Committed to ‘sham’ democracyBy Dr Farzana Bari The Express Tribune (Aug 20, 2018)

The political history of Pakistan is marred by repeated military coups and a rich tradition of people sacrificing their lives for the restoration of democratic rule in the country. Ironically, successive civilian governments failed to deliver on public goods.

One of the main reasons for this failure is the classist nature of our ruling elite. Pakistan failed to dismantle local power configurations. Patron-client relationships especially in the context of governance failure remained intact. The dynastic nature of political parties, lack of voter’s education, poverty and the increasing role of money and violence in politics make the political arena exclusively a male prerogative.

Electoral processes keep on bringing the same old tribal, feudal and capitalist class in power. Within this larger context, the return of the time-tested political elite, having no commitment to people’s welfare in the 2018 election is no surprise.

Elections in Pakistan have been notoriously flawed and blemished with political engineering and violence. However, the level of brazen pre-election manipulation in election 2018 has been unprecedented.

Also the way ‘electables’ changed their political loyalties shamelessly before the election and the formulation of unnatural alliances of political forces in the post-election phase to form government shows that there is a death of ideology in Pakistani politics.

It is inquisitorial why people in Pakistan who have experienced only an illiberal, elite form of democracy remained committed to the democratic rule in the country? This is clearly evident from the voter turnout, consistently rising since 1988 — 35% in 1997 to 51.85% in 2018 election.

Democracy is the only system of governance that brings citizens to the centre of power politics. It establishes the principle of equality amongst citizens irrespective of their class, gender, ethnicity or religious background. Democracy invests the power of vote equally in poor and the marginalised sections of society.

Elections compel the arrogant political elite to reach out to the poor, beg for votes and make promises for their uplift. Continuity in the democratic system of governance has the potential to open the gateway of accountability of elected representatives. We have already witnessed people holding candidates accountable for their performance during their election campaigns. Voters’ aggressive questioning stunned ‘electables’. Many candidates could not digest public accountability and were seen leaving the crowd angrily. Continuity of the democratic system is critical. If politicians know that they had to face the electorates in the next election, they would be forced to improve their performance.

Transfer of power through election in the last two terms has already unleashed promising social dynamics in the political arena of the country. Political parties are forced to give representation to the marginalised sections of society to promote their pro-people image. Women, religious minorities, persons with disabilities and transgender communities also found some space in democracy to voice their issues and field their own candidates in the election.

The number of women who contested the election in 2018 is unprecedented in the electoral history of Pakistan. Out of 171 women candidates for the National Assembly, 105 were awarded tickets by the political parties. Similarly six candidates from religious minorities got elected and five transgender contested election.

Electoral democracy, even though flawed and failing to deliver, is the only system that has the potential to create space for the representation of all segments of society.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, dominated by the old political elite, has transformative claims. The only way to correct the dysfunctional politics of the elite is through building strong people’s resistance movements. Civil society must mobilise the social and political imagination of people to reclaim democracy. The democratisation of democracy and strong public accountability is the only way to ensure that the wealthy and powerful in the upcoming government do not use state power to serve their own vested interests but use it to improve governance and people’s wellbeing.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2018.

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