Destabilising the democratic system – Dr Manzur Ejaz

WASHINGTON DIARY: Destabilising the democratic system

Courtesy: WICHAAR, Daily Times

No one has any idea how the NRO is going to play out in the courts. But everyone knows that corruption is rampant in Pakistan and there are no effective means to check it. Ousting Zardari will neither fix the system nor validate the continuation of democracy in Pakistan.

The system of democracy is a little dirty game based half on calculations and half on blind faith. Most of the time the leaders, after winning the elections, are proven to be very different from what they appeared before going to the polls. Most of the election promises are quickly broken and the new leaders are perceived to be a replica of the old ones. And yet the voting public, despite collectively rejecting the policies of the serving elected leaders, waits for a new election to choose better leaders. No extra-constitutional force or activist judiciary tries to oust the sitting leaders. This is the way the system of democracy, as we know it, has worked and will continue working. However, the meaning of democracy is subverted in countries like Pakistan, where replacement of elected leaders is a favourite game.

President George W Bush was one of the most unpopular presidents in the US. He took the country into an unjustified and murderous Iraq war. Favouritism and nepotism flourished during his period. His favourite corporations milked trillions of dollars through the Iraq war and by manipulating the local markets. The Bush administration subverted many established laws of the country. His administration was known for spreading false information and keeping secrets to hide its misdoings. And yet the US population, military or judiciary did not try to oust him mid-term.

The US is not unique in this respect. All the established democracies go through this cycle. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was also very unpopular due to the Iraq war but he departed voluntarily. Our neighbour India’s elected leaders go through ups and downs but no one tries to shorten their tenure. However, in Pakistan the game is played quite differently. Sometimes it seems ridiculous.

During the 1990s Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif took turns serving as prime ministers. Both did not complete their terms. What would have been wrong with Bhutto and Sharif completing their terms? The total number of years they ruled would have been the same number, except that the democratic system would have been consolidated. The purpose of replacing one with the other was not to improve governance but to keep the democratic system unstable. When it was clear that both the PPP and the PML-N can win elections with the same personalities and same functionaries, why was the democratic system continuously subverted?

To understand this better, we can look at the current situation where President Asif Ali Zardari is being pressurised to resign. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is also being pushed around to quit. Whoever is playing this game either has no idea of the consequences or is determined to keep destabilising the democratic system in Pakistan. Zardari’s replacement will probably be treated the same way.

All of Zardari’s drawbacks now being highlighted were known to the constituency that elected him. Everyone knew that he and many of his close associates have been protected by the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). This means that a majority of the electorate, wrongly or rightly, discounted this factor. Now according to the established democratic principles, either he has to be allowed to complete his term or be impeached according to the provisions of the Constitution. Any other method would be a violation of the essential democratic rules.

Zardari was kept in jail for eight years without any verdict on the corruption charges for which he was booked. If he was bailed out in one case the government would register another case to keep him behind bars. Primarily, he was incarcerated as a political bargaining chip. The circumstances helped him and the same game of bargaining in which he was a mere chip eventually elevated him to the seat of the president. The whole game, starting with his incarceration to the presidency, is bizarre. The campaign of ousting him is also part of the same bizarre manipulation.

Like most Pakistanis I too believe that Zardari and his cohorts have used their positions to accumulate illegal money. They siphoned off billions of dollars to foreign banks. They may be doing the same right now. But the question is: how do they do it single-handedly? Many institutions must be involved in this loot and plunder. Why can the system not stop such thefts while they are happening?

Most Pakistanis who have become rich in the last three decades — about 10 percent of the population — have not accumulated wealth through industry, trade or other legal means. An overwhelming majority of the new rich has used illegal means to gain wealth. But the proportionately much higher number of PPP leaders covered by the NRO indicates that the establishment and their proxies had a vendetta against them. Otherwise, hordes of the rich would have been in that list.

No one has any idea how the NRO is going to play out in the courts. But everyone knows that corruption is rampant in Pakistan and there are no effective means to check it. Ousting Zardari will neither fix the system nor validate the continuation of democracy in Pakistan.

Zardari may have been the worst choice as a president but a constituency elected him with full knowledge of his shortcomings. The same constituency has the right to dislodge him according to the provisions of Pakistan’s Constitution. Any other method employed to dismiss him will mean the failure of the democratic system in Pakistan. And the architect of such an illegal ouster should be ready to suggest not just Zardari’s replacement but also an alternative to democracy.

The writer can be reached at


One thought on “Destabilising the democratic system – Dr Manzur Ejaz”

  1. So the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) beneficiaries list comes out. The media is happy that those persons who enjoyed taking advantage of the NRO have light casted upon them, while the government is trying to push forward the argument of how they have respected the Supreme Court’s judgment and have publicized the list. It seems to be a win-win situation for all parties. But is it really? Calls for the resignation of ministries and portfolios have echoed from all corners. How has this zero-sum game turned into a finger-pointing-name-calling battle?

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. Although IAOJ does not monitor comments posted to this site (and has no obligation to), it reserves the right to delete, edit, or move any material that it deems to be in violation of this rule.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s