In the global Democracy Index ranking by Economist Intelligence Unit, Pakistan stood at 104th among 167 states. It is abysmally low and highly disappointing for a person who considers democracy even of little worth. One wonders why a country whose founding fathers laid its foundation on democratic grounds could not flourish itself in terms of democratic governance.
In contrast, India, which came into existence on the same day, is currently the biggest democracy in the world. In order to fix the problems and bring the country on the democratic track, it is pertinent to ask what has brought us to this point. What are the factors which contributed to our persistent down sliding? Furthermore, what resulted in the polar opposite results in the neighboring country?
Read more: The problem with democracy in Pakistan
It all started in the early years of independence
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the successor of the All India Muslim League (AIML), elected Ch. Khaliquzzaman, a refugee leader from Uttar Pradesh (UP), as the first president of the PML in 1949. Liaqat Ali Khan, then PM of Pakistan, opposed this idea of separating the office of Prime Minister from that of the president of the party and, with the support of Chief Ministers of the provinces, succeeded in capturing the office of the president of PML. It was the start of a long period of turmoil and political rift between different leaders, which resulted in the downfall of democratic norms and culture in Pakistan. Various leaders separated themselves from the PML and formed their separate political parties.
The Awami League was also a successor of the All Pakistan Awami League, formed by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy after he quit the PML. Ishrat Hussain has rightly asserted that in nine years of its Independence, Pakistan sifted through seven prime ministers and eight cabinet changes, which has weakened the PML to the core and created a power vacuum in the country. This power vacuum invited non-democratic forces to intervene unconstitutionally and disturbed the whole political history of Pakistan.
On the other side, the Indian National Council (INC) held uninterrupted power for 30 years until 1977. Even later on, the INC has been the key stakeholder in the country and remained in power for 54 long years in the short history of India. It resulted in political stability and policy continuity that made India what it is now on a global scale.
The major hurdle in the nourishment of democratic values in the political system and society of Pakistan is the undemocratic nature of political parties. Political parties are the steering wheel of democracy. Without the presence of robust, well-organized, mature, and inclusive political parties, democracy cannot thrive in a state. These parties must be based on tolerance, mutual respect, equality, and some consolidated ideology that must endeavor to strengthen democracy. However, the political parties in Pakistan are devoid of democratic norms. They are based on dynasties, where a family rules over the rank and file. Intra-party elections, in the true sense, are a distant dream in Pakistan.
Read more: The problem with democracy in Pakistan
These parties are democratic only in letter but not in the spirit
It is nearly impossible for a person, who does not belong to a dynasty or is not feudal, to join a party and rise to the highest rank based on his caliber and competency. While issuing a ticket to a candidate for election, political parties’ chiefs consider merely two factors, social prominence (how famous one is in society) and financial prominence (one’s ability to bear the election expenses). It has created a division between the ambitious youthful subject and the political elite.
Another sad reality is that in Pakistan, competing political parties consider one another the worst enemies and would go to any length to defeat their opponents. To seek power, they would coalesce even with the institutions, whose role is detrimental to democracy. A recent example of this is the backlash and severe criticism of the establishment by the PMLN after its defeat in the 2018 elections. It was aimed at parliamentary supremacy, but many analysts agree that its real purpose was to pressure the institutions to side with them.
Similarly, on April 10, 2022, when for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the then prime minister Imran Khan was ousted from the government through a vote of no confidence, Imran Khan since then in his speeches, blamed the top leadership of the army for conniving in his ousting. The fear is that if considered by the establishment, the PTI will once again consider the support from the establishment to come back in power. When the goal to seek power becomes the top priority for a political party, the other essential matters, such as the narrative of civilian supremacy, take a back seat. We have witnessed this multiple times before.
Veteran journalist I.A. Rehman has succinctly exposed this weak point of political parties in the following words: “The political parties’ folly of treating each other as worst enemies has rendered them vulnerable to extra-political interventions.”
It is essential for political parties to first reform themselves in order to reform the institutions and bring in significant social changes, which should result in promoting tolerance, mutual respect, respect for differences of opinion, equality, and provision of rights to minorities. Only then will democracy flourish, and the public will enjoy the fruit of it. The only way to hinder extra-political interferences in politics is that all parties should agree on the basics that they would not rush toward undemocratic forces to gain favor in elections.
Read more: Consolidating democracy in Pakistan!
That they will not harm the democracy by any nