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A sham democracy?

Democracy by definition is a system of government in which laws, policies, leadership and major undertakings of a state or other polity are directly or indirectly decided by the people. In short, “democracy is by the people and for the people.” According to Urban Dictionary, “A sham democracy is any political system that claims to be democratic without being democratic.” But Pakistan is a democracy with a very vibrant opposition press. At this critical juncture of our history; however, affairs of the state appear to be slipping out of control as a consequence of filing of vote of no-confidence motion by the joint opposition in the parliament against the sitting Prime Minister and the speaker of the National Assembly. The question is: where does the interest of the nation and its people figure out? Prima facie; it’s nowhere.

Engaged in the process is the political leadership, legislature, judiciary, establishment, media and the multiple vested interests.

Political leaders, on both side of the fence, are fiercely battling for power, legislators are toeing the party lines with some jumping across the aisle in return for financial benefits and promises of better prospects. The media is drumming a non-stop deafening beat with no rhythm and no soothing note to calm the crisis, the judiciary is perplexed and hesitant to indulge in political dispute resolution — a role reserved for the parliamentarians for in-house settlement, whereas, the establishment is resisting being sucked into the domain of the elected custodians of public welfare and interest.

Ironically, the elected custodians, who are supposed to safeguard and protect the interest of the nation and its people, endlessly claim and blatantly harp, that their struggle is for the nation and its people. Ground realities, however, are contrary to their claims. It is neither in national nor public interest.

Since the start of the current political crisis early this year, inflation has shot from 11 to 12.5 percent and the rupee has lost its value against dollar by 6.2 percent. More or less the same holds true for utility tariff and petrol prices. Dangerously enough, the foreign exchange reserves are depleting fast, giving rise to the fear that the country may not be able to meet its commitments of loan repayments and may head for a default and/or succumb to extremely harsh dictates of the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

Time and again, the elected representatives have failed the nation and its people. One reason for this blatant indifference is the lack of meaningful accountability by the constituents of their representatives elected to protect and serve their interests in the assemblies through legislation and delivery on ground.

The forum available to the constituents to collectively and timely monitor and censure the conduct of their representatives is limited. They only get to exercise their right at the time of the general election every five years or so. Here emotions, vested interests and promise of a better tomorrow sway their hearts and minds.

Successful democracies have evolved in countries where civil societies and constituents played a stronger role in mobilising and channeling public opinion and their voice to frame laws in public interest and conduct timely accountability of legislators.

For example, the Swiss law permits amendment in their constitution, through an act of parliament if a motion is jointly tabled through signatures of 100,000 of its citizens. Many other democracies in the West faithfully follow the will of the people in similar ways.

One of the major gaps in Pakistan is that its civil society has not evolved to the extent where public opinion could influence the conduct of the parliament, provincial legislatures and political leadership to deliver in public interest as against self-interest.

In the prevailing scenario, the public at large is tutored by politicians through public meetings, notably, at the time of elections. The people under the influence of aroused emotions and ignorance of realities largely get swayed to subscribe to the mindset, will and dictates of their leaders. Unless this shackle of subservience and ignorance is broken, the country will continue to be governed through sham democracy — “For the political leadership, for the legislators and for the vested interest.”

Farhat Ali, "A sham democracy?," Business recorder. 2022-04-09.
Keywords: Political sciences , Political system , Political leadership , National Assembly , Society , Political , Democracy , Establishment , Pakistan , IMF

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