Can democracy work?

Can democracy workIf an elected person or group of persons proves disappointing one can only blame oneself, as with marriage to a person of one’s own choosing.

In the case of marriage, both arranged marriages and marriages of choice appear to possess a similar profile of success (or failure), which makes it difficult to prefer one above the other. In fact, the best option is probably a blend of the two.

So why are people so much in favour of democracy to the exclusion of other options, at least here in Pakistan, where we have neither seen much of democracy and have only been disappointed when it (supposedly) existed? In fact the question should be whether what we so fondly call ‘democracy’ in Pakistan is democracy at all.

Democracy appears to have become a cornerstone of civilisation. Suggesting alternatives (‘the ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination,’ Voltaire) results in shock and recoil, as if you’d owned up to having lice. I postulate that this affection for democracy in Pakistan is related to the mysterious rolling of ‘Rs’ which has afflicted us all of a sudden.

Much of Pakistan’s short life was spent under military dictatorship; years of unmitigated disaster – think Zia and Musharraf more than Ayub. However, none of the civilian governments interspersed through these martial episodes of history can claim to have delivered better, their only difference a mandate of sorts to form a government. Given that many of those elected assumed office under dubious credentials, it begs the question how strong this mandate actually was. In fact, their performance based on self interest and toeing the party line rather than representation of their electorate only adds to the doubts surrounding this system of government.

Of course the inevitable intellectual argument is that non-democratic forms of government such as military coups are unacceptable ‘because they do not allow institutions to develop’. Ah, these institutions. Are any of them really alive much less well in Pakistan today?

One institution, of course, is the parliament including, as mentioned above, several members possessing dubious, even fake credentials. In 2010, the Election Commission issued summons against twenty parliamentarians in this connection, seven from the National Assembly, eleven from the Punjab and one each from the Sindh and Balochistan Assemblies.

We also possess a judiciary suffused with bias against the civilian government of the day. Expressing her disagreement with the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to take on the case and conduct an enquiry into the memo scandal, Asma Jahangir, counsel for Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, questioned whether the court was there to serve and protect the rights of the public or the establishment.

Pakistan’s over-endowed and scandal-ridden military establishment, addicted to being in government, is unwilling to relinquish foreign policy and security related decision-making into civilian hands where they belong. Hierarchically, it considers itself above the civilian government and the president of the country, both of whom are in fact charged with the command and upkeep of the armed forces under the constitution of Pakistan.

A top heavy Steel Mill, PIA and Pakistan Railways, riddled with corruption, nepotism and cronyism, a similarly afflicted bureaucracy, power providers on the rocks, and the tale of the aforementioned institutions not allowed to develop is told.Democracy, as Plato found, ‘presupposes a competent citizenry.’ It is also pertinent what Albert Einstein said, that ‘an empty stomach is not a good political advisor.’ The question is therefore: do we have a competent citizenry in Pakistan or/and one with a full stomach? And if not, can democracy work here?

We know literacy, education and economic figures for Pakistan. There is moreover no civic or political education in the schools of this country which would enable what educated individuals there are to make informed decisions about the leaders they elect. Neither Mr Zardari’s emotional references to martyred family members ad nauseam, or Mr Nawaz Sharif’s carping on improper removal from office, nor indeed Imran Khan’s hunky good looks – none of these are valid grounds for election.

True we have only ourselves to blame if our choices turn out to be poor, and in Pakistan democracy’s other raison d’êtree does not work either where we can replace our choices, or force our elected representatives to do their job by threatening them with loss of office. Once secure in office these elected individuals appear to develop an uncanny ability to remain there, as well as the thickest of skins, preventing the penetration and efficacy of any external pressures whatsoever.So once again: why are people so much in favour of democracy, at least here in Pakistan? Is it because there are no alternatives? But wait now, are we speaking here of democracy, or of Imran Khan?