Lately, I have been observing comments in the news media about the impending presidential elections in Pakistan. Several commentators have said that this is a repeat of the Rafiq Tarar saga when a nonentity was made president, that this does not augur well for democracy, etc. While this criticism has some merit, I want to argue that we are simply trying to put the cart before the horse and being too impatient. This was our first normal transition from one elected government to the next. In the grand scheme of things, this might not matter, but in Pakistan, where ostensibly we have had at least 25 years of democratic government, this ‘first’ is very significant. Expecting too many things so quickly is simply impatience.
One of the interesting jobs of the historian is not to inform people of something novel or new from the past, but to simply remind people of past events and their relevance today. Therefore, perhaps it is worth recounting how democracy was achieved in Britain — the first modern democratic country. We all know that King John was forced to sign the great charter — the Magna Carta — in 1215 by the barons, which enshrined a few rights and significantly, curtailed the power of the monarch. The Kings Council, set up under the Magna Carta, eventually became the parliament of England, and was split into the House of Commons and the House of Lords in 1341. Thereafter, gradually, parliament began to assert itself, and by the end of the civil war and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, parliament established itself as the central power with the monarch’s role increasingly limited. The 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement further consolidated the pre-eminent position of parliament. However, until the Reform Act of 1832, a very small proportion of the country was allowed to vote and constituencies varied between 20,000 and seven voters! Women only received full voting rights in 1928.
The reason for narrating the above is to show how long it took Britain to establish what we call ‘democracy’. It was a process which took nearly a thousand years, and in some ways, still continues. It also shows that democracy is never perfect — in any age. Therefore, while no women and very few men had the right to vote before 1832, this did not mean that Britain should not have had a parliament and elections. We can now laugh that some constituencies till 1832 had seven members, but even such ridiculousness did not mean that the process should not go on. Achieving democracy is a process, where the process is as important, if not more, than the final product, and cutting it short and steamrolling it is not healthy.
We, as a country, have become very impatient. Maybe it is result of our convoluted trajectory, or environmental factors. So, if something cannot be done in 90 days, we are not interested and we can barely tolerate differing opinions. This impatience is dangerous for us, as it removes our sight from the long term and only makes the short term significant. No person, let alone a country, can survive like this.
The choice of Mamnoon Hussain might not be ideal, but can we at least appreciate that we are going to get an elected president? Even in India, with a much longer democratic history than ours, there is often disagreement over the choice of president and, in fact, Jawaharlal Nehru was rather unhappy about the choice of India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad, thinking that he was too communal. Choosing someone who represents the whole country is never an easy task. We also have had a perpetual tug of war between presidents and prime ministers, and therefore, perhaps the loyalist choice of Nawaz Sharif should have been expected.
Pakistan has just started on the road to democracy and we must not derail it by wanting perfection at each stage. Yes, elections will be rigged in places, governments will not always act properly and the choice of president might be difficult but the important thing is that the process must go on. It is indeed from the process itself that real change will come.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.
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A patient nation is ,indeed, a "Patient" nation Nothing can be achieved if one is not impatient especially in Pakistan
Thats the easiest way to deal with dissension isn't it. Liken it to some extremist thought, attack the credibility. Bang!
But, Internet has revolutionised the nature of thought and the ways of sharing it. Now, there's far less problem in speaking freely, even if the message goes down or not, the message will be heard.
"Please check up on the Nazi party’s and Hitler’s religious affiliations. "
You still didn't tell me where I mentioned Fascism as ideal, nor, now, Communist Dictatorship.
Whose comments are you reading, anyway? It'll be a folly to treat me like you might treat the less intellectually inclined.
"especially generalizations about the current state of Muslim nations around the world. "
Of course you disagree. It you didn't we wouldn't be having this conversation. Disagreement doesn't lead to being right.
The nature of truth will remain, even if we don't agree on it. Because if I am right and the truth is on my side, the Muslims world will continue to be in a state of flux, some improving, some going worse(who would have thought 5 years ago there would be massive protests by the secular bunch in Turkey), but on an average bad.
If you are right, slowly things will begin to become better on a whole.
Denial is coded into our DNA. Its a survival instinct. If everyone started to truly believe what their brain tells them, everyone would be getting up scared everyday, thinking about all the possibilities of death that day.
As a Co-Religionist, you are too coded by Nature to deny what is apparent in your society to outsiders. You, as a liberal, I am assuming, know this denial all too well in your conversations with fellow Pakistanis/Muslims everyday. The difference between them and you is only a matter of degree, as far as I am concerned.
"so it would be unwise to talk down to Pakistan, or offer them advice from over the garden wall."
Your argument makes no sense. I am talking of a common illness that plagues the Muslim societies. You are attributing it to some local problem, as if Pakistan is wholly disconnected from the narrative in the Muslim world.
Indira Gandhi in her Emergency was always bound to fail. Someone had to try, and now everyone knows what will happen. Where Indira Gandhi failed, various dictators succeeded in Pakistan, which used to be India too. It was as if DNA changed, with Demography.
You still don't get it don't you...
