Out of a fiery and war-torn haze, a new zeitgeist in Libya will rise with tomorrow’s dawn, a future many hope will be one of a functioning democracy. As we see Karachi ablaze, with over a hundred people killed in a week, people are asking, will Pakistan ever escape its own haze and become a functioning democracy? But is that the most important question to ask?
Commentators expend considerable time asking whether Pakistan is ungovernable and, increasingly, the answers appear sceptical. LUMS professor, Mohammad Waseem, has called the situation symptomatic of the institutional weaknesses within the Pakistani state. Some time ago, Medha Bisht, writing for the Kashmir Sentinel, posed the same problems when asking is “Pakistan collapsing?”
The frames used for analysis invariably involve economic factors, foreign intervention, the ‘Three As’ (Allah, America and the Army), colonialism and elitism. The list could go on ad nauseam. These are important, but another way of looking at the recent disturbances in Pakistan is to consider if Pakistan actually has too much democracy rather than a dearth of it.
The thought that a state can have too much democracy appears antithetical to the ideals of freedom and rationality. The reason the question is worth asking is because it allows us to see events in Karachi and elsewhere in another light. Theorists and social commentators often compound two separate but linked ideas about democracy. On the one hand lies what might be called ‘democracy from below’. This can be seen in the more immeasurable ‘feelings’ of democracy. It can take the form of, for example, people understanding the role they play in the decision-making process. Alternatively, it could take the shape of forming groups, civil society in a de Tocquevilleian sense, in an attempt to influence the world around them. On the other hand sits what we might call the institutions of democracy, such as parties and elections. What it takes for a successful democracy is the linking of both these forms. However, when they fail to link up and one becomes too powerful for the other, democracy can be weakened.
Pakistan, especially in urban areas, does not seem to have a problem with civic organisations. Political activism is evident on its streets even if you look beyond the activities of local and national political parties. On one end of the spectrum are the numerous religious organisations which are present all over Pakistan. The work of the Edhi foundation, for example, is clearly inspired by the faith of Abdul Sattar Edhi. Such organisations represent sites of microprocesses of democracy. They are where for the majority of the population politics becomes a verb and political action takes place. They may not be democracy with a capital ‘D’ as we usually accept it, but they are democratic with a small ‘d’ in how they encourage public participation in politics. On another end of the spectrum are organisations like Kuch Khaas in Islamabad. Those sitting in the cafe in Kuch Khaas may seem a world away from the ambulance runners of the Edhi organisation and, in many ways, they are. However, both represent the strength of public participation in Pakistan, a healthy sign of the democratic process.
The problem arises because this world of small ‘d’ democracy and that of capital ‘D’ democracy fail to line up in Pakistan. Far too often, local political parties and national parties have failed to represent the people. This leaves a disconnect between what is happening at the local and national arenas, and results in growing frustration in those at the bottom of society. Because the avenues for public participation are limited due to the infrastructural weaknesses of Pakistani democracy, local participation often spills out of the formal avenues of activism and onto the streets.
Thus, what could be contained and channelled if the systems were in place takes the form of unruly activism. The question is not whether Pakistan can function as a democracy. It already does, although an imperfect one. The question is whether it has too much democracy for the institutional systems it has in place. To this the answer is clearly yes. Re-engaging the politics of the street with the politics of the state may not solve all of Pakistan’s problems, but it would be a start..
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2011.
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@Cynical: Democracy is not possible in India without-
1 electoral reforms- recall, reject, funding, corporate 2 reaching media, Internet, free electricity, schools, banks and clinics in every village 3 strong anti graft law 4 automation of public service, land registration, payments, etc
There is no such thing as too much democracy.
