FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 8

Pakistan democracy dilemma

As the nation stands on the verge of upcoming general elections, the ‘Quality of Democracy’ report for 2023 from the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) serves as a timely reminder of the considerable challenges we confront in our pursuit of evolving into a genuinely representative and functional democracy.

According to the report, “democracy in Pakistan is entrenched in a familiar and deepening crisis,” with state institutions falling short of their constitutional responsibilities. The historical lack of civilian supremacy and the recurrent interference of non-democratic forces in destabilizing elected governments are well-documented issues in discussions about the shortcomings of our governance system. Nevertheless, it is crucial to acknowledge the inclination of our political class to engage in trivial power struggles rather than addressing critical challenges in the economic and security domains. PILDAT highlights that “political parties…continuously grapple with a crisis of confidence, where their political fate hinges not on popularity or the coherence of their governance policies but on adeptly managing the expectations of influential state institutions.”

The overarching problem facing Pakistani democracy remains the inability of the political class to agree on “an unbreakable set of rules” for governing the country and the failure of state institutions to adhere strictly to their constitutional roles. This perspective gains further support when examining the performance of both houses of Parliament and provincial assemblies in 2023. There seems to be little evidence of legislators having a vision for the country; instead, they are immersed in partisan blame games, mocking opponents, and being easily manipulated by different governments and the establishment, as noted by PILDAT.

Despite recent efforts by the Supreme Court to expedite general elections, doubts linger about their fairness. PILDAT criticizes the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), pointing out that it allowed “clearly partisan caretaker ministers” to remain in office. The ECP’s decision to revoke the electoral symbol of the PTI, coupled with allegations of double standards, raises concerns about the impartiality of the electoral process. The state of media freedom remains a concern, marked by censorship, intimidation of journalists, and a “culture of buying media voices in support of or against a political party.” A genuinely free media is essential for the establishment of a democratic culture that can hold those in power accountable.

It is crucial to recognize that genuine democracy goes beyond electoral processes. Transparent elections and a peaceful transfer of power are vital, but effective governance that empowers people and establishes a fair and just social order is equally important. In this regard, Pakistan has a considerable distance to cover. While optimism may be scarce, the hope remains that the upcoming elections will herald positive change. Staying on the current trajectory is a luxury the nation can ill-afford.

The analysis of the situation in Pakistan, as indicated by the report reveals a complex set of challenges and concerns. As the country approaches general elections, several key issues emerge, reflecting on the state of democracy and governance. Firstly, the report underscores a deepening crisis within Pakistan’s democratic framework, noting that the country’s democratic institutions are trapped in a familiar and worsening pattern. The failure of state institutions to fulfill their constitutional duties to the expected standard is highlighted, emphasizing a critical deficiency in the functioning of the democratic machinery.

Historical factors, such as the recurrent interference of non-democratic forces and the lack of civilian supremacy, are acknowledged as contributing to the governance system’s ills. This context serves as a reminder of the persistent challenges that hinder the evolution of a robust and truly representative democracy in the country.

Another significant concern highlighted in the analysis is the tendency of the political class to engage in petty power struggles rather than addressing substantial economic and security challenges. PILDAT points out that political parties face a crisis of confidence, with their political fate seemingly dependent on navigating the expectations of powerful state institutions rather than on the merits of their governance policies.

The overarching issue identified is the failure to establish an unambiguous set of rules for governing the country, coupled with the inability of state institutions to adhere strictly to their constitutional roles. This structural weakness poses a formidable obstacle to the development of a stable and effective democratic system. Examining the performance of Parliament and provincial assemblies in 2023, the analysis reveals a lack of a visionary approach among legislators. Instead, lawmakers appear entangled in partisan political blame games, which further exacerbates the challenges facing the democratic process.

The electoral landscape also raises concerns, with doubts lingering about the fairness of the upcoming general elections. Criticisms directed at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), particularly its handling of caretaker ministers and perceived double standards, highlight potential threats to the credibility and impartiality of the electoral process.

Media freedom emerges as a critical factor, with censorship, intimidation of journalists, and a culture of media manipulation influencing political narratives. The absence of a genuinely free media is identified as a barrier to fostering a democratic culture that holds those in power accountable.

In conclusion, the analysis paints a complex picture of the state of democracy in Pakistan, pointing to a convergence of historical challenges, structural deficiencies, and contemporary issues affecting governance. The upcoming elections are seen as a crucial juncture, with the hope that they might bring about positive change. However, the analysis underscores that staying on the current trajectory could jeopardize the nation’s democratic aspirations. Addressing these challenges will require concerted efforts to strengthen institutions, uphold democratic principles, and foster a culture of transparency and accountability.