The paradox of democracy


We, ourselves, are the greatest impediment in democratic development

The paradox of democracy in Pakistan is that a large number of people support democracy but they also express disappointment because democracy has not solved their socio-economic problems. There are two extreme positions on democracy. On the one hand, it is argued that a worst type of democracy is better than good dictatorship. On the other hand the argument is why should I support democracy if it does not solve my problems; what has democracy done for me?

Both positions are wrong. A worst type of democracy becomes dictatorship by itself. Democracy does not offer solutions to the problems. It offers ways and means to address the problems through a cooperative and democratic interaction between the state institutions and the society.

If democratic political order does not address socio-economic issues and fails to contribute to improving the quality of life for the society as a whole, it is bound to cause alienation among the people, making them vulnerable to non-democratic solutions.

However, the search for the solutions is not the responsibility of the elected government only. It plays a principal role but the political parties, leaders and society as a whole have to work together for addressing socio-economic and political problems.

The government is to ensure good governance, the rule of law and work towards the betterment of the people. It must demonstrate to the people by deeds that it is working for solving their problems. It should spend more resources on education, health care, security of life and property and civic facilities.

The government operates within a political and social context that is influenced by other political parties and leaders, societal organisations and individuals. Their role is important for democracy. If there is a constant power struggle going on between the government and the opposition, the government’s performance is bound to suffer.

The spirit of democracy demands that different political parties and groups develop a broadly-based consensus on key political and social issues and they support each other for achieving the shared goals. For other matters they can continue competing with each other. If the government and the opposition do not tolerate each other, the future of democracy is threatened. A government under siege by the opposition is likely to use state resources on partisan consideration and tolerate corruption and mismanagement in governance.

This means that the nature and dynamics of domestic politics and especially the relations between the government and the opposition go a long way to ensuring good governance and helping the people to lead a secure and stable life.

Another major contributory factor for good governance and improvement of performance of democracy is the orientation of the people. The success of democracy depends on the political consciousness of the citizenry. In addition to demanding rights and asking the government to do something for their welfare, the citizens must recognise their responsibilities towards each other and the society as a whole. They must assign a priority to societal good over individual welfare.

The performance of democracy is also influenced by the way the state institutions interact with each other. They must show respect and restraint towards each other and recognise the primacy of the elected civilian institutions and leaders. If one state institution attempts to dominate all others, democracy is undermined.

In Pakistan, the crisis of democracy can be attributed to all the above factors. The performance of federal and provincial governments is abysmal. Internal violence and terrorism have caused serious problems in Balochistan and Sindh.

There are instances of cooperation between the government and the opposition during the last four years but they do not hesitate to pull each other down by all possible parliamentary and non-parliamentary means. The opposition gave deadlines from time to time for the removal of the PPP-led federal government. These predictions failed. However, the opposition kept strong pressure on the government for its removal. This conflict adversely reduced the capacity of the government to undertake its primary task towards citizens and society is reduced. The chief minister of the Punjab is known for his strident discourse towards President Asif Ali Zardari that caused strains in the Punjab-federal government relations. The new PPP leader in Punjab, Manzoor Wattoo, is expected to rally the PPP and its allies to counter the PML-N in the coming months.

The disposition of the ordinary people is not helpful to democracy. They are unable to adopt the democratic culture and want the rulers to dole them out all kinds of concessions. The sense of citizenship obligation is weak at the common person level and the ordinary people are conscious of their rights but conveniently ignore their duties and obligations towards others. Socio-cultural and religious intolerance is on the rise and a good number of people are influenced by radical tradition and orthodoxy in Islam. They do not want to use societal pressure and their vote to control the government and the opposition. They are waiting for somebody to come from the haven and solve their problems.

Democracy and representative governance is also threatened by judicial activism on the part of the superior judiciary. There is a subtle attempt on the part of the superior judiciary to expand its domain of authority at the expense of elected civilian leaders and institutions. Some of the court rulings and comments of the judges, when circulated in the media, have political implications. In fact, the superior judiciary has become the main arena of political contestation for political leaders who approach it for settling their political scores. The superior judiciary often entertains purely political matters. Its rulings have contributed to accentuating the crisis of legitimacy for the elected PPP governments at the federal level and in Balochistan and Sindh, giving enough fuel to the opposition to target them.

Democracy has now been functioning for some years. Its performance is poor but it has some achievements to its credit. Pakistan’s salvation lies in democracy. Its performance cannot improve only by the judgments of the superior courts and political sloganeering. The political leaders and ordinary people need to perform their role as citizens with responsibility and engage in societal engagement on self-help basis and use their political clout, especially their vote power, to seek solutions of their problems. Democracy has to be a partnership among the government, other political parties, societal groups and ordinary people. The success and failure of democracy will be attributed to the disposition of all the players in the game of democratic politics.

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.


  1. There is no paradox. There is no democracy because we, as a people, are not democratic by nature.

    • You statement is plain racist! It wasnt that long ago germany was building gas chambers in europe yet europe is by and large democratic these days! If they could do it, so should we!

  2. What the author is saying is all " motherhood talk ", ignoring the fact we have 80 – 90 % uneducated masses who are unaware of their rights & social responsibilities….

    The Chinese set of system should be adapted, where the majority of population is still interested mainly in stable welfare growth, not in changing a political system….." democracy " is a Western slogan for people who are educated enough to differentiate between right & wrong, good & bad without influence from feudalism. Sardari & tribal system…only then talk of introducing democratic system…look around the world…where we find minority is ruling over the majority….nowhere it has been confirmed that a govt is elected through a majority vote…? all hats to the media….

    • I agree with you partly. The chinese Govt .is run by highly educated tecnocrats who understand what their people need and go about doing it. We need similar people in Pakistan. You will be surprised at the number of enginers in the chinese cabinet.

  3. >> Its rulings have contributed to accentuating the crisis of legitimacy for the elected PPP governments at the federal level and in Balochistan and Sindh, giving enough fuel to the opposition to target them.

    Of course, the paragons of virtue who have been ruling are beyond any criticism. With supporter such as the author who are there to defend any of their actions and provide them with protection, they really need not worry. All the corruption, mis-governance, incompetence, all that is wrong with the country today, is the fault of these pesky judges who are not letting the rulers to rule as they please. Any check on their arbitrary feudal rule is a grave error and must be stopped at once. The transition of our progressives into "feudo-liberals" is a sad state of affairs. Instead of standing up for the people of Pakistan, they have taken it upon themselves to justify the waderas and jageer-dars and their rule; in the process putting down the judiciary is necessary and this article is a case in point.

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