What I am telling you is simple. If I am wrong, great! Good luck. But, if you are wrong, well..
Too bad explaining more might lead to my comment being censored. So, I'll stop right here..
@BruteForce: Please check up on the Nazi party's and Hitler's religious affiliations. And the Communist party's and Stalin's too, while you are at it.
There is much else to disagree with in what you write, especially generalizations about the current state of Muslim nations around the world. That is exactly the thought process applied by white supremacists vis-a-vis non-whites, and anti-semetics vis-a-vis Jews.
Pakistan will sort itself out in its own way, or go down the tube. The rules for them are the same as those for the rest of the world. Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi, at least, made it clear that democracy cannot be taken for granted even in countries where it appears (superficially) secure, so it would be unwise to talk down to Pakistan, or offer them advice from over the garden wall.
"They are not mutually exclusive. "
Of course I know that. That is why I quoted several cases of such instances too.
"unless you really do favor the likes of Hitler, in which case you need serious help."
I just went through my own comment and I didn't mention anywhere that Hitler is the need of the hour. Where did you read that? Can you please tell?
If I have not written it, then that should mean you are twisting my words to manufacture a point. Did I even hint I am in awe of fascism? I have clearly mentioned "Secular Dictator". So Hitler was Secular, huh?
"you sound much like Churchill when he spoke about India. "
But, India was doing quite well before the British came. Its GDP was among the top 2 and many of the times the number one Economy in the world the last 2 millennia.
India, in its various form, did quite well in Economy, Science, Culture and what not. Churchill did not take all those into account and was obviously wrong. Not surprisingly, India has been an island of Stability and Democracy in South Asia, surrounded by, well... You get the point.
Lets suppose what I say IS wrong, like Churchill was. Then, there wouldn't be so many Islamic countries around the world struggling in various degrees with Democracy and Secularism, wouldn't there!
If you were right and this is indeed a Pakistan centric problem and solvable, things will get better soon. But, Pakistan has been this way since 66 years. A long time for one to be wrong.
Logic dictates that makes me right. Wouldn't you agree?
@gp65: Agree - we also need reform of the Police and the Bureaucracy - complete top-down / bottom up overhaul .... to introduce (a) performance (b) transparency (c) accountability and (d) service delivery mindset.
I agree with the writer partially.Patience with the new govt would be ok if the direction and style of the third term Prime Minister carried any promise of integrity.Unfortunately we are facing the same old Nawaz Sharif ,rather a somewhat more deadly.He needs to be checked before he causes serious damage to the nation
@BruteForce: Aren't you getting confused between secularism and democracy? They are not mutually exclusive. There is no reason why a theocratic state cannot be democratic. Israel is the obvious example. Pakistan could very well remain an Islamic state and still have a democratic system of government.
With respect to your preference for a Secular Dictator, you can only be forgiven on the grounds of total ignorance - unless you really do favor the likes of Hitler, in which case you need serious help.
As for your "Democracy is suited for nations like India, US, UK, but for Pakistan", you sound much like Churchill when he spoke about India. I would guess that your knowledge of Pakistan is no better than Churchill's was of India. You are a good person I'm sure, but you need to do a lot of catching up before sounding off, buddy! Especially on the US and the European "liberal democracies" that practiced slavery and still practice racism. Did they forget to tell you about the British jackboot on India's neck? And the French on Indo-China's? And the American on that of the Philippines?
If Pakistan seems confused today it is because it hasn't chosen its goal yet, not because it is incapable of attaining it. At least that is the way it appears to me. And since it is paying the greater part of the price meanwhile, the rest of the world can afford to give them some slack.
Wait patiently for a thousand years? .... after democracy has already evolved! I wonder if the author takes a 100 years for his electric bulb to give light after he has pressed the switch. Or does he wait a 1000 years for his airplane to take off after he has bought a ticket? After all these technologies also took time to develop. Once something has been evolved, developed or invented, the next step is its implementation and making it work better in the shortest possible time. Yes, we can 'pride' ourselves with our Presidents such as Fazal Ilahi, Rafiq Tarar and now Mumnoon who? I fully support the idea that the masses must elect the President through direct ballot and not leave the highest office in the country to be filled through the whims and fancies of any ruling party.
@BruteForce: ''Democracy is suited for nations like India, US, UK, but for Pakistan, not so much. This people will slowly realize'' In recent history no nation has given so much sacrifices for democracy than Pakistani nation,giving it up in the middle of way would be a bad idea.Road ahead is bright for democracy in Pakistan though some more hardships some more circus.
this choice does not suit pakistan,zaid hamid would have been a much more representative face of present pakistan.indians could still have been happier,as zaid hamid traces origin from aligarh,india, unlike mr.manmoon, who sounds a combination name of our sardar p.m.& a korean name, though he may also be from agra,india. sir zaid would have definitely been a much more recognizable& familiar face.pak no doubt has talent,but invariably ends up making the wrong choices& then laments the absence of inspiring leaders.hope,zaid hamid is put in the driver's seat next time.the world is eagerly waiting to see how he runs the country,as smoothly as his tongue?
You can wait till eternity Mr Bangash but a Berry Tree will never grow Mangoes.
Interesting comments. Yes, more interesting than the article for me as I agree to the idea penned here. A few of my own words to add:
a. A thousand years should be only viewed in the context that we are talking about an evolving system/process. I doubt anyone is asking for 1000 years in Pakistan's case.
b. It is the same selfish thinking that bogs us down when I say that why should I wait for the fruits of my contribution towards a democratic Pakistan. If I have voted (& yes, "even" if I voted for the first time in my life of 50 years), the democratic institutions should function in a perfect manner from the day parliament takes oath. It is not enough for us to know that our efforts can also be there to ensure a better future for our generations to come.
c. There is also this interesting (read: funny) idea that an Islamic system existed for 1300 years. Funny, because it tells us that except for the past 100 years, things were going great across the globe for Muslims. Someone needs a bit of a basic history lesson here. There have been good & bad times during the 1400 years of our history. Most importantly, it would only be naive to bundle up the first four caliphs with Yazid, Fatamids, Abbasids, Safavis, Ottoman & Mughals (to name a few) and assume that every rule was indeed an "Islamic" system of government only because we would hate to believe otherwise...
@Atif Salahuddin: For 1300 years, the Islamic World had a hereditary monarchy where the power was transferred from father to son. Is this the Islamic system that you are talking about?
@Arindom: Agree with you directionally. Apart from the RTI and the recent Supreme court decision on criminals, there is also a tradition of a strong empowered CEC which was started by Seshan. Prior to that the anti-defection bill which stopped the aayaram gayaram politics pioneered by Haryana. The panchayati raj bill introduced by Rajiv Gandhi and the fact that by law 33% of the panchayat members have to be women - due to which there are a million women today with training in grassroots democracy. The abuse of article 356 in dismissing duly elected CM and establishing governor rule which was rampant in the 80s has stopped after COngress was thrown out of Andhra for 20 years after the NTR episode in 1984 and also the price paid by the nation in Kashmir in the the 80s due to Rajiv's attempt to undermine Farooq Abdullah's mandate. Introduction of the electronic voting machines which reduced problems with ballot stuffing and ballot counting was another win. More importantly the starting point of democracy in India was already universal adult suffrage which was won in the west after centuries of fight.
Coming to LokPal - don't think that the LokPal bill has been buried. The battle has not been won but you must remember that even RTI took many years of fight. This genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back in the bottle by the politicians.
So while the Indian democracy is by no means perfect, it is far more freer, fairer, representative and responsive to people than it was 50 years back.
You're right - we need to progressively evolve and fine-tune our Democracy. In India the not-too-old "Right to Information" Act, although not perfect has strengthened Democracy, as have the Supreme Court's verdict of barring people in jail contesting elections. On the other hand, defeat of Lok Pal (to haul up the corrupt politicians) agitation led by Anna has been buried by the politicians - this has been a sour defeat. So you win some, you lose some..but on the whole important to keep Democracy functioning, in all it's imperfections!!
I am amazed at the level of understanding of democracy of the author; The author calls this a democracy where the rights of ordinary citizens are not protected and an elite mafia has assumed power. Please stop being an agent / proxy of this elite class mafia. Remember this is no democracy at all as per US associate justice Quote
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both" Louis D. Brandeis.
Nawaz and Zardari are the two richest persons and both have criminal cases against them both lead the two BIG parties and hold highest public office of the government. This is a clear manifestation of the failure of democracy.
I would urge you please speak for the people and not for this mafia calling them as democratic.
it took 1000 years for the evolution of the idea of democracy in England. Once it has been evolved, it does not require centuries for its implementation and operation in other communities/nations. if history has anything to do with the education of people then we do not necessarily need to start from scratch.
A balanced op-ed however its not people who expect perfection from politicians but anti democratic forces which misguide general public so that when need arise democracy can be role back without any resistance.It therefore is the duty of politicians to play their politics in such a way that leaves no room for outsiders to intervene.Greater burden of responsibilities lies on ppp.
The democratic process is not the only way forward. Why are we expected to give a 1000 years to see democracy evolve in Pakistan yet some democrats instantly dismiss the idea of an Islamic system which was implemented for over 1300 years in the Muslim world and has historical precedence?
Whilst the West may choose democratic politics it too is not without its problems of the corrosive effect of influential lobby groups and their political monetary donations which has seen for example the banks being bailed out at taxpayers expense in several countries in recent years. It seems that this is the best that Democrats can aspire too.
Democracy has no precedence in the Muslim world prior to the colonial period. People are literally dying and going hungry in Pakistan, the people have every right to see things improve quickly and it is not impatience to question the model of governance given the alternatives.
"It is indeed from the process itself that real change will come". And I always thought that it was (impatient) people who made the processes ...... ! Here we have a process that has descended out of nowhere and wants people to hold their water while it brings about real change in its own time. I hope there is still someone around a thousand years from today to applaud this new Magna Carta. If you are the first, a 1000 years will be viewed as a commentary on the task. If you are the hundredth, a 1000 years will be viewed as a commentary on you. It is always useful to remember that you are tomorrow's history!