Home Uncategorized Misconceptions about Democracy – No more a Myth

Misconceptions about Democracy – No more a Myth

Misconceptions about Democracy – No more a Myth
Illustration Courtesy: Berkeley Political Review

Pakistan, having undergone several Martial Laws, has had a turbulent relationship with democracy.

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of Democracy” – Abraham Lincoln

Aisha Saeed

Larry jay Diamond, an American political sociologist and leading contemporary scholar in the field of democracy studies, gave an overview of what in his opinion is democracy. He describes democracy as a system of government with four key elements: i) A system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; ii) Active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; iii) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and iv) A rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

Pakistan constitutionally is a democratic parliamentary republic state based on an elected form of governance. Democracy is not a myth but here the politicians made it complex for common people of the country – as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”

Since 1947, Pakistan has gone through more than three decades of martial law imposition. After the fourth martial law was imposed, all the political parties were to form a National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In 2000, in a meeting convened by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, it was decided that the NDA would jointly evolve a code of conduct for all the political parties; its basic purpose was to create/establish a strategic framework for Pakistan’s future political order. The basic draft of the charter of democracy (CoD) comprises these main elements: Respecting the sanctity of the ballot and the supremacy of parliament and other democratic institutions; ensuring mutual respect and tolerance; safeguarding the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary; protecting freedom of expression and an independent media, and evolving a consensus on issues of national importance. These elements were further elaborated in the original draft for a better understanding of all political parties joining the NDA and by signing it they were supposed to show their adherence to the charter.

At last, in 2006, the two prominent political parties finally came to an alliance against the martial regime by signing the CoD after making several amendments in the original draft of the charter. The updated draft of CoD comprises i) Constitutional amendments; ii) Code of conduct; iii) Free and fair elections and iv) Civil-Military relations. It was a comprehensive draft covering all corners. Likewise initial draft, not only it covers the basic citizens’ rights and managing law and order condition; but also it discussed 17th constitutional amendment repealed, the appointment of governors, appointment and removal of judges to the superior judiciary, abolition of National security council and the Defence cabinet committee will be headed by the prime minister, replacement of politically motivated NAB with an independent Accountability commission, freedom for the press and electronic media, peaceful relation with Afghanistan and India without any prejudice, settlement of Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN Resolutions and aspirations of the people of Jammu And Kashmir, improvement of governance to help common people in all areas/perspectives, safeguards to women and minorities rights, respect for the electoral mandate of representative governments, corruption-free system, fair elections, and in the last civil-military relations. Hence this CoD was signed as a foolproof strategic framework for Pakistan’s political order. However, the dream of CoD to strengthen democracy and ideal framework will never be ceased.

Pakistan has had a turbulent relationship with democracy – several military regimes, ratification of constitutions, several general elections; pre-election rigging, violence during the poll and post-election accusations on the so-called elected government. The self-dealing of the elected government and the opposition left no bit to create chaos throughout the term of elected members in the government and for the citizens including massive drift in expenditures. The role of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is quite similar to the Judiciary – silence and avoidance.

Those who spoke against dictatorship and support democracy are satisfied with this existing democracy or it should be rephrased as dictatorial democracy within prominent political parties and have nothing to do with tax-paying helpless citizens?

A democratic state provides its citizens and government, a safe, fair, and progressive political system, like, it was stated in the initial Draft of CoD, and the signed CoD left no space for any impending disorder. Pakistan has comprehensive laws in written forms and other bye-laws of each governing body of the state. But it is unfortunate; there is no such implementation of these laws anywhere and for anybody, especially when it comes to politicians and all the others who are holding reputable public offices and several from the renowned tribal systems. The majority of Pakistan’s population is unaware of their rights and even not interested to know these because they are so stuck making their both ends meet. Lawlessness is felt by the citizens and they are in a state of agony and dissatisfaction, list of their grief from the birth of the child till the journey to the grave is beyond imagination and unexplainable.

نہیں ہے نا امید اقبال اپنی کشتِ ویراں سے

ذرا نم ہو تو, یہ مٹی بہت زرخیز ہے ساقی

Socio-economic development is another neglected key element of democracy that includes safety to life, personal liberty, property, and livelihood, healthcare, and right to education. Nelson Mandela had described its importance in these words: “An educated, enlightened and informed population is one of the surest ways of promoting the health of a democracy.”

DemocracyIn Global Democracy Index 2020, Pakistan ranks 105th out of 167 countries as a hybrid regime. It is dismaying because this is linked to the attitudes of people towards democracy in terms of philosophical, political, and religious ideas that have been dominating in the country; which is a key determinant of the state of democracy in the country. People of Pakistan need to be more sensitized on the basis of income, education, gender, and civic education. In relation to this, there is the concept of Cognitive Mobilization (CM) theory/Index, which states that “in post-industrial societies, how citizen’s political participation is formed is affected by the fact that they are generally better educated and have increased access to information”. CM is based on these three hypotheses: i) Increased CM reduces the influence that political parties have on public opinion and of citizens’ identification with political parties. ii) Because they are better educated and more informed, young people should show a greater degree of CM. In general, this increased level of cognitive political mobilization makes them more politically sophisticated. iii) A generalized increase in CM and participation is caused by (a) incorporation of women, (b) higher level of education, and (c) changes in evaluative priorities toward individual self-expression, to the detriment of the needs for survival.

For that purpose so far, the Consolidating Democracy in Pakistan (CDIP), a foreign-funded program, and jointly implemented by DAI and other foreign organizations, catches my attention. CDIP program’s intended outcome was to contribute to the democratic system in which government institutions are more capable, parliament is more accountable, and the state is more responsive to citizens’ needs and aspirations. CDIP worked in four thematic areas: i) Election management and election oversight; ii) Improving the transparency of parliamentary processes; iii) Improving the political parties; and iv) Improved policy dialogue, political debate, and public discourse. Whereas DAI works on global development and it tackles fundamental social and economic development problems caused by inefficient markets, ineffective governance, and instability, having one of their office in Islamabad Pakistan.  Their work with the collaboration of the CDIP program was effective and result-oriented. However the state of democracy and people – politicians and non-political members’ attitude and earnestness toward the state’s affairs are questionable.

In addition to this, the World Value Survey (WVS) has conducted extensive and absolute research on peoples’ social and cultural similarities and disparities and their impact on issues of justice, moral principles, corruption, accountability and risk, migration, national security, and global governance. WVS wave-7 for 2017-2021 will be completed in December of this year. The WVS, analysis data on the basis of two major dimensions of cross-cultural variation in the world, i) Traditional values versus Secular-rational values ii) Survival values versus self-expression values.

The traditional values emphasize family bonding and the importance of religion. People who embraced traditional values reject divorce, abortion, suicide whereas secular-rational values have opposite preferences to traditional values. Second, Survival values emphasize economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance. Whereas self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in economic and political decision making. Without any doubt, Pakistan’s people are enriched with these positive values, we just need to realize Pakistan is not an alien state, it is our own state. Due to its existence, we are not slaves to anyone and due to its progressive existence we will never be anybody’s slave, do not detach ourselves from such a pious and blessed land for minor cultural and religious differences. Own it and adapt it.

I would like to conclude on the Former American President’s statement, “Democracy doesn’t work if we constantly demonize each other… for progress to happen. We have to listen to each other, see ourselves in each other, fight for our principles but also fight to find common grounds, no matter how elusive that seem.” – Barack Obama.


Aisha Saeed is a student of law and former Lecturer at University of Karachi