By: Hussain Saqib
Democracy in Pakistan is so fragile that it comes under threat each time a high-level functionary of ruling political coalition comes under spotlight for any act of commission. The fear that democratic system does not get derailed deters the opposition from playing its due constitutional role. The establishment has to reiterate time and again its resolve to support and strengthen the democracy. The courts, media, civil society and all others who have a platform to express themselves, reiterate their commitment to democracy in Pakistan.
What is this democracy everyone is talking so much about? Does anything by this name even exist in this country? Is it mere fashionable to extend lip-service to this fantastic dame?
Let us look at what democracy actually is.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, democracy is government by the people in which the supreme power is invested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation. It is also defined as the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.
Democracy is a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.
There are, thus two essential pre-requisites to having a democratic system; the system should be inclusive, it should treat all the people as equal before the law and their will should be expressed through periodic exercise of free and fair elections.
Adherence to Constitution and law and execution of the orders of courts is an essential pre-requisite of a democratic dispensation. Other essentials to create a platform for democratic choice are; Justice for All which means judicial system uncontaminated by special interests, clan loyalties or bribes; with judges at all levels independent of the nation’s executive arm. Other essentials are Freedom of Speech and respect for human rights expressed by the absence of arbitrary arrest and confinement; the superiority of due process, the illegality of torture and to avoid semantic hair-splitting, similar “maltreatment”. Essentials to democracy also include a system of accountability of political rulers and transparent elections.
The Political Right to Vote is only meaningful in transparently honest elections, with genuine voter choice of parties and people. The democracies have a higher duty to make certain that elections are fair, and honestly reflect the will of the people who have recorded their vote. We observe that the most mature democracies ensure that administration of the electoral process is out of the control of party political officers.
A true democracy provides unrestrained ability for the citizens of any country “to throw the rascals out.”
Pakistan’s Constitution was framed in 1973 during the Government of ZA Bhutto as President of Pakistan, a transition from being the chief martial law administrator in 1972. The first amendment was introduced in the Constitution minutes after its promulgation. This amendment took away fundamental human rights from the people of Pakistan. Other salient features of the Constitution are:
- This democracy is unique as it has a religion. This means that every constitutional provision has one way or the other, some bias in favor of the members of one religious community,
- Constitutional offices of the president and prime minister can be held only by the members of the very same religious community,
- The controversial Objective Resolution, adopted after the death of Pakistan’s founder for obvious reasons, was made part of the Constitution. Provisions of this Resolution were in contrast to his vision of Pakistan, expressed by him to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.
These provisions of this Constitution are against the underlying spirit of democracy which guarantees equality of rights and privileges of people.
The biggest proponent of Pakistani-style democracy, ZA Bhutto was succeeded by his spouse, his daughter and then his grandson, his daughter’s son to lead his party. The latest transfer of power transaction was made through a will. No one outside Bhutto lineage is qualified to lead the Party, and the country. The second biggest political party has no better record to show and only the scion of the family can succeed the party leader. Other parties, including a religious-political party, have similar arrangements of hereditary succession.
There are very cogent reasons that do not qualify the present dispensation to be called a democracy. One, all the citizens are not equal in the eyes of law and the members of religious majority are more equal than those of the minorities. Two, the law and the Constitution encourage discrimination of the basis of religious faith. Three, the entire system is based on hereditary politics, dynastic leadership and monarchic styles. Four, there is a blatant contempt of law and the courts, including the apex court. Five, there are stories of loot and plunder of unprecedented proportion but there is no accountability. Six, elections are not transparent and are held on the basis of corrupted electoral lists. Seven, the common man has no power to “throw the scoundrels out”. Eight, there are different sets of law for the people, the custodians of democracy, and the political elite. Nine, there are endless exemptions and immunities to the elite against payment of taxes, prosecution and accountability. Ten, in spite of all this, they use the name of democracy to seek protection of their rule.
The question is why should the people, the courts, the civil society and the Almighty establishment wow to protect a system which is exclusive, monarchic, autocratic, and corrupt to the core, was thrown up in dubious circumstances and as a result of questionable process, and is not democratic in any sense of the word.