for the presidential and prime ministerial palaces while, even six months after the floods, the displaced refugees continue to die from starvation and bitter cold in camps? How can anyone gloat about this ‘democracy’ that, far from empowering the people and serving their interests, exacerbates and compounds their pain and misery? It is worse than some of the Arab monarchies and dictatorships the people are striving to overthrow.

We have had six general elections since 1988. Has the lot of the common man improved by even an iota since then? While those who have wielded power in this period have prospered enormously, with some who used to travel in buses and live in mud shacks having acquired fleets of luxurious vehicles and palatial properties not just in Pakistan but all over the world, the poor labourer and hari has been pushed into such desperation that he must sell his children to make ends meet. It may seem politically correct to extol the virtues of this lame ‘democracy’ and peddle ridiculous and meaningless cliches like ‘the worse democracy is better than the best dictatorship’ on talk shows and in plush drawing rooms, but go to the villages and inner cities where people are losing daily battles for survival and tell them that they are better off under this ‘democracy’ and see what they do.

It is said that unlike the troubled Arab states, important state institutions in Pakistan are independent and can be instrumental in resolving issue of public importance. If this is the case, then why are people out in the streets, with dozens of protests and demonstrations taking place all over the country every day? Yes, parliament is elected and empowered to provide relief to the people, but their greatest achievement thus far has been the sanctioning of construction of new residences for themselves at a cost of three billion rupees, while people are committing suicides daily because of hunger and poverty. In what way has parliament lessened the agony that people endure every day? Yes, the judiciary is finally free and is in the vanguard of the fight against this government’s corruption and illegal conduct, but the government has found an easy way around it by simply ignoring its orders. If the courts push harder for the implementation of their orders, they are accused of judicial activism. Yes, the media is independent, but all they can do is report realities. They cannot remedy the problems. All important state agencies and institutions have been put under the control of government thugs to facilitate loot and plunder. NAB, under its new chairman, has reportedly withdrawn cases in which over 61 billion rupees were allegedly embezzled. How does this help the cause of the people or the country?

It is argued that the current dispensation in Pakistan is not despotic, in the sense that Qaddafi’s is in Libya. But there are other ways to inflict pain and suffering on a nation. Record-breaking corruption that leeches the life blood out of the state, horrifying incompetence, ignorance and malicious intent that have ground all public institutions to a halt and gross negligence that is eroding the edifice of state all combine to have the same excruciating effect as despotism; the people are denied resources that should be earmarked for their uplift, they have no security of life, property and dignity and continue to be squeezed by the claws of poverty and lack of opportunity, education, health services, electricity and clean water with no relief in sight.

If a chasm so wide opens up between the people and the government, if a government strays so far from its mandate and obligations, does it not become the moral duty of the people to step forward and correct the anomaly when the system clearly cannot? In Pakistan, we need to go beyond targeting just one leader, one party or a failed, useless, indeed harmful, government. The whole system has collapsed because it has been made hollow by repeated perversions. It needs not just a jolt, but reconstruction.

However, there are no portents of the needed public uprising on the horizon. That does not mean that it is not needed or that it should not or cannot happen. It is undeniably desperately needed and will happen. But its beginnings are not visible at the moment. This is so because despite continuous intolerable pain and humiliation, people habitually sell out too cheaply, for a watan card or a thousand rupees handout from the Benazir Income Support Scheme. The authorities in Egypt tried to buy people off by announcing similar handouts, but it did not work. We should learn a lesson from them. But the beautiful thing about revolutions is that they happen when least expected. Nobody could have predicted the uprising in Tunisia even weeks before it happened. Why should it be considered an impossibility here where it is needed more urgently?

The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.

No comments:

Post a Comment