There may be too much mental reluctance to accept the results of popular vote. There may be too much mental reservations against the acceptance of popular will, specially if rulers can decide in the name of Divine will. There may be reluctance of the elite to be equated with another vote lacking education, resources and equality. There may be the percieved right of the theocrat to interpret and execute decisions in the name of Divine will. There may even be the politician's need for denying plurality in the name of ethnicity. There may be the General's need to deny the civilian the right to rule. There may be the ruler's collective need to muzzle the journalist. There may be the ruler's Divine right to deny the citizen the right to education, health and social services.
But there is no such thing as too much democracy
Our answer lies in two Es: Education and Economy. More prevalence of justice and law and order won't hurt either.
Democracy is better than all the systems we have today. Don't take democrocay as merely a system to elect the rulers, rather a system which also allows a peaceful mechanism (through ballot) to change the rulers after 4 or 5 years. No other system has that provision.
According to a report by Beijing's Tsinghua university, China had some 180,000 mass protests in 2010 alone. Or an average of 500 protests per day! None of them appeared in the Chinese media.
Just building bullet trains and apartment buildings is not a testimony to a successful political system.
Treatment of side effects of democracy is, even more democracy.
As good a way to theorize about Pakistani democracy as any other mentioned by the author. What's common in all these ways is that they offer no practical solution.
Regardless of approach, we all agree that we desperately need our public institutions to become strong and fair. They aren't so at present because this serves the vested interestes of the powerful elements of the society. Why would they give up their benefits and their power? For the greater good? To please God?
That's your problem in one small para. Lets try to solve it rather than theorizing further.
@rusm: I think if rising up of millions of indians against india's most powerful institution is small demonstration for you ....... and if people like you are in majority in pakistan democracy can't function in pakistan. And lets see what are the alternatives, the ummah system , now where would you find a khalifa?. And if it was the best system of governance then why did it broke down in 1930. And also i find only pakistanis crying for khalifa system because they have never been through and they don't know the ill of it , the people who have been through the system are not crying for a khalifa led system. And yes graft in india is endemic i truly agree with you but culture changes every 100 years and i think indian society is moving in the right direction. And if you think US is a police state then what is pakistan or china or russia or syria or saudi arabia by the way. In the end they are far worse than america. That's why i started earlier with the argument that there is no alternative to democracy even if it remains an imperfect system of governance. Many generations have pain stakingly kept patience and faith in democracy in america and we can all see where they are today......
This world has seen lots of dictators... People who were under tyrants have just fought for their freedom and got it in middle east.... Democracy is a slow process... It needs people... In dictatorship you will not get the freedom what you have now.. China.. Its a joke.. It might be strong and economically strong.. But what do you really know about it...nothing.. Because the dictators there don't allow anything to go out...Who knows one day you will be arrested for making some comments against them.. Thats the freedom you will be granted...
Democracy ISS a sham. Yes it eliminates the Evident Jungle Rule apparently but takes the flaws deep and hidden within the socio-political structure.
It is about Advertising Political parties do not run social or intellectual campaigns but a media frenzied Advertising Extravaganza. This requires MonEy thus in practicality whoever is financing the winning campaign runs the policy making and in turn the country especially in America they are the worst. The middle class never gets to get into a party nor a apparently influential position without being broken-in in accordance to the norms and wills of their Financiers..They say what sells and hardly ever do it.
Now the freedom of parliament: Foreign debts and even the powerful Local banks who are lending parliaments huge sums are influential enough to take away their unbiased authority.
@John You say: "In Pakistan, it is not the issue of democratic process but the lack of democratic principle in the system. Ethnic, linguistic, and religious superiority over ride the democratic principle. " What you mean is that democracy works best in homogeneous societies. That is true. Just look at rise of rightwing anti-immigrant parties in Europe. Looks like even liberal Europe is having trouble not being homogenous. Democracy has worked better in US, a country of immigrants to a degree. It works better during prosperity;but, then things start to regress during bad economic times as is the case now. Democracy is an imperfect system in the best of times. This is why it needs safeguards and a vigilant public to keep the imperfections from growing.
