Civilian threats to democracy | Pakistan Today

Civilian threats to democracy

As serious as non-civilian ones

The efforts to delay the elections continue. Having failed to achieve his objective thorough the long march, the sit-in and negotiations with the federal government, Dr Tahirul Qadri approached the Supreme Court for the dissolution of the Election Commission of Pakistan on the plea that its formation was not done strictly according to the wording of the provisions of the constitution. He has claimed that he did not want the elections to be postponed but the adoption of the literalist approach towards the arrangements for the elections so close to the election is bound to have disruptive implications.

This effort has to be viewed against the backdrop of the political strides made by Dr Tahirul Qadri since his return to Pakistan. While the country was moving towards the elections, he raised the slogan of saving the state rather than elections and embarked on a self-ascribed mission of rectifying the deficiencies in the electoral process and making sure that only “pious” and “angle-like” people contested the elections. He expanded the agenda when he and his religious followers reached Islamabad by demanding the removal of the federal government. In fact he began to call the sitting prime minister as former prime minister.

Dr Qadri expected other political parties and societal groups to join him because of his populist demands, high-flying oratory and repeated invocation of Islamic history. This would, he expected, cause the collapse of the federal government whose performance was considered poor. The other calculation was that the military or the superior judiciary or both would remove the government when his determined followers stayed in Islamabad for some days. That is why he claimed that half of his work was done when the Supreme Court issued the directive for the arrest of the prime minister.

His calculations failed to materialise. Imran Khan who shared his agenda did not join. All opposition parties held a meeting in Lahore at the initiative of the PML-N and rejected Qadri’s agenda. They demanded the elections to be held on time. The opposition resolution took the wind out of the sails of Qadri who agreed the federal government’s formula to end his sit-in.

His hope for seeking electoral changes to his satisfaction through a regular interaction with the federal government did not materialise because his meeting in Lahore with the representatives of the federal government proved inconclusive.

He changed his strategy and approached the Supreme Court for seeking the dissolution of the Election Commission so that his unannounced agenda of postponing the elections was realised.

It is ironic that when the elections are so close a number of people and groups are raising one issue after another to get the democratic process derailed. Some of them, like Qadri, are playing these games by adopting literalist and textbook approach to democracy, that is, to first create the ideal and textbook condition of democracy where the people have puritanical and moralist disposition and lifestyle and then the elections should be held. This is what can be described as undermining democracy in the name of democracy which is a flawed view of democracy.

Democracy is a process, not an end-product. You improve its quality and substance by practicing it rather than creating an ideal human being and puritanical democratic conditions before introducing democratic processes and institutions. In other words, you create democratic person and democratic processes like a “test-tube” baby.

If we look at the experience of the countries with functioning democratic political system, they did not create an ideal democratic person first who was also noble and honest. The democratic system as well as those running it improved over time by practising democracy.

Qadri symbolises all those who are opposed to holding elections either for religious or ideological reasons or have a misplaced notion of some saviour appearing on the scene for cleansing the society of all ills. There are those in the security and bureaucratic establishment or close to them who are averse to noisy and disorderly politics and they want an authoritarian and disciplined political system or a religious state.

Those actively engaged in a campaign against the current electoral system and democracy have very little, if any, chance of getting elected in the elections. Some of them may not contest elections but they want to rectify the electoral system.

The opposition to elections is also a legacy of the periodic efforts to dislodge the two major political parties i.e., the PPP and the PML-N, from their central role in the political process. This is not possible through the electoral process. Therefore, those desiring to exclude or weaken them are now looking for some technical and legal basis to get rid of the domineering position of the PPP and the PML-N. In the post-General Zia period, the military/intelligence establishment attempted to contain the PPP by political engineering. During the period of military rule by General Pervez Musharraf, an attempt was made to knock-out these two political parties. This attempt did not succeed. Both returned as the leading parties in the 2008 general elections. Now, these objectives are being mediated through street protests and sit-ins, propaganda against parliamentarians and the electoral process and courts.

The case for the dissolution of the Election Commission can go in four possible directions: dissolution of the Election Commission, rejection of Qadri’s demand, identification of procedural violations but no dissolution because the elections are so close, and a deadline for completion of procedural requirements. If Qadri’s plea is accepted the two major parties should take up the reconstitution of the Election Commission immediately and reappoint the same members after completing all constitutional procedures. This will remove the confusion and rule out any delay in the holding of the elections.

There are people who want to use article 62 and 63 of the constitution, inserted by the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq to control politicians, as a weapon to shoot down candidates in the general elections. As implementation of some of the proposed punitive actions may require new legislation, the champions of puritanical electoral process are seeking the superior court’s intervention to issue direct orders to the Election Commission to implement their demands.

These champions of high morality and textbook democracy have no time to give any attention to acute problems like the troubled economy, religious extremism and terrorism. If the current frivolous legal and political battles continue, Pakistan will face a serious deficit of democracy and its downward economic slide will continue, increasing Pakistan’s unmanageability.