VIEW: Empirical record on democracy in Pakistan —Taimur Shaique Hussain - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Before crying out in favour of democracy as pure political sloganeering, our rulers ought to examine what democratic governments deliver elsewhere to merit their having been elected, as opposed to speechifying myriad promises, each one of which sounds hollow

The majority of Pakistanis does not appear to support “commonly accepted institutional form of democracy, namely rule by elected representatives,” since unlike other countries in the region, our veneer-coated democracy has consistently failed to provide the fundamental and tangible deliverables of peace and security, access to livelihood, health and education, and access to justice for all. The overall dissonance with successive elected governments’ failure to provide public welfare and general well being, what with having received 37 million dubious votes out of a total of 80 million in the case of the incumbents, has only multiplied the unfavourable sentiment over recent years.

In a research study, ‘The Democracy Barometers: Surveying South Asia’, which appeared in the Journal of Democracy, January 2008 (published by the Johns Hopkins University, USA), three salient findings were:

1) “The situation in Pakistan does not appear encouraging for democracy...the proportion of non-democrats in Pakistan is twice as high as in the rest of the region.”

2) “A non-literate person from India is twice as likely to support democracy as is a college graduate from Pakistan.”

3) Pakistanis are found ill at ease regarding “satisfaction with the way democracy works in our country”.

Democratic governments are probably unpopular here not only because of the non-transparent electoral processes, but also because elected representatives have consistently flouted traditional norms of good governance as well as eschewed the responsibility that comes with authority. The US study highlights the inability of popular politicians to deliver in real life, thus relegating them to mere mavericks. In this regard, the above mentioned US study finds that Pakistan is among the countries that show “support for the army as an institution — for its discipline and professionalism, which form such a stark contrast with the messy realities of civilian politics, and for its role as a symbol of national pride...this should come as no surprise in a region that has a long tradition of strong leaders such as Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who owed their power to democratic popularity but once safely entrenched, tended to bypass institutional norms of liberal democracy.”

Although Pakistani rulers in general may go red in the face recounting endlessly their sacrifices for the sake of establishing democratic rule, the public record — researched independently by US think-tanks — indicates how little the citizenry actually buys into such rhetoric. The same research report indicates: “About half the respondents in Pakistan and a quarter in other countries said that that the distinction between a democratic and a non-democratic form of government made no difference to them.”

In a finding of World Values Survey conducted in 2001, “As many as 98 percent of the respondents in Bangladesh and 93 percent in India indicated their approval of the ‘democratic system’. Pakistan, however, was second to last, just ahead of Russia in that global survey, with a mere 68 percent approving of democracy.”

Pakistanis — just like people anywhere else — value factors that impact their everyday lives such as economic prosperity, robust infrastructure, initiatives in health and education and general welfare much more than the amorphous nature of what form of government is governing over them. Much to the chagrin of our leaders, it may be safely stated that democracy alone does not warm our hearths, provide us livelihood, or secure the futures of our young nation, over 70 percent of which happen to be under the age of 25 years. As supported by empirical research and acknowledged by the US itself, the Pakistani lot may even be willing to trade our democracy for any other form of government provided they thus achieve better access to at least the bare necessities of life, a public dream proven repetitively to be beyond the capability of status quo politicians, even though they may perceive themselves as ‘democratic’ and ‘elected’.

Before crying out in favour of democracy as pure political sloganeering, our rulers ought to examine what democratic governments deliver elsewhere to merit their having been elected, as opposed to speechifying myriad promises, each one of which sounds hollow.

As the US research study points out: “Furthermore, those who believe that certain preconditions must obtain if democratic culture is to take root often list given levels of economic development and prosperity among these prior necessities. South Asia is one of the world regions where this condition is clearly not met, for it continues to be home to the largest number of poor people on earth.”

I wish our rulers were to toe this US line too, as they blindly toe all the others.

The writer was Editor Aitchisonian — Centenary Anthology and Senior Editor Wharton Journal. He is an MBA, and an independent consultant. He can be reached at

Source :\04\27\story_27-4-2011_pg3_6

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