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Essence of democracy

By Shabbir Ahmad Khan


Published: December 10, 2012

The writer is a PhD Scholar at West Virginia University in the US


Democracy is a highly complex form of political system. It is not only a concept; its a culture, a
code and a way of life. Despite infinite writings on democracy, no one could ever explain this
concept better than the English philosopher John Locke. In his Second Treatise on Government
in 1690, he presents his famous consent theory, the essence of a perfect democracy. According
to Locke, the whole power of the community is in the hands of the elected representatives of
the people. In other words, government should be based on peoples consent. Any political
system, where people are kept away from the electoral process, may be anything but democracy.
The will of the people is the jugular vein or linchpin of a democratic society.
Due to historical, cultural, socio-economic and religious reasons, many people in Pakistan do not
truly believe in democracy. These anti-democrats are in all segments of society, mostly in
political parties. In the past, the Muslim League has had the worst track record supporting anti-

democratic forces. Of course, the military junta played havoc with the democratic process. What
did the politicians do to consolidate democracy whenever they got the opportunity? They did
nothing because they had no love for true democracy. But their lust for power and position was
higher than the Himalayas. Politicians in Pakistan have miserably failed to give the people the
ownership of democracy. This is why the people of Pakistan distribute sweets and celebrate the
demise of so-called democratic governments. Our political system is mostly based on nondemocratic features and does not truly reflect the aspirations of the people.
No single executive in Pakistan is directly elected by the people, including the president, prime
minister, chief ministers and governors. The upper house, the Senate, is not a directly elected
body. All members who come from the Fata area and are either in the Senate or in the National
Assembly are also not true representatives. In all legislatures in the country, the seats reserved
for women, minorities and technocrats are filled by mere nominations and not through elections.
Consequently, more than 200 out of a total of 1,070 seats are non-elected, which constitute over
20 per cent of members of the legislative bodies. This leads to graft and corruption in the
legislatures since many politicians purchase seats in millions of rupees not only for themselves
but for their wives, sons, daughters, siblings and relatives. This practice is the worst form of
political patronage and has nothing to do with democracy. The induction of non-elected members
is highly non-democratic, discriminatory and against the spirit of equal rights, equal treatment
for all and rule of law. Who do Kashmala Tariq, Sharmila Farooqi and Marvi Memon, etc
represent? Have they ever contested an election? Democracy is about electoral contest not beauty
contest.
The American democracy is based on a two-tier electoral system where the registered voters of a
party first elect their nominees/candidates in primary elections for all types of positions from
president to mayor. At the second level of the general election stage, people elect their
representatives from those nominees of both parties. In Pakistan, candidates are imposed by the
party leadership on the people to vote. None of them is the peoples choice as a candidate.
Nevertheless, I am not here to talk about fair and free elections. I only want to give people a
chance to choose their leaders both as nominees/candidates and contestants. The caretaker
governments of the future will have no mandate from the people. For three months, not a single
elected member will be running the seventh nuclear power of the world. There is only one
example in our history when a directly elected member was the executive head of a government:
the Union Council Nazim under General (retd) Pervez Musharrafs Local Government system.
Democracy is a very broad concept and Im unable to define it. However, I quote the US
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who will long be remembered for his statement that he
could not define obscenity, but added I know it when I see it. Hence, I cannot define
democracy but I know it when I see it and I do not see it in Pakistan. Pardon me for this
analogy.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2012