The people of Pakistan are at the juncture of another general election. The electorate of the country, like voters anywhere else in the world, are hoping to help form a government that will proactively work on many fronts to uplift the living standards of its citizens.
The democratic electoral system is supposed to facilitate autonomous choice and fairness. It should allow people to choose their own destiny and further their social and economic interests. The people, or the electorate, have ultimate sovereignty and a collective right to choose their governmental, political and electoral systems as an aspect of self-determination. Democratic principles suggest that the elected officials carry out the will of its people. This is the ideal state of democracy as envisaged by our forefathers.
However, the electoral process in Pakistan, in its current state, seems to have lost touch with reality. A cursory glance at those who have been chosen to contest elections across all main political parties reflects a preference for the ultra-rich and powerful. This entails those who have been dubbed ‘electables’.
In many constituencies, election affairs seem to have been captured by the elite. This supra-class of so-called ‘politicians’ include our very own traditional landlords. This rare breed of politicians, who are found only in Pakistan, is a remnant of colonial times. They gained strength and power through the subjugation and oppression of locals. In exchange, they were awarded vast tracts of land for their services to the British Empire. This group of colonial remnants took over the affairs of the state after Independence and continue to dominate these matters by entrenching themselves in key political circles and other powerful institutions.
These electables also include a compact group of industrialists who have made their way up the ranks. They have risen to power through various means, usually by providing legitimacy to the rule of non-political forces whenever they have come to power. In our case, unfortunately, the rule of non-political elements covers almost half of the country’s history since Independence. This has, therefore, provided this group of industrialists enough time to further their vested interests.
The marriage (both literally and metaphorically) of these closely-aligned groups in the 1980s and 1990s, and the subsequent political nepotism that followed allowed these so-called ‘politicians’ to soak their hands with state resources and accumulate immeasurable wealth while holding public office. The growth of their assets has been so enormous that now these ultra-rich groups not only dominate decision-making bodies by utilising this nexus of power and wealth, but are also willing to undermine these public bodies as and when required.
The domination of political nepotism and the continuation of the status quo have resulted in a situation where being able to be elected or even contest an election seems to be the right of a few people. The inability of anyone from the ‘general public’ to even think of getting elected to these decision-making bodies, has led to a sense of powerlessness within the electorate and an erosion in the sense of ownership that democracy offers to society.
It has been argued that this system limits progressive democratic values, damages the essence of governance and accountability, and enables enslavement rather than autonomy. The dark side of our political tale is significantly outshining its brighter aspects. The subversion of democracy in the name of democracy is, of course, not an option.
The question that we need to ask ourselves is: for how long will this continue? More importantly, what will it take to bring fairness and equality into the system? A collective effort is required from all sections of the civil society, especially intellectuals and the media, to challenge this status quo in a much stronger manner than they currently do.
There is a need for the civil society to expose these post-colonial remnants in the run-up to the elections and in the post-election period, and play their part in raising awareness about making this system fair and equitable. There is a need for more public engagement through talks and discussions at all possible forums. The ultimate decision lies in the hands of the electorate and they have to take charge of their own destiny.
The writer is an academic and works for the University of Sheffield.