Democracy — the only road to be on

Democracy, the only solution, comes in stages and through struggles, and never offered on a platter or as a gift.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais September 18, 2011
Democracy — the only road to be on

Not everyone supports democracy in Pakistan; some for religious reasons, others either don’t know what it means for them, while some see bad things in it because of the deceptive ways of the electoral class. That, however, shouldn’t come as a surprise. In every country and society, one encounters opposition to democratic ideas for some reason or another. The real issue in Pakistan is that those coming to power, on account of popular representation and because they keep referring to their own glorified role in democratic struggles, hardly have any political or ideological commitment to democracy.

Exposing their hypocrisy can be the first step towards building our democratic future. The bigger challenge, however, is how we can defeat their using use of democratic means — i.e., popular support — to betray the popular mandate. Let us be clear, the popular mandate is not about acquiring power but rather about articulating the public good, securing rights and the defending lives and properties of citizens. Pick up a manifesto of any political party in the governing coalitions, and one will will see these grand objectives emphasised over and over again. A mandate is not a right to rule but rather a social contract, a promise or commitment one makes when asking people to support one’s programmes and policies when running for election. Fair and free elections are a rarity in Pakistan, and so individuals, groups and parties have used violence, coercion, fraud, and money to procure popular support. The democratic means of achieving power, often claimed by victors of elections in Pakistan, may not stand the litmus test of being free, fair or untainted of corruption.

The same has been true of our four military dictators — all of whom vowed to build ‘genuine’ democracy, or create a social and economic base for it, while displacing the electoral elite. But what they did instead was to destroy each and every institution and norm that could make the democratic progress of Pakistan, smooth, sustainable and deep. The history of military dictators is characterised by deceit, institutional decay, political fragmentation, moral and social rot, (that produced polarisation), insurgencies and alliances of the state with violent ethnic and religious groups.

So, what is the alternative if we find ourselves between two options — military rule and ‘democratic’ demagogues misrepresenting democracy? The answer is that we must learn from our own experiences, a lot more than we learn from the struggles of other countries. Two lessons are important and must form the foundational ideas of our social and political thinking. One, there is no alternative to democracy. Second, that democracy comes in stages and through struggles — and never is it offered on a platter or as a gift.

How can we go about this struggle, which must be both through debating universal ideas and their relevance to our society and time (it also has to come through the concrete actions of members of civil society)? For this, we must educate our people and struggle harder than we have in the past. I am afraid, a diverse, plural, large and complex society like Pakistan cannot be governed peacefully without democracy — a democracy, which is not hijacked by demagogues, murderous violent groups that enter into political compacts or by those who have no respect for law, judiciary or accountability.

This raises a million-dollar question: how to get rid of those who have false representation and falsely represent democracy? I wish I had a simple answer. It has to be through persistent, patient work for civic education, support of judiciary, accountability and rule of law. The road to democracy is long and the journey can be tiring, but this the only road that leads to progress, stability and civilised governance.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th,  2011.


Ishrat Salim | 12 years ago | Reply CHINA is not a democractic country nor has a " democractic system "...yet they are more strong in all the sphere of life & second economic power in the world....which has put many democratic country to shame....which proves " democracy " is not the only ingredient....anytaker...??
hariharmani | 12 years ago | Reply

R.B.Rias,I have limited my response to T.E. as they like other news out let are increseingly censoring,anything critical to Pakistan or Islam,however legitimate ,are not published.How can you have real democracy when a society can not withstand dissent from a powerless individual?Democracy ,like everything,does not drop from heaven,however ferverantly one might pray,it has to be nurtured,and free speech is most important ingridient.All problems which are now manifesting in pakistani society,the one thing which stands out is inability to live in harmony not only with minority,but even with other strands of Islam such as ahmedias,and shias,which is nothing sort of at least deplorable,it springs from intolerance,if one is fair about it.Democracy is of many shades,mearly casting votes every 5 years can not be like some rituals.neither it can be called democracy,it is one ,it is shamThere are 2 600 pounds gorrilla in the living room of Pakistan,untill you tackle them,there is no possibility of accountable,transparent and good goverance possible,to a lesser degree it applies to most south Asians nations.There is not much you can do lamenting about it,it is just what 'it is'.But according to Darwins theory of natural selection,We sub-continent people have to do it the hard hard way,"EVOLVE" into better citizen and progress,no short cut.If you ask me why,I can tell you,but how to get there,I have no clue.Let no one fool you,into they have solution,they are charltan and cheat or both.It is not for nothing we find ourself in this jam.

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