On democracy



  • https://www.dawn.com/news/1363627/the-growing-khaki-shadow

    Response by S.R.H. Hashmi:

    While admitting 'Mismanagement, corruption and the entrenched non-democratic internal structure of many of the political parties today, Abbas Nasir, a former editor of Dawn, firmly believes and states that ' whenever they form a government it is always via elections and they are representative'.

    And then he declares categorically, keeping a straight face, that "If they (civilian governments) fail to deliver, misgovern and rule by empty slogans their fate is sealed; in the next elections, the astute voting public will throw them out. A different party will be ushered in and the sifting process will continue till someone delivers to ensure their longevity".

    The above paragraph seems to have been taken straight from a textbook, without taking into consideration the actual situation prevailing in Pakistan which makes 'Pakistani civilian system of governance' a class of its own by virtue of being entirely devoid of the accountability process.

    First, let us consider the writer's assertions regarding civilian governments coming into existence through elections and being representative. The first point becomes disputed when we consider the allegations of rampant rigging by nearly all parties. And it is not just fiction. Nearly all governments, instead of making serious efforts to improve governance, have been concentrating on 'refining' various systems of rigging, including pre-poll rigging. And on top of crude methods of simply 'buying' the votes and use of administrative pressure to have votes 'cast' a certain way, sophisticated systems have been developed for pre-poll rigging like last-minute change of polling stations, registration of voters in distant constituencies and even by manipulating constituency boundaries. In a recent polling for NA-120, Kulsoom Nawaz won by around 14,000 votes but in the circumstances where there were big question marks about 29,000 votes which remained unverified. Now, such a win could hardly be claimed to have come about as a result of 'elections' and is more a result of selection and manipulation.

    As for the 'elected' governments being representative, the statement is hardly factual in the circumstances where the vast majority of registered voters, having no confidence in the electoral system at all, does not bother to cast its votes and even the winning party ends up securing only a fraction of the total votes casts. A government coming into existence in consequence of such a dubious win could hardly be claimed to be 'Representative' of even the total registered voters, much less of the entire nation.

    And with a child-like innocence, the writer says:

    "If they (civilian governments) fail to deliver, misgovern and rule by empty slogans their fate is sealed; in the next elections, the astute voting public will throw them out. A different party will be ushered in and the sifting process will continue till someone delivers to ensure their longevity".

    However, what good the whole exercise of throwing out the 'sitting government' and electing another would do in the circumstances where the other party is equally bad. In other words, choosing the best from among a bad lot could hardly be termed a real choice.

    Also, sifting process could improve governance over time only if it put pressure on the ousted party to improve governance. However, what we actually see is such ouster only persuades the losing party to further improve and refine' the vote rigging techniques. It is common knowledge that through 'charter of democracy' and similar ploys, leadership of Peoples Party and PML-N had agreed to take turns to mis-govern the country, with other party, instead of acting as a strong opposition, offering utmost cooperation to the mis-ruling party as a 'loyal' opposition, and helping defang accountability and other institutions for their mutual benefit.

    After all, it is not without a sound reason that in the functioning democracies, the minimum and normal cost of losing an election is the change in its top leadership which results in a thorough re-appraisal of party policies.

    However, in our case, the party leadership is not merit-based but hereditary, and for life and we saw that even after losing party leadership as a result of disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court, the 'gentleman' was soon reinstalled as a party had after hasty amendment of the Constitution. It is a fact that over time, even the best of brains get stale, and need to be replaced. So just could we expect our top leadership to remain fit for the top job, more so when their rise has not come about through merit and is accidental.

    Another of our misfortunes is that very many of our writers seem to have been bought off by various parties, while those who are not similarly-disposed are so put off by the military rule - and of course not entirely without justification - that they go to great lengths in singing praises of the rotten system of civilian governance, which is in vogue in Pakistan in the guise of democracy, instead of laying sufficient emphasis on the need for them to make necessary reforms within the party structure, including induction of new blood - not just of offspring of the party 'owners' - ad not to bank entirely on on the 'electables' to win elections for them. Recently, Asma Jahangir was reported to have suggested to Sharifs to 'rule with bravery'. Of course, such encouraging statements only make our leaders more arrogant, complacent and authoritarian. They should instead give useful suggestions to our leadership and make their support conditional to them taking appropriate measures to ensure gradual move away from what Abbas Nasir described, only in the passing, as 'mismanagement, corruption and the entrenched non-democratic internal structure of many of the political parties' . After all, Pakistan was and is meant not just to benefit and enrich the ruling dynasties, their friends, associates and the elites in the society. Over twenty crore Pakistanis, with most of them leading miserable lives due to gradual worsening - and now near total absence - of service delivery by the state, also deserve due consideration.

    And I am not prepared to accept that in Pakistani society, dynastic politics is inevitable. After all, Jamaat-e-Islami's internal party structure is indeed merit-based and its top leadership changes frequently. It is a pity that due to its narrow outlook, coupled with its rejection of dishonest means to win votes, the party does not win many seats in Pakistan. And I am a witness to this phenomenon. Decades back when Jamaat-e-Islami was very popular in Karachi, I think it was at the time of election of Councillors that one of my neighbours asked me to accompany him to the party office. And while talking to the JI official, he said that his grandmoter who is resident of Karachi is presently out of town. He insisted that if she was here, she would have voted for JI and on that basis, requested some other lady to be allowed to vote in her place, for JI of course. However, the party official was not impressed and politely, but firmly rejected the proposal, calling it inappropriate.

    Like most Pakistanis, I am also in support of civilian rule, but in political parties, at least the selection of top leadership should be merit-based - and not just a rubber-stamp event - subject to frequent change, and meant to 'serve' and not 'rule' the country. And systems should in force which, not overnight, but in due course, ensure that the system of governance reaches a stage worth calling democracy.

    Karachi