Experimenting with democracy | Political economics

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The history of conflict has helped human societies develop an understanding to develop a structure of government that allows for a peaceful transition of power.

There are many examples of states and dynasties of the same religion fighting for control of resources. In times of peace, one cannot even imagine some of the brutal horrors of war.

However, human learning about forming governments from anarchy to democracy has led to the evolution of systems that reduce animosity in the corridors of power.

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

What model of democracy do we follow in Pakistan? Parliamentary, according to the books, but in practice it is a hybrid model. There have been several experiments, a variety of interventions, many attempts at reform. A detailed account of this is an interesting subject for an ordinary man to understand the true face of Pakistani democracy.

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

Intellectually, the second postulate, not devoid of a solid philosophical foundation, determines the dark side of democracy. However, that is not our goal today.

According to Conrad P Waligorski of the University of Kansas, “Democracy is one of the most used and abused ideas of the 20th century. Since the end of World War II, virtually everyone has claimed to be a Democrat supporting, working for, or preserving democracy. Designations include: liberal democracy, constitutional democracy, participatory democracy, direct democracy, representative democracy, economic democracy, social democracy, elite democracy, majoritarian democracy, mass democracy, limited democracy and popular democracy. There are military juntas who claim to restore democracy and theoreticians who try to curb democracy in the name of preserving it. Sometimes these terms overlap. Often they are incompatible, but there is still an almost universal consensus that democracy is good.

After independence, some families remained in power whether the government was formed by a dictator or a political party. These individuals and families are commonly referred to as “electables”.

Pakistan had a dictatorial regime for long periods following military coups. To legitimize their coup, dictators typically pursued a two-pronged strategy, seeking legal ratification and popular support. This opened the door to compromise, manipulation, exploitation and fabrication.

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

The Goals Resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949 stated that “Sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority he has delegated to the State of Pakistan, through his people, to be exercised within the limits prescribed by him is a sacred mission.

Rule in the name of God (Allah) in accordance with the doctrines and tenets of a particular religion or religious community is called theocracy.

Professor Robert Audi of the University of Notre Dame suggests: “Much of the world sees conflict between people whose opinions make it possible to base political actions and legislation on religious convictions and people whose democratic values oppose it. Democratic societies are in principle open to the free exercise of religion, and in their constitution they are typically pluralistic both culturally and religiously. Religions vary widely in their stance toward government, but many of the world’s most populous religions, including Christianity and Islam, are generally considered to embody standards of conduct, such as certain prohibitions, that cannot be endorsed by democratic governments committed to preserving freedom for religious and non-religious.

In Pakistan, after independence, some families remained in power, whether the government was formed by a dictator or a political party. These individuals and families are commonly referred to as “electables”.

The transfer of influence and power from elected officials to their next generation is a sign of deeply rooted oligarchy in our society. Sometimes we see representation of other classes of society in parliament, but those who make it to parliament usually end up joining the wealthy class.

Pakistan is a union of provinces with greater autonomy after the 18and Amendment. Somehow, the importance of citizen voters has survived over the years. Dictators were forced to ask voters by referendum to legitimize their power. Voters have exercised their right to choose their representatives through elections under both civilian and military regimes.


The author is an Associate Professor of Management Science and Head of Center for Islamic Finance at COMSATS University (CUI), Lahore Campus. He can be reached at [email protected]


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