Power struggles


The major weakness in democracy is that it can be undermined by using the principles of democracy and constitutionalism in violation of their spirit. The notions of tyranny of majority and stubbornness of the minority represent threats to democratic governance. The best example of how the democratic process can be used to destroy democracy is that of Adolf Hitler who first came to power in Germany in 1933 by winning elections but later established an oppressive and dictatorial political order.
Democracy cannot be secured by sloganeering alone. The holding of public meetings and rallies is a democratic right but these activities can threaten democracy if public rallies are used as a substitute to democratic institutions like the legislature or recognised conflict management procedures or an environment of commotion is created.
Democracy becomes credible and sustainable only if the key players practice its norms in letter and spirit and publicly abide by constitutionalism, rule of law and practice political accommodation and socio-cultural pluralism. The key constituent units of a democratic order are the institutions, processes and political entities that complete with each other for political power within a democratic-constitutional framework.
How the state institutions function or perform their assigned tasks is crucial to sustainability of democracy. Four principles of democracy govern the disposition of the state institution and their interaction with each other and the people. First, each institution should work within its constitutional domain. Second, these institutions must respect each other’s constitutional and legal position. Third, the state institutions inter-depend on each other for performance of their constitutional role and duties. Fourth, the primacy of the elected institutions has to be respected by the non-elected state institutions. The elected institutions are the parliament and the political executive. Non-elected institutions are the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the military.
Democracy will run into trouble if one institution attempts to overwhelm other state institutions. Similarly, if one state institution assumes that it can rectify the ills of all state institutions there is bound to be an institutional clash and democracy will falter.
At one stage in Pakistan’s history the military top brass thought that they could rectify the ills of all civilian institutions. They failed to improve the working of other institutions and adversely affected the prospects for democracy.
Now the provincial High Courts and the Supreme Court appear to have come to the conclusion that they would rectify all weaknesses of other state institutions, especially the federal government. This perception is so widespread in the society that individuals and political parties are using the courts as a forum to pursue their political fights. Most of administrative steps adopted by the federal government are being challenged in the courts.
Judicial activism is a recognised practice in democratic states but its excessive use can create institutional imbalance and make the task of governance difficult for the political executive. Some legal experts in Pakistan maintain that High Courts cannot exercise ‘suo motu’ power. The judges often make remarks in the course of proceedings of the cases with strong political orientations that have political implications in Pakistan’s polarised political context. This increases political controversies and some people drag the court into such controversies.
The political leadership has the most vital role in sustaining democracy. In Pakistan, every leader vows to protect and promote democracy but at the operational level they have endangered democracy. Their political disposition and conduct is inimical to participatory democracy.
The political parties and leaders are unable to rise above their narrow partisan interests and often equate their party or personal interest as the national interest. Nowadays, the PML(N) is bent on dislodging the federal government and removing President Zardari from office. As it does not have the required votes in the parliament to achieve these agendas it is using all possible extra-parliamentary means, including propaganda, street protest and courts, to build pressure on the federal government. On the other hand, the PPP is spending all its energy to hold on to power and it appears to be in conflict with the opposition and the SC which has become the opposition’s latest “battlefield”.
The brute struggle for power between the PML(N) and the PPP is taking place at a time when Pakistan is facing acute internal problem like a faltering economy, terrorism, and the strained relations with the US and Afghanistan. They hardly pay meaningful attention to these problems. The PPP often denies the acuteness of the problems and it is engaged in survival struggle in face of its own policy blunders and poor governance.
Democracy and constitutional rule are more insecure now than was the case in 2008. The civilian political leaders continue to be engaged in an incessant power struggle devoid of any moral and democratic restraint. The PML(N) has expanded the scope of power struggle by dragging the federal government as well as the army and the ISI in a political case before the SC. The PML(N) can make whatever argument it likes to justify its action, Pakistan’s experience suggests that when politicians attempt to drag the army establishment in their power games, they cannot control the direction of events.
The political leaders need to step back and review the situation dispassionately otherwise their political fights can hurt them most. Without delivering their promises to the people they are engaged in self-serving politics. In a free-for-all struggle for power that drags all state institutions and political entities into conflict, the sure victim are the people and democracy. If this state of affairs persists the initiative can shift to those who wield guns – with or without uniform.

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.


  1. The power struggle in Pakistan with loud noises and no concrete agenda plans is what is leading to its political demise. Strengthening the institutions is not on the agenda for the politicians or for the members of the judiciary, army, and civil service. Nations work towards institutionalizing the system. Pakistan works towards its de-institutionalization.
    It will be all over one day and the problem is that an ordinary person will end up paying the price.

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