Human civilisation after experiences of several millennia and accumulated knowledge has come to understand that the best rulers and form of governance are the one which are determined by majority of the people or community members. Such kind of rule and government is described by ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary thinkers and scholars as ‘democracy’. Therefore, in around 167 states — studied and analysed by the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index — more than half have strong democratic characteristics if they are not full democracies while dozens are on the path of democratisation under hybrid regimes with only a handful having authoritarian and totalitarian state systems.
The core of democracy is the right of self-determination of the people as to what kind of political, economic and social system and public policies a country or region must have. The vehicle of democracy is the electoral system but it is in no way the heart of democracy. A country may have an elected political system but it may lack democratic institutionalisation. This is because democracy is basically a culture and not a system. Culture is a concept which is all-encompassing and caters to all aspects of social, political and economic life of a community and area.
Democracy has certain key indicators. The most important indicator of the quality of democracy in a country, specifically like Pakistan, could be the scale of social, political and economic stability. All these three aspects of national life are closely interrelated. As far as social stability in Pakistan is concerned it leaves a lot to be desired. While on the one hand, a full-scale class conflict is very much there, on the other hand what sociologist Emile Durkheim has described as anomie or a state of valuelessness or normlessness is conspicuous; but generally directly unobservable or overlooked. This class struggle has got deepened because the ruling class and the moneyed elite have got richer without any true responsibility towards the society at large in the shape of paying taxes and increasing the scale of industrial and business operations. In other words the ruling and wealthy class in the society has got richer not because it has established more industries or businesses but fundamentally because of evading taxes and gnawing upon the state and its resources. The state, with its sham democratic system, which ideally must be the custodian of the rights of majority instead of the ruling miniscule minority, has almost failed to protect the interest of majority of the members of society. Thus against the social conditions backdrop, Pakistani democracy could be termed a failure so far.
At this point in time, Pakistan is far from having political stability rather it is the most politically unstable country in the contemporary world. The 13-party coalition government is clinging to power with a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly and is kept afloat by small regional parties. Such a large coalition government could only be formed in times of war not in normal times of democratic stability. However, in the previous regime led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the state of political stability was perilous.
Physical security is a key aspect of political stability. In contemporary Pakistan, no one can think oneself to be fully secure. Rather innumerable number of people would argue that they are rather insecure. The situation in the largest city of the country, Karachi, followed by Lahore, is a case in point. While the situation in Karachi is worst it is quite bad in Lahore and equally so in Faisalabad. On the other hand in the rural areas of all the four provinces of the country, the security is a personal issue of all citizens. Moreover, one of the provinces of the country, Balochistan, is facing active separatist insurgency while the situation is not ideal in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. So on the basis of these facts, we could say that the quality of democracy in Pakistan is not good at all.
The level of institutional maturity and responsiveness is another key aspect of political stability. Keeping in view the situation within major government institutions, most of them lack capacity and competence or sense of direction and belonging to the society and its people. This is really a very dangerous situation because when majority of the people manning the institutions of the country become disenchanted they could become potentially destructive.
At the moment the biggest problem of Pakistan is total economic meltdown rather collapse. We have very strong quantitative indicators in this regard to drive the point home. Inflation is unprecedented. The incidence of poverty in the country is great and arguably more than half the population is living below the poverty line. Unemployment is rampant in a country with its 63 per cent population aged 17 to 45 years. So if the country’s economy cannot be put on the right track after such stringent measures then it seems that there are structural issues with the democratic system of the country.
The quality of democracy is a country can also be gauged from the fact that people do not have much interest in the functioning of the state. Against this backdrop the intelligentsia of the country has to thoroughly discuss the reasons for the substandard quality of democracy in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2022.
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