NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 03

Quality of democracy in Pakistan

A country may have an elected political system but it may lack democratic institutionalization and this is a pertinent question to be asked regarding contemporary or “new” Pakistan of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The most important indicator of the quality of democracy in the country, specifically for Pakistan, could be the scale of social, political and economic stability. The fact of the matter is that all these three aspects of national life are closely interrelated. As far as the social stability in the country is concerned, it leaves a lot to be desired. While on the one hand, a full-scale class conflict is very much there, but generally it is directly unobservable or overlooked. The class struggle has got deepened because the ruling class and the moneyed elite have got richer without any true responsibility towards society at large in the shape of paying taxes and increasing the scale of industrial and business operations. In other words, the ruling and wealthy class in society has got richer, not because it has established more industries or businesses, but fundamentally because of evading taxes and gnawing upon the state and its resources mostly raised for the middle or professional class as well as working folks.

The state, with its democratic system, which ideally must be the custodian of the rights of the majority instead of the ruling miniscule minority, has almost failed to protect the interest of the majority of the members of society. Thus, against the social conditions backdrop, Pakistani democracy has failed significantly.

Politics stability as an indicator and yardstick of political stability is quite important. At this point, political stability in Pakistan leaves a lot to be desired. This can be realized from the fact that the government of PM Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is clinging to power with a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly. It is only because of the smaller parties, like the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) that the PTI government and PM Khan are afloat. The ruling coalition government has a lot of internal strife and trouble due to which the functionality of the government has been severely affected. Resultantly, the state has been unable to respond to the needs of the majority of people and look after their key interests.

Physical security is a key aspect of political stability. In contemporary Pakistan, no one can say to be fully secure. Rather, an innumerable number of people would argue that they are rather insecure. The situation in the largest city of the country, Karachi, followed by Lahore is a case in point. While the situation in Karachi is the worst, it is quite bad in Lahore and equally so in Faisalabad. On the other hand, in the rural areas of all the four provinces of the country, the security is a personal issue of all citizens. Moreover, one of the provinces of the country is facing active separatist insurgency that is Balochistan while the situation is not ideal in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, where groups, like the Pakhtun Tahaffuz Movement, we like or not, have created a lot of space for themselves. So, on the basis of these facts we could say that the quality of democracy in Pakistan is not good at all.

The level of institutional maturity and responsiveness is another key aspect of political stability. Keeping in view the situation within major government institutions it seems that the people running these institutions either lack capacity and competence or the sense of direction and belongingness to society and its people. This is really a very dangerous situation because when the majority of the people manning the institutions of the country become disenchanted they could become potentially destructive.

At the moment, the biggest problem of Pakistan is an economic meltdown, rather collapse. We have very strong quantitative indicators in this regard to drive the point home. Inflation is very much in the double digit. The incidence of poverty in the country is great and arguably more than half of the population is living below the poverty line. Unemployment is rampant in a country with its 63 percent population aged between 17 years to 45 years. This is despite the fact PM Khan and his economic advisors have not only got unprecedented loans from international financial institutions but also from other countries and imposed historically unmatched taxes on the people. So, if the country’s economy cannot be put on the right track after such stringent measures, then it seems that there are structural issues with the democratic system of the country.

The quality of democracy is the country can also be gauged from the fact that the people do not have much interest in the functioning of the state with an increasing number of people losing faith in the current government. When the PTI government came to power in August 2018, a lot of people pinned hopes on, at least, PM Khan that he would take some drastic measures to improve the lot of the common people. However, so far no concrete steps have been taken and seemingly there are no such measures in store. The fact of the matter is that PM Khan has still been experimenting with clobbering a right team and has been picking, choosing and firing advisers and ministers. It has been learnt from within the governmental circles in Islamabad that PM Khan is quite frustrated with the performance of his cabinet ministers, key advisers and top bureaucrats and he may soon make large-scale changes in this regard. While this is a positive indicator that a democratically-elected prime minister of the country is trying to fix things by making changes in his cabinet, but it is also quite obvious that the ministers and advisers, particularly the unelected ones whether Firdous Ashiq Awan, Zulfi Bukhari or Arbab Shehzad, have totally failed to deliver and are still very much there. Here, the question arises that even if these ministers and advisers are shown the door, are there any in line which could fix things? At least within the PTI one does not think there are many people who could be the panacea for the many ills afflicting the state and society.

In this situation, if another (snap) election is held the people may vote in a very small number as the level of faith in the democratic system has got seriously flinched. This does not mean that Pakistan does not need democracy, it really needs it critically. However, the parliamentary political system has not been strengthening democracy, rather hitting the very roots of democracy in the country.