Pakistan – Death of democracy

By: Manzur Ejaz

It is usually worse to mutilate someone’s spirit than to kill them: the spiritless half-dead body keeps dragging itself waiting for the end game. This is exactly what the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government has done to democracy in Pakistan. A long list of charges levelled against the PPP government led by President Asif Ali Zardari – an anomaly in a parliamentarian democracy – is not as serious as the way he has crushed the essence of democracy. It is reminiscent of the revered Naxalite Punjabi poet, Pash, murdered by extremist Khalistani extremists:

Robbing of one’s wages is not the most dangerous

Thrashing by police is bad but not the most dangerous as well

To be victim of treachery and greed is not the most dangerous either

The most dangerous is to be filled by dead tranquillity

Death of our dreams is the most dangerous

The PPP-led government has not only fatally injured the dream of democracy but has filled the entire ruling class with this dead tranquillity. Most political analysts are dazed by the tenacity that President Zardari has shown in hanging on to his office and keeping his party in power. But few have acknowledged how he has achieved such an ‘otherwise admirable’ goal by maintaining unholy alliances with parties that have opposing agendas, resulting in a hard-to-fix proliferating anarchy. He also achieved his goal by not honouring publicly announced agreements with his opponents: his agreements with Mian Nawaz Sharif were the preface to what was going to follow. By saying that fulfilling political promises is not a religious dictate, Mr Zardari committed a cardinal sin because democracy means upholding socio-political contracts – written or otherwise.

The British do not have a written constitution and yet everyone, from the common citizen to the highest courts, understands the limits of the unwritten document. The royals know that they cannot be partisan and that parliament is going to dispense with the day-to-day running of the government. Similarly, the US president is elected by the entire country and, in-a-way, embodies the popular will of the people and yet he has to remain within his powers and those of the legislative making process of both houses of parliament and the judiciary. For example, President Obama put in place his healthcare bill with the consent of the Congress. Yet the US Supreme Court could have shot it down. Or if both houses of the US parliament had annulled the healthcare bill President Obama had no choice but to accept it.

Starting with violating agreements with his main political rival, Nawaz Sharif, President Asif Zardari, continued to tread on the spirit of democracy. To begin with, he violated the terms of his office by being a president and heading a political party at the same time. Furthermore, other than passing some attractive constitutional amendments, he has not done much except cobbling a ruling alliance that was conducive to making money for its components. Grafts, embezzlements, cronyism and rent seeking became hallmarks of the PPP government and its allies. If anyone objected to such a rotten state of affairs, the rhetoric response would be that it was a conspiracy against democracy or part of an ongoing persecution of the PPP. Conveniently what was ignored was that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto were murdered for doing something for people that certain parts of the ruling elites did not like while Mr Zardari has been coming under fire for doing nothing positive.

The current chaotic state of affairs and disillusionment with the democratic process has evolved over the past five years. When the Zardari-led PPP took power, competing institutions gave enough space to the democratic government to take control of all the affairs of the state, including foreign policy and security matters. Even the judiciary, whose reinstatement was opposed by Mr Zardari, gave him almost three years to get his act together and deliver good governance.

But when it became clear that the ruling coalition had no interest other than in making money, competing institutions like the military and the judiciary started to make a play for a place in state power. In other words, when it was clear to the judiciary and the military that the democratic setup was a sham they, wrongly or rightly, started undermining it: the judiciary started confronting Mr Zardari and his government – sometimes stretching the legal boundaries too far. Similarly, the military took away foreign policy and security policies from the government. By then Mr Zardari had become the least popular leader of Pakistan. His tenure reminds me of Mian Muhammad Bakhsh’s verse:

“Masjid dha de mandar dha de dha de ju kujh dhainda

Ik bandian da dil na dhanvin rab dilan vich rehnda”

(Demolish the mosque, the temple or anything else but don’t break a human heart because God lives in it)

And that is what Mr Zardari has done.

The writer is a senior journalist.Email:

Courtesy: The News

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