Experimenting with democracy

Which model of democracy are we following in Pakistan?

Experimenting with democracy


history of conflict has helped human societies evolve an understanding to develop a structure of government that enables a peaceful transition of power.

There are many instances of states and dynasties of the same faith fighting one another for control over resources. In peaceful times, one can’t even imagine some of the brutal horrors of war.

However, human learning about the formation of governments from anarchy to democracy has led to evolution of systems that make for less animosity in the power corridors.

Most people in Pakistan agree that democracy should be given a chance to flourish in the country so that governance benefits from collective wisdom of the masses.

Which model of democracy are we following in Pakistan? Parliamentary, according to the books, but in practice it is a hybrid model. There have been several experiments, a variety of interventions numerous attempts at reform. A detailed record of this is an interesting subject for a common man to understand the real face of Pakistani democracy.

Charles E Merriam defined democracy in 1941 as “a form of political association in which the general control and direction is determined by the bulk of the community in accordance with understandings and procedures providing for popular participation and consent. Its postulates are: 1) the essential dignity of man on a fraternal rather than a differential basis in a formula of liberty, justice and welfare; 2) the perfectibility of the man; 3) value of the consent; and 4) the value of decisions arrived at by common council rather than by violence and brutality.”

Intellectually, the second postulate, though not without a solid philosophical underpinning, determines the dark side of the democracy. However, it is not our focus today.

According to Conrad P Waligorski from the University of Kansas, “Democracy is one of the most used and abused ideas in the Twentieth Century. Since the end of the World War II, virtually everyone has claimed to be a democrat supporting, working toward, or preserving democracy. The denominations include: liberal democracy, constitutional democracy, participatory democracy, direct democracy, representative democracy, economic democracy, social democracy, elite democracy, majoritarian democracy, mass democracy, limited democracy and people’s democracy. There are military juntas claiming to restore democracy and theorists attempting to curb democracy in the name of preserving it. Sometimes, these terms overlap. Often, they are incompatible but there is still virtually universal agreement that democracy is good.”

After Independence certain families have remained in power irrespective of whether the government is formed by a dictator or a political party. These people and families are popularly known as ‘electables’.

Pakistan has had dictatorial rule for long periods following military coups. To legitimise their coup, dictators usually pursued a two-pronged strategy, seeking legal ratification and popular support. This opened the door for compromises, manipulation, exploitation and fabrications.

The need for legal endorsement led to constitutional amendments, including the Clause 58-2(b) that gave discretionary powers to the president to dissolve the National Assembly and the government.

The Objectives Resolution adopted by the constituent assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949, had stated, “sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the state of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust.”

The rule in the name of God (Allah) consistent with the doctrines and principles of a particular religion or religious community is called theocracy.

Prof Robert Audi from the University of Notre Dame suggests, “Much of the world is seeing conflict between people whose views permit basing political actions and lawmaking on religious convictions and people whose democratic values oppose this. Democratic societies are in principle open to free exercise of religion and, in constitution, they are characteristically pluralistic in both culture and religion. Religions are highly variable in their stance toward government, but many of the world’s most populous religions, including Christianity and Islam, are commonly taken to embody standards of conduct, such as certain prohibitions, that cannot be endorsed by democratic governments committed to preserving liberty for the religious and the nonreligious alike.”

In Pakistan, after the Independence certain families have remained in power irrespective of whether the government is formed by a dictator or a political party. These people and families are popularly known as ‘electables’.

The transfer of influence and power from the electables to their next generation is a sign of deep-rooted oligarchy in our society. Occasionally, we do witness representation of other classes of the society in the parliament but those who make it to the parliament typically end up joining the affluent class.

Pakistan is a federating union of provinces with greater autonomy after the 18th Amendment. One way or the other, the importance of citizen voters has survived over the years. Dictators have been constrained to ask voters through referendums to legitimise their rule. The voters have exercised their right to choose their representatives through elections under both civilian and military regimes.

The writer is an associate professor of management sciences and heads the Centre of Islamic Finance at COMSATS University (CUI), Lahore Campus.   He can be reached at   drabdussattar@cuilahore.edu.pk

Experimenting with democracy