Pakistani democracy: A service to the people or a power struggle of the elite?
Pakistan has a democratic constitution with elections held after regular intervals. However, the quality of democracy is becoming poorer by the day, especially at the operational level.
Both the government and the opposition often disregard the primary values of democracy in pursuance of their political agendas. This leads to a democratic deficit and raises doubts in the minds of many people whether democracy — as it functions in Pakistan — offers the prospects of good governance and a solution for the socio-economic problems of the people.
The primary responsibility of any democratic government is an effective political management system. This involves enforcement of the rule of law, provision of basic needs of the people and their protection against socio-economic pressures and injustices.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) governments — at the federal level and in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces — is partly successful in pursuing this agenda, with the law and order situation showing credible signs of improvement.
These governments also plan to launch some public welfare and housing projects. Their performance has been weak when it comes to protecting the ordinary people against economic pressures because of the price hike of essential household commodities and utilities such as gas, electricity and other services.
Some concessions have been provided to the business and industrial communities in the supplementary budget released last January. However, the Federal Board of Revenue, in a desperate bid to meet the tax collection targets, is mounting pressure on the middle level businesses who view this as harassment.
Initially, the major opposition to the PTI government came from the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), especially since several of the PML-N’s top leaders had been held accountable by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The PML-N is engaged in a massive propaganda for describing the accountability process as nothing more than political victimization. Its parliamentarians and other leaders are confronting the PTI government inside and outside the parliament with a lengthy charge-sheet of failures and broken promises.
As the PPP and the PML-N join together in their propaganda against the PTI, the political temperature has gone up, invariably having a negative implication on the PTI’s efforts to pursue new policies for social and economic transformation.
Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi
As the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) top leadership came under NAB’s scrutiny, the PPP turned politically hostile toward the PTI’s federal government and the NAB, accusing both of political victimization under the cover of accountability. Like the PML-N, the PPP has also engaged in widespread propaganda against Imran Khan and his government, both inside and outside the National Assembly.
The common denominator of accountability by the NAB brought the PML-N and the PPP closer to each other. Its Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto met with Nawaz Sharif in a Lahore prison where they both vowed to oppose PTI’d policies. As the PPP and the PML-N join together in their propaganda against the PTI, the political temperature has gone up, invariably having a negative implication on the PTI’s efforts to pursue new policies for social and economic transformation.
This new development reversed the unity displayed by the opposition and the government soon after India’s airstrike inside Pakistani territory on February 26. The unity on display was short-lived because the PPP and the PML-N decided to take on the PTI in order to save their senior members from the accountability process.
The growing tensions between the PML-N and the PPP on the one hand and the PTI on the other has lowered the quality of political discourse. Some of the activists on both sides do not hesitate to use abusive idioms and indulge in personal attacks and counter charges. This is happening across the political landscape — inside and outside the parliament — and on talk-shows airing on private TV channels. The frequent use of indecent and rude language by the leadership has increased the use of extremely offensive jargons by young people in conflicting situations, too.
The current phase of Pakistani politics also shows that major political parties are motivated by their immediate needs rather than working on the basis of a long-term or a well-thought out political agenda.
Their friendships and rivalries are shaped by immediate exigencies. Until the PPP and the PML-N embarked on their current camaraderie, both had a large number of statements on record wherein they accused each other of political opportunism, mismanagement and corruption. All of that seems to be a thing of the past — forgotten by both the parties who feel threatened by the accountability process.
Today, politics appears to be a power struggle among the political elite. Democratic principles, institutions and processes have either become irrelevant or are relevant for a political party to the extent that they help them achieve their agenda vis-à-vis the political adversary.
Democracy underlines the need for serving the common people. However, if politics becomes a free-for-all struggle for power for the political elite, the democratic culture and the people’s interests will eventually become a secondary consideration.
– Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi is a Pakistan-based political analyst.