Democracy Under Siege

Pakistan is a country whose political history appears to be the handiwork of few key figures, where the elite personalities apply their interpretation of state affairs.

Democracy Under Siege

Gustave Le Bon says, “All the civilizations we know have been created and directed by small intellectual aristocracies, never by people in the mass. The power of crowds is only to destroy.”

There are numerous reasons behind Pakistan's democratic system's fragility be it electoral rules, institutional considerations, or external forces that work to thwart accountable and responsive administration.  

Pakistan’s viceregal political system is a by-product of the British Raj, moreover, the broad political culture has strong roots in Islamic morality, egalitarianism, and the ethno-regional cultures. Many observers also seriously doubt whether Islamic principles can coexist with liberal ideas of democracy. 

Unfortunately, Jinnah's successors did not uphold his ideal of impartiality in West-Pakistan as they were afraid of inciting widespread dissent or offending the majority-ruled representative government with minority rights and free speech. 

President Ayub Khan’s indirect form of democracy, the “Basic Democracies System” was in reality designed to keep the layman out of the political process. Not by teaching them in ways that would enable them to participate in governmental matters. 

The civil-military relationship worsens the issue since the Pakistani government has historically yielded to the military, which seeks to gain public support by attacking democratic values and political institutions in an effort to render them ineffective and decaying. Three martial laws and the public anticipating one more has not helped the situation in any form. The recent coalition between the military and the PDM to stall general elections after the removal of Imran Khan from the office paints a very dark picture. 

The social contract between the government and the people is regularly broken by other disruptive civilian and military forces, despite the democratic election of the civilian administration which requires the latter to uphold the former's obligations to protect the former's security and human rights. This is because Pakistan's democratic institutions are intertwined with her frustrating and illiberal democratic ideals. 

Moreover, Pakistan’s inability to hold free and fair elections is also a major factor in the failing political system. There are not many instances of completely fair elections, either before or after the general elections of 1969. 

Political instability has increased as a result of the alleged involvement of the military and other state institutions in the rigging of the 2018 general elections, and to top it all off, the 2023 general elections have been delayed following dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9, 2023. 

With this choice, Prime Minister Imran Khan's turbulent administration came to an end. The dissolution gave the interim administration 90 days to convene general elections, but since a census takes months to complete, the sudden need for one has increased the likelihood that general elections will be postponed. 

Commentators have determined that the delay is due to PML-N's lack of confidence in its ability to win the elections without conducting an effective campaign to weaken Khan's support among the general public.

In addition to all of this, it is impossible to overlook the influence of feudal lords in Pakistani politics. Feudalism may have nearly vanished from this planet, yet it is still very much present in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh, Baluchistan, and Southern Punjab. Tenants who control thousands of acres of land have complete control over the electoral process. By making investments in and benefiting the local feudal lords, politicians conveniently "buy" votes. As 70% of Pakistanis reside in rural areas and are employed by feudal lords and "zamindars," who purposefully keep their workforce ignorant, the word of these feudal lords becomes the "law." Because of this, feudal lords now rank second only to religious parties in terms of influence.  

Summing up, the lack of including broad citizenry in the democratic process, giving the power to large land-holding families, elite bureaucracy, and over-ambitious military makes the soil inhospitable for free and fair elections, the obligations of hierarchal semi-feudal system and dynastical politics giving birth to corrupt political leaders are the major problem as to why democracy failed in Pakistan.