That is an interesting way to look at it. Next question is: why? You might consider fact that Pakistan has avoided local democracy. How can small 'd' democracy connect with big 'D' democracy when the vehicle closest to the people is absent? By the way, Jonathan you might not know it but the Karachi system was a start towards what even UK needs more of:decentralized governance in its cities. This system starts at neighborhood UC level and incorporates neighborhood voice throughout upper mechanism the Towns and city council. Its closer equivalent is what France has, not London. So Karachi got a start in making the connection between small 'd' and big 'D'. This structure should have been replicated in many Pakistani cities;but, wasn't. The rural LG system needed to be modified so that village level gets powers of UC level Rural system has 4 tiers, when it could have 3 instead-especially since they are no ag taxes in Pakistan! The LG system has the same weighting as the British rural system (county, district, parish council);but would have benefited if the weighting was the French hour glass shaped power dynamics not the hierarchical British system.
There is no one type of democracy. The tribal jirga of Afghanistan is as good a democracy as any modern democracy is.
Democracy is noisy but it is a solution only if there is a culture of collective decision making and people abiding by it.
In a democracy minority rights ( religious, ethnic, different political views, etc. ) are determined by majority who won the election. All democracies survive on this principle. Compromises are essential in a democracy, where the might or the desires of the majority have to be sacrificed for the general well being of the minority.
In Pakistan, it is not the issue of democratic process but the lack of democratic principle in the system. Ethnic, linguistic, and religious superiority over ride the democratic principle.
I can understand your frustration with the democracy as we have seen/experienced so far in the last 300 years or so. But tell me about an alternative system of governance. Like all other institutions this one is also in a process of evolving.Improvements,adjustments are taking place in many parts of the world according to and in line with the need of the day and the will of the people. You mentioned Chinese model. Do you really wish for another Tienman square? I don't think you do.
Lets admit, we are a joke of democracy, military rule and I am sure if we follow footsteps of our masters in beijing, we will fail miserably too.
@Ravi if you think anything will change with your little demonstration you are wrong. Graft in countries like India are endemic because of the people and their culture. And how long does it take democracy to start functioning, the US has had 200 years, and it is running because it is a police state not because people go to the ballots, oh and culture. In recorded history of 1000s of years democracy has been around for a couple of hundred. And even in democracies you follow the personality and the individual not the ideal.
@rusm: democracy may not be perfect but it still the best system of governnance in the world. The only difficulty with democracy is that it takes time to mature. Now how much time democracy has in a country depends upon the patience of the people. Now if people like you (one would call it a dictatorial mindset) want things to go your way instantly i assure it's not possible in democracy. You have to give the system some time. And if american presidential system is far better as you assume then why don't turn to a american type presidential democracy. But then democracy will always remain better than a one man or even one party led rule. Now you mentioned china, china may be a paradox for now but same was the case with bahrain prince , the people there had every thing electricity food and other necessities but did it stop them from asking for democracy .... The answer is big NO. Same will be the fate of china. Some day people will rise and communism will be in history of china. We in india just saw a non violent and patient movement against graft, but it came after 64 years and the maturity of indian democracy let it happen.
So wait and trust it because trusting democracy is trusting yourself and remember... Democracy if of the people by the people and for the people.
great write up dude.
Democracy is a sham, it requires an educated population. How effective is it? Voter turnout across the world hovers in the 30 percent range. The average time in office for a US senator is 15 years (so much for new leadership). The worst form is parliamentary democracy with the executive and legislative being one big mess, Japan 6 PMs in 5 years! Italy 49 govt in 50 years . The American presidential system is much better with a clear separation of the executive and legislative, making it closer to an autocracy with the presidents executive powers, and therefore more efficient. Democracy does not prevent corruption and infact provides legal cover to corrupt politicians. It's time this 20 century brainwashing about Democracy and so called freedom ( championed by the west) be replaced with efficiency and order. With the rise of China we hope this democracy is consigned to the dustbin as more countries look towards China for inspiration.