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. Viqar Minai says:

    ***It makes me very disappointed when people from our

  2. libertarian says:

    Daktar: I guess there are libertarians and libertarians

    Yes, apparently there are (made me look!) :-) . I subscribe to the minarchist view rather than the more aggressive (radical?) anarcho-capitalist view. The short story is that the latter attempts to displace the state completely – “law enforcement, courts, national defense … and taxation”. That’s essentially throwing out the baby with the bath water. Like all extreme ideologies – likely has a low probability of success.

    where collective decision is necessary, those individual liberties can be simply aggregated

    Aggregated subject to not trampling “inalienable rights and liberties” (the non-aggression axiom) of any citizen. I’m interested in why you think majoritarianism differs from democracy.

  3. Daktar says:

    Interesting comment by “libertarian.”

    I always thought libertarians worried about the “tyranny of the minority” and favored pure majoritarianism, since it is individual liberties that are paramount and where collective decision is necessary, those individual liberties can be simply aggregated. I guess there are libertarians and libertarians :-)

    (BTW, my own sense is that there is a huge difference between majoritarianism and democracy).

  4. libertarian says:

    Adil, there is no Democracy on planet earth barring a couple of minor examples (New England town hall meetings for example). All major nation-states are Republics – including Pakistan. Democratically elected governments – yes. Democracy – definitely not. There’s a big difference. Democracy is tyranny by the majority – anything can be legislated as long as (usually) a simple majority exists. Republics have explicit protections for minorities – the ultimate minority being the individual. Hence a Senate with equal representation for geographical areas and an assembly with population-based representation. May sound like quibbling, but it seems like a big difference to this reader.

  5. Eidee Man says:

    “And even now, after 60 years of partition – yes I am still not willing to call it independence – the most inhuman form of elitism in the cruel shape of feudalism still thrives in Pakistan. It barely lived to see the dawn of independence in India.”

    I find it amusing that you used the word “elitist” to describe the zamindaars of Pakistan. Is it not, in fact, yourself who holds the elitist attitude that Pakistan has never been a democratic society?

    It makes me very disappointed when people from our “educated” and expatriate classes suggest that the reason Pakistan has a long way to go in terms of democracy is that it’s people, most of whom are poor and illiterate, are somehow too crass and dumb to know what’s good for them.

    There is a similar class-divide and elitist attitude here in the U.S. A lot of otherwise decent, educated people actually seem to think that some people actually CHOOSE to live in poor urban communities surrounded by drugs and violence. They think that the reason “these people” are poor is because they are too lazy to work.

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