The democracy delusion - Mir Adnan Aziz - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end.” – C S Lewis

Today, with an elected president, prime minister and parliament we are lured into the (false) belief that we enjoy democracy. Marred by war, insecurity, corruption, poverty, divisive politics, cronyism and the conduct of a client state, essential requisites like the betterment of citizens and the prime duty of being accountable to the voters are starkly absent. Tormented without end, this is just a democracy delusion.

Over time, our politics has proven a self-centred hierarchical environment. It has also increasingly encouraged the law of the jungle. Politicians preach Alfred Smiths’ mantra of “all ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy”. Our politicians are autocrats of their own political fiefdoms. Their ills seem to multiply along with their ill-gotten wealth. The trickle down effect sees subordinates jostle for the same ascendancy amongst each other. Some semblance to the trappings of a state is maintained, not for the love of the land but to just keep alive a source of unending largesse.

In a democracy, honest governance and welfare of the common man secures legitimacy along with the strength and capacity to rule. The present political dispensation, given its policies, has failed to create that basis of governance. This has resulted in an extremely lopsided balance between the state and the common man. As a result, we see a political system hell-bent on self-destruction yet wishing survival.

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Our democracies, scant as they have been, do not seem to learn from their tumultuous past. A democracy is a contract between the voters and the elected. A breach by those elected results in alienation, instability and anger. All that an intervention requires is one catalytic event.

To name a few, in this democracy we have insecurity, total erosion of the rule of law, militancy, rampant corruption, target killings, defiance of the judiciary, muzzling the media, frontal assault on higher education (ironically the HEC was established by General Pervez Musharraf) and poverty. Trotsky once remarked that if poverty were the cause of revolutions, there would be revolutions all the time because most people in the world were poor. Third world democracies prone to losing their way invite interventions, not revolutions.

In a democracy we have no recourse but the ballot box, that too if it is there after five years. In this time the damage done to state and society can be fatal. As it is, five years is too short a period for a caring ruling dispensation, an eternity for the likes of the omnipotent moral busybodies that we have. Come the post-five year chance, the best voters can do is shift power between the political elite. Elections for us have become an expensive exercise to choose the least bad option, not a significantly or even marginally better tomorrow.

We have political shenanigans such as the renaming of the NWFP, Ajrak Day, calls for protests on trivial matters by the sitting government and its partners leading to death and destruction, reference against the Bhutto verdict, perpetually dragging of the Benazir assassination case and the perpetual saber rattling of a pliant and complicit opposition and coalition partners. This delusional game is all smoke and mirrors - a diversion to keep the people occupied. Patience, in this situation, is equivalent to complicity.

Democracy – the best revenge type – has lashed out with a vengeance that could put any dictatorship to shame. We have been repeatedly failed by democracy, the reason being its abuse by none other than the political juggernauts. The two largest political parties, the PPP and the PML-N have had their chances. Both failed the masses miserably. Both were marred by mammoth charges of mismanagement and corruption. The two-third mandate lion ended up acting like a fascist. His antics gave us Musharraf, whose legacy is the NRO which in turn spawned the tormenters we have.

Eric Ambler said: “Political prestige is the reward of not the shrewdest diagnostician, it’s the decoration conferred on mediocrity by ignorance.” Those monetarily comfortable within us are apathetic to the ballot and its outcome and the voting class that is totally dependent on the feudal or urban political elite, can easily be manipulated. It cannot be blamed for the same. Our average voter has not been allowed to build up the financial and psychological autonomy to make independent judgments necessary for a healthy democracy.

“Our politics,” as Einstein put it, “is a pendulum whose swings between anarchy and tyranny are fuelled by perpetually rejuvenated illusions.” President Zardari, our Pericles of funeral orations, chose Garhi Khuda Baksh again to voice an illusion. He fears an engineered technocrat take over. If this illusion becomes reality, not a tear will be shed on yet another political “martyrdom.” After all, it is his delusion of democracy that beckons the same.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:

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