Published (edited) in the Express Tribune on 6th of January, 2014
“Democracy is THE BEST REVENGE..”
This sentence has stuck to me ever since it was uttered – along with a loud and weird shriek – by an under construction leader by inheritance. It was said at a time when very recently this country had lost an actual leader; a rare breed indeed. A democratic process resulted in a democratic government taking over reins of this unfortunate country from a dictator. In the aftermath however, I wonder to this day as to who was at the receiving end of this revenge?
Based on the events and circumstances that followed it is only the common man, the masses who have suffered and still suffer the wrath of this revenge; democracy.
In writing on the flaws of democracy I am not necessarily writing in favor of dictatorship, although thanks to the severe polarization in our society this clarification is bound to fall on deaf ears.
What constitutes a democracy? What are the essentials of a democracy?
In my humble opinion the most significant characteristic has to be the excercise of will of the people; the masses or majority. Second; supremacy and sanctity of the Constitution. Then there are the notions of ‘rule of law’, ‘equality before law’, ‘separation of powers’ between the pillars of the state and protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, right to life, freedom of association etc.
Therefore I believe that a look into the prevalent status of these essentials may help to gauge the quality of our democracy.
Will of the people is ensured by the process of elections. Representatives of the people; MNAs and MPAs are elected to the legislative assemblies to represent public and popular will in these august houses. These representatives in turn elect leaders of their respective houses to represent their will in policy making.
So how far is will of the masses evident in policies of our democratically elected governments (2008 till date)? Do the masses want drones to continue to rip our sovereignty to shreds? Do the masses want that while they are continuously being asked to make sacrifices owing to economic contingencies, their representatives continue to be a burden on the national exchequer by way of huge foreign tour contingents, lavish residences and mammoth protocol convoys? Is it our will then that corrupt ministers and officials of the past governments be allowed to digest our tax money in peace?
The fact of the matter is that once elected our representatives do not cater to our will as much as they cater to the will of their leaders, which in effect results in exercise of the will of one instead of the will of majority. It is not a secret that in most main stream political parties decisions are taken by the leaders regardless of their members’ inclinations, which is more dictatorial than democratic.
An interesting fact is that in a multi party system like ours a party that eventually gets to form government does not necessarily bag majority votes but only the maximum votes. For instance in a National Assembly constituency if the returned candidate has bagged 80,000 votes, runner up has bagged 50,000 and the one in third place bagged 40,000 votes and around 20,000 were bagged by other candidates then it is obvious that a majority did not vote in favor of the returned candidate, but against him. Yet he will be the one representing the people of that area.
Then there is no constitutional system to check if a government still has the mandate to govern or if the representatives still command the confidence of the represented. In the previous government it was quite obvious that masses had lost faith in their government and realized their mistake of voting for a deceased leader. Nevertheless the government completed its 5 year tenure, to the detriment of the people.
One practice in particular – which makes a mockery of the so called popular will and puts a huge question mark on the democratic process of elections – is when election manifestos are devised and promises made by political parties during election campaigns, popular sentiment is given optimum adherence. Thus the mandate acquired in consequence of such campaign is by implication given to said manifesto. So as soon as a political party deviates from its promises it in effect loses the mandate, but there is no way to ensure that a political party abides by its manifesto.
Coming to the sanctity of the Constitution, the blatant violation – without consequence – of Article 140 A of the Constitution – mandatory establishment of local governments – throughout the tenure of the previous Federal and Provincial governments, and till date by three provinces, is a reflection on the sanctity of our Constitution.
Fundamental rights provided for in the supreme Constitution face prominent and frequent violations. Article 25 provides for the equality of all citizens yet obvious is the inequality prevalent in our society; although apparently similar, in practice our laws are quite different for the rich and the poor, for the haves and have nots. Where millions of have nots live exposed to threats to life and property with one police official to protect thousands, there are thousands of policemen protecting a few haves. Article 25 A makes it mandatory for the State to provide free and compulsory education to ALL children ages 5 to 16 yet there are millions deprived of said right.
Rule of, and equality before, law go hand in hand. In books and statutes our laws are the exact same for all citizens but in practice a thief who stole ten thousands would suffer the ultimate wrath of law but misappropriate billions and you are a free man. Pertinent to note – with a little disrespect to the Chief Justice – allegations against his person and the person of his son were not even deemed worthy of inquiring into when the same Chief Justice ensures intricate inquiry and trials of allegations against anyone from a peon to the Prime Minister.
‘Separation of powers’ has been reduced to being a mere notion. In practice all three pillars want in on the action and continuously try to establish their supremacy. The ever so active judiciary is continuously trying to run the affairs of the country justifying said activism by the ineptness of executive. Ministers to head executive departments are chosen from the legislature. Need more be said?
If a democracy is in effect the rule of several dictators then I would rather have just one. I may be inclined to believe that a bad democracy is better than a good dictatorship but that can only be true if the bad democracy is a democracy by any stretch of imagination and, more importantly, moving towards becoming a better, and eventually true democracy. The question is are we headed in the right direction?