Tuesday July 05, 2022

Agents of change

May 09, 2017

In the economic pretext, democracy is a mechanism of interest satisfaction. The middle class is more prone to and in favour of this system because it enables representation, participation and accommodation. Historically, the frame of democratic rule in Pakistan remained obscurant and anachronistic amid the marked absentia of the strengthened middle class. The narrative of the state and the discourse of the people remained incompatible.

The emergence of the middle class in the wake of the neoliberal world order and the changing undercurrents of Pakistan’s polity impinged on multi-pronged outcomes. It transformed the very nature of the state and society in Pakistan. The trajectory from apolitical society to an over-political society now spans over the political discourse. The nuanced implication of this process was the acceptance of democracy as a norm.

The demand for democracy within a society comes through the social structures in which that society is embedded. When existing avenues of participation fail to cater to the political impulse of the people, it creates a space and demand for a new political order. In Pakistan, the sociopolitical structures have traditionally been dominated by the military-bureaucratic nexus. The parameters of electability remained vested with the power and authority. This results in an exclusively elite-participative political system. The democratic avant-garde in Pakistan is met with tremendous participation, unprecedented awareness and consciousness.

In Pakistan, the social hierarchy is based on economic status and this division is reinforced over the course of time. The middle class purports materialistic objectives and envisages a vibrant role in the power structure. This middle class activism has resulted in social change at the grassroots level where constituency politics, electoral processes and the discourse of democracy have consolidated their roots.

The middle class of any society is supposedly the more dynamic and better cognisant stratum given it hustles to ensure its position within the social hierarchy. The middle class is essentially status quo-oriented and is opposed to radical change and revolutionary overruns. The interests of the middle class intrinsically lie with the continuity of the system. It sketches the potential opportunities and is inclined to survive the change within the system while being a part of the system. The middle class is an offshoot of modernity. The middle clas s is increasingly considered to be a precondition of stability in the social structures. It is a means of mitigating inequalities in a society given it is a prelude to growth and development. The middle class may also serve as a catalyst for change amid the perturbed pattern of the state and society.

With considerable avenues of economic assertion and the inertia of representation, the urge for a potent political representation triggered this upheaval. The middle class also impacts the lower class when it raises a demand for the redistribution of power and resources. The decisive voters in a society are most of the times from the middle class.

Capitalism essentially transforms the basic fabric of society. It introduces new concepts of social engagements, innovations, competition and transformation. In Pakistan, post-9/11 events and the subsequent engagement with the West correspondingly guided an economic boom that revamped the sociopolitical fabric of society.

New sectors of foreign investments and new avenues of microeconomics flourished. The expansion of the industrial sector took place at a brisk pace and Pakistan became an attractive destination for the foreign investors. The economic upsurge of the country paved the way for a new middle class which was tantamount to civil society.

The democratic transition in Pakistan witnessed an exceptional change in social outlook and resulted in the popular awakening among the people. It eventually gave birth to a resilient civil society. The judiciary emerged as a vibrant functioning organ.

In the wake of the current wave of democracy, the existing pattern of rule underwent a change and transformation. A new trajectory of institutional evolution took place in Pakistan over the last decade. Two potent institutions that marked their influence in this period are the judiciary and the media.

Pakistan is a post-colonial state and societal orientation and statecraft in post-colonial polities often experience institutional fragility and imbalance. After the return of democracy to Pakistan in 2008, the judiciary, civil society and the media have established a new discourse of institutional vibrancy. Democracy, in a nutshell, is institutional governance with the doctrine of checks and balances.

Pakistan is a transitional democracy and one can assume that it may undertake the transition from procedural democracy to a substantive one.


The writer is a faculty member at
Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.