By Farooq Sulehria
That Pakistan’s fragile democratic process has withstood yet another deluge unleashed in the form of Tahirul Qadri testifies to the maturity our political leadership has mercifully attained. More importantly, such was the mass pressure that even Imran Khan felt isolated and avoided joining hands with Qadri.
One hopes the people of Pakistan, for the first time in the country’s history, get the chance to vote out a government. Let all the messiahs, promising ‘change’ test their popularity in the forthcoming elections.
It is highly likely that the present setup will continue with some adjustments and the next government will fail to deliver anything tangible. But still I would not join middle-class fascists yearning for ‘change’ by ‘all means necessary.’ Democracy, even in its distorted bourgeois form, is a working-class gain.
It is true that the political parties have become family fiefdoms and the ruling politicians want to reduce democracy to polling booths. However, either to win reforms within the system or overturn the system altogether, the working classes stand a better chance in a democracy than under tyranny. A change takes place when workers, peasants, women, students, and marginalised communities organise themselves. It is not introduced by any well-intentioned messiah.
Unless workers unionise and unions build their own party, change will remain elusive at both micro and macro levels. This is a lesson we learn both from the history of our own country and of the rest of the world.
While the working classes won social safety nets only when social democratic governments were formed amid growing popularity of Marxists and anarchists, recent developments in Latin America offer lessons more relevant in the Pakistani context.
On the one hand, workers-friendly governments have come to power and introduced poor-friendly policies in recent years. On the other hand, strengthening of democratic processes has helped check US intervention.
In Ecuador in September 2010, for instance, the masses took to the streets in their millions to abort a coup attempt against Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. In Venezuela, in 2002, similar mass action averted a coup against President Hugo Chavez. President Correa was elected in 2006, promising to lead a ‘citizens’ revolution’ to eradicate poverty, deepen grassroots democracy and build a ‘socialism of the 21st century.’
Allied with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Bolivian president Evo Morales, President Correa doubled the spending on healthcare, increased social spending and, most bravely, defaulted on $3.2 billion in foreign loans. In a bolder initiative, he removed a US military base from the Ecuadorian town of Manta in 2009. Meantime, Hugo and Morales have nationalised sections of the economy, notably oil and gas, besides implementing poor-friendly measures.
One may also cite less radical but relatively progressive governments formed in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. All such governments were preceded by corrupt oligarchies. Neighbouring India is an example close to home.
“Pakistan’s own bitter experience…shows that deviation from democratic norms has always brought chaos to the country and misery to the people,” wrote the late Mazhar Ali Khan twenty years ago when democracy was being ambushed. From a war-on-terror gone awry to a crop of politicians our middle classes hate these days, all ills plaguing the country presently germinated under the military regimes.
Democracy is not a smooth affair. However, the solution is not dictatorship. The problem of democracy can only be solved with more democracy. The middle-class fascists better learn to live with democracy. Peasants, workers, the urban poor and marginalised communities constitute a majority in this country. They lack neither agency nor are they idiots. From their past experiences, they know that unelected messiahs bring trouble. Let them decide.
Farooq Sulehria is currently pursuing his media studies. Previously, he has worked with Stockholm-based Weekly Internationalen. In Pakistan, he has worked with The Nation, The Frontier Post, The News, and the Pakistan. He has MA in Mass Communication from the University of Punjab, Lahore. He also contributes for Znet and various left publications internationally.