March 23, 2008: Let Democracy Reign

Posted on March 23, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Politics, Society
23 Comments
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Adil Najam

Pakistan Flag DemocracyAddressing the Pakistan military parade today, Gen. Pervez Musharraf proclaimed that “you are seeing that a real democratic era has begun in Pakistan.” I say “Amen” to that. I remain confident as ever that Pakistan remains a democratic society trapped inside of an undemocratic state. I repeat and stand by what I had written a year ago today:

On this March 23rd, I am more confident than ever that not only can democracy work in Pakistan, it is the only thing that can. Whether our elites recognize it or not, the democratic spirit of the people can neither be tamed nor contained. Not any more.

If one were to go into details, my quibble would be that Pakistani society has always been democratic. It is the state that has been captured, again and again, by undemocratic forces – with or without elections. Elections, as so many have argued, are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy. Elections, in themselves, do not give you democracy; but it is impossible to have democracy without them. Democracy, ultimately, is the simple proposition that people have a right to and the ability to impact the decisions that will impact them. All else is the mechanics of how a society chooses to make this happen. The best way to safeguard democracy is to make democracy work.

The new government – under Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, at least in the short term – have (yet another) historic opportunity to make get the mechanics right. After years and years of undemocratic interferences and spurts and starts, we need – more than anything – to demonstrate not only that democracy will work in Pakistan, but that it will work for all Pakistanis. Once people truly see democracy working for them, they will themselves stand in the way of anyone trying to circumvent the process. Here, if anywhere, it is indeed true – as the Kevin Costner character said in the move Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Indeed, they will!

As those in politics are wont to, Gen. Musharraf also takes far too much credit for himself – indeed, he takes credit even for that which has happened despite him. For example, when he says “during the past eight years, not only we laid the foundation of a real democracy, but we also put Pakistan on the path of progress and prosperity.” But the least one can do is to give him the benefit to believe so, if so he wishes to believe. As long as he actually believes – and will make believable – his next claim: i.e., “whichever new government is formed, it will have my full support.”

The test of his mettle will be whether he can, will or really wants to give his “full support” to the next government. The test of the mettle of the next government will be whether they will want, need or accept his “full support.”

23 responses to “March 23, 2008: Let Democracy Reign”

  1. Qudoos says:

    Democracy is a complex thing. Maybe no nation is ever really democratic but some try harder than others. Ours has not tried too hard. You are correct that elections are only one small part of democracy but a necessary part. The key thing is if people see the institutions of society as working for their own interests or not. People seem to have lost faith in the army and have found a new faith in the judiciary. In the old days it was the opposite. But now Musharraf has made the credibility of the army sink low and the lawyers have helped raise the credibility of the judiciary. The lesson is that people can learn and forgive old mistakes (like of judges and politicians) and people will also punish even those (like Army) who they once supported.

  2. Qudoos says:

    I wonder how many people actually read what is actually written in the posts. from the comments above it looks like not many.

  3. Reza Kamran says:

    I would like to delve a little deeper into the subject of how the mechanics of democracy should work and how they have worked in Pakistan. Democracy is for the people, by the people, with the people and for all people. People are democracy and democracy is the will of the people. The mechanics of democracy involves the people. So, if the ruling class cannot agree on the rules of democracy and abide by it, then it fails. Also, for the mechanics to work, the rules cannot be changed in the middle of a game.

    And for mechanics to work, we need to get the optics right. For example, we cannot get into a situation where a sitting army general is left wondering what to do next when his plane is denied landing and running out of fuel. How does mechanics work in that situation? Can the people intervene to save democracy in such a situation? How can power balance be preserved? What can PM do to check power of President and vice versa? So, mechanics as we see are important for normal Government function. Otherwise, we get into awkward situations that spell doom of democracy and return to martial law without declaring as such.

    Hindsight they say is 20-20. But, we have placed a huge burden on Zardari and his party. Will they stand up and meet expectations is the big question. And democratic forces that have been unleashed we hope will keep them in check, Musharraf not withstanding.

  4. Pakistani says:

    This a thoughtprovoking post. You are right in saying:

    “Elections, as so many have argued, are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy. Elections, in themselves, do not give you democracy; but it is impossible to have democracy without them. Democracy, ultimately, is the simple proposition that people have a right to and the ability to impact the decisions that will impact them. All else is the mechanics of how a society chooses to make this happen. The best way to safeguard democracy is to make democracy work.”

    You are correct and you say it beautifully.

    I do not like the way some things in PPP have recently gone. But I am happy to have a civilian government. I am willing to give them a chance so that they may prove that they will do better. The only good to have come out of the Musharraf government is that it has reminded us again that even a bad elected government is better than a dictator. People have voted in these politicians (Zardari and Sharif) not because we forgot their past performance, but because we realize just how much worse the Musharraf government has been.

    Democracy zindabad.

  5. Anwar says:

    Future of democracy and that of Pakistan will depend on just how flexible the new governemnt will be with respect to Uncle Sam’s demands.
    Mush can still dismiss the government if pressured by US. Let us keep our fingers crossed and wish for the best.

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