A large section of the politically aware and active populace of Pakistan expresses disappointment at the performance of the elected government, especially when it comes to the delivery of basic services to people. Such discontent was expressed during the PPP rule (2008-2013) but it seemed to have deepened during the PML-N rule. The non-availability of petrol on top of electricity and gas shortages has increased frustration and anger at the societal level. If these trends are not reversed, the long-term sustainability of democracy will be jeopardised in Pakistan.
This alienation is in sharp contrast to the pro-democracy disposition of the politically aware and active population in 2007-08. By 2007, the civilianised military regime of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf had run aground in terms of governance and political management. General (retd) Musharraf’s political blunders, like the attempt to remove the Chief Justice of Pakistan (March 2007), securing his re-election in October 2007 and, above all, the imposition of the state of emergency on November 3, 2007, shocked the legal community, political parties and other activists. They launched a major protest in support of constitutional and civilian rule, civil, political and economic rights, and participatory governance. There was much optimism about the future of democracy in Pakistan when the elected PPP government assumed power at the federal level in March 2008.
The current disenchantment with elected civilian rule represents a typical dilemma of societies where democratic aspirations repeatedly get frustrated by the poor performance of political leadership. The rulers view their electoral mandate as a licence to advance their self-articulated agendas rather than for addressing the issues that hurt the common person in daily life. Another problem common with such rulers is that they create a personalised and patrimonial governance system, where loyalty is valued more than professionalism and merit.
Pakistan is currently experiencing a dichotomy between the theory of democracy and its operationalisation in terms of governance and political management. Every political leader talks about constitutionalism and democracy. However, once a leader assumes power through an electoral victory, he wants to run the state like a personal fiefdom and does not accommodate those questioning his rule. The other worst-case situation in a democratic system is that a political leader refuses to accept an outcome if democracy delivers a result that is not to his satisfaction. In the first case, we face the tyranny of the majority and in the second case, the political leader decides to oppose the government on every issue and settles differences with it through street agitation.
The political problems in Pakistan relate to the operational side of democracy. There is a serious problem of translating democratic aspirations and principles into concrete policy measures in order to strengthen trust between the ordinary people and the democratic political process. Elections do provide electoral legitimacy to the party in power. However, it is important that the electoral process is generally viewed as fair, free and transparent by most political contestants. If there are serious questions about the credibility of elections, these cannot ensure electoral legitimacy. The widely shared doubts about the credibility of the elections need to be addressed in a judicious manner rather than evading the issue or dismissing it as propaganda. Even if the elections are generally viewed as fair, free and transparent by a large number of political contestants, these do not give a free hand to the ruling party to govern the way it likes till the next scheduled elections.
If an elected government wants to hold on to power for its full tenure, it must ensure that its electoral legitimacy is supplemented by performance legitimacy. The success of the government depends on its performance in office rather than on how much support it enjoys in parliament. The performance of a government is judged on the basis of its concrete policies and administrative measures that ensure physical as well as socio-economic security of the common people. People in general must perceive the government as helpful in addressing their socio-economic problems and personal security issues. Furthermore, the government must ensure transparency in official financial deals and also when it comes to the use of state patronage. The key personalities of the government should not be tainted with major corruption and nepotism scandals and it must be ensured that there is no conflict between the imperatives of state policies and the business and personal interests of those exercising state power.
Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments falter on the performance criteria when it comes to socio-economic development, internal security and transparency, and professionalism. The federal government has found it difficult to cope with the challenges in the civilian domains and has drifted from crisis to crisis. It also has wrong priorities for development work by opting for publicity-oriented construction, road-building and transport projects, and distribution of laptops and loans from banks in dubious schemes ostensibly to help the people. Instead, these resources should have been used to address major economic problems, like the shortages of electricity, gas and petrol, price hike of essential commodities, lack of attention paid to education and healthcare, etc. Another problem pertains to the misuse of state resources and money-making by the power elite.
The non-satisfactory handling of these affairs has alienated the common people from the current elected civilian governance system. With the exception of the direct beneficiaries of this faltering democratic government, dissatisfaction with the existing political arrangements abounds. As the civilian government is unable to adopt a forthright approach towards internal security matters, especially when it comes to dealing with terrorist and extremist groups, the army has grabbed the initiative. This is in addition to its active role in the handling of external security and foreign policy issues. Now the army authorities are prodding the federal and provincial governments to deal effectively with the civilian side of countering terrorism.
The common person’s alienation from and anger against non-performing elected political leaders has made democracy insecure in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2015.
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The most important people to call/complain/protest are the original Sharif supporters - not just his political opponents.
@woody: "when was the last time you contacted your representative and demanded action? When was the last time you took to the streets to peacefully protest?"
Agree with most of your posts but not this one. The whole Imran-Qadri jalsa was peaceful protest.
Yes! may be & mistakes made has been very graciously accepted by Gen M in many tv interviews unlike our political leaders who does not accept mistakes rather tries to put the blame on to the lower staff of the dept or passes on to its predecessors....yet the period of Gen M was much better than this 5 years & 20 month of democratic period.....give the devil its due. Dictators do not make false promises to the people but acts to deliver, but our politicians make such big promises that it is impossible for them to fulfill...why ? why do they have to make such promises that are not possible...because they know the majority who votes for them are not literate & hence, it is easy to fool them. Are these politicians not aware that they will be answerable to Allah swt for the false promises they make to these poor people ? Even people who supports such leaders will equally be answerable to Allah swt.
You voted these inept people into office - you sat back and did nothing while they did nothing - you even voted for a guy who's nickname was Mr. 10%. If you looking for someone to blame I suggest you grab a mirror. Successful Democracy takes a knowledgeable electorate that actively engages with it's elected leaders ... when was the last time you contacted your representative and demanded action? When was the last time you took to the streets to peacefully protest?
First its a democracy only by name! its group of people who function as mafia to grab power and take turns. That kind of democracy will never deliver as they are not into this for delivery to people but own family and friends. Alternative to democracy may be another democracy but that has to be much cleaner and with sincere leadership, unless that happens these goons will take turn and compete in corruption and nepotism! When sole criteria to govern is based on loyality nepotism and not competence, then simply bringing people into power with no grey matter will create mega blunders as its obvious day by day! Are Sharifs and Zardaris are comparable to Obama? a Phd, Angela Merkal another PhD in nuclear Chemistry, or Dr Gordon Brown etc?
If sole criteria of leaders because they belong to certain group or family, it doesnt bring competence!
@Toticalling: You are again missing the point. Democracy and governance are two separate things. In democracy the ruling elite respond to public demands and the regime survival is dependent upon effective governance. This is what Pakistan lacks and have been so from the early days of the republic. Oh' please do not cite Greek "Colonels coup" as an effective measure and that also to a political scientist. You may look at the circumstances under which military assumed power in the cradle of the democracy and they are still paying the price.
@Ishrat Saleem. the record of the military governments is also littered with red ink. So relax.
Mr Askari seem to have realized after 5 years & 20 month...what democracy has given to the poor people of Pakistan ? Democracy has given fuel crisis, electricity blackouts, no local govt, no justice, commission & committees made & forgotten, & terrorism & consequently " military Courts " Mr Askari....
who says we cannot express openly ? if that was the case, then how the dictator made free media during his stint of 8-9 years ? it was this same media who brought him down....& it was this freedom of speech that culminated his downfall...it was this media that created awareness of injustices etc; during Gen M period....so, do not say the period was bad...the worst period was Gen Zia rule which was known as the " blakest spot " in the history of this nation, yet no one pseaks against him but Gen M who`s priod is not comparable to what the democratic period has given to the mass....you are not included in the mass, so you do not feel the pain which our poor people go through day in & day out. Try to explain you democratic theory to the people in the street & put them the question, which period they found better & misses more, you will get your answer...the poor people is not interested the system or freedom of speech, but security to life, energy to run factories for employment to feed his family 2 square a meal, health, education & justice...has this democracy provided ?
@Toticalling: The last government survived because of some "Powerful External Force." It did not survive on its own meritocracy. This one had adjudicated the power to military and will survive by the "grace" of the same "invisible hand" that is keeping PAK afloat.
If the anti-terrorist operations are successful, that will be the biggest achievement, but I have my doubts.
@Fazal Dad: Greece has shown that if leaders do not deilver, there is an alternative which must come from the people thru ballot boxes, meaning by people. The talk should be to choose a betterr government with exact approach to solving the problems. I am nozt saying that greeks will solve the debt problem which stands at 175% of total GDP. Luckily Pakistan is not doing that badly. Blaming democracy is wrong, in a country which did not get a chance to function. The last government was the first to complete its term afterr over 60 years. This one is far worse, but its survival is doubtful.
I agree with toticalling. Further, when a political government authority is challenged on daily basis by military on major policy matters, then you can't blame them alone for the crisis. It would be a difficult situation for any party be it pmln, ppp or pti. Pmln has been a disappointment so far. Nevertheless the process must go on.
@Toticalling: You may read the article once again before rushing to the conclusions. The author has very eloquently highlighted the weaknesses of operationalization of democracy and has equally blamed the military rulers for their political blunders, mismanagement, and rudimentary governance. Alas the symptoms of poor governance have prevailed under the the civilian governments since the power was handed over to elected governments in 2008. The ruling elite, irrespective of the party affiliation, have failed to respond effectively to the growing demands of the people. According to a well established political scientist, Guillermo O'Donnell, this is what brings military into power.
The writer has a history of being a mouthpiece of undemocratic forces. Mr Askari will never be happy with democracy because he is getting no lift from political class. This so called expert gets more value of his services during military rule....so his open invitation in his columns.....
"The common person’s alienation from and anger against non-performing elected political leaders has made democracy insecure in Pakistan". I suppose the auihor is comparing the performence with military governments of the past. I admit this one is not doing well, but it is still betterr to progress slowly than go back to dictatorships. Dictators are a bad news. WE cannot express our opinions that openly when army boots are runnung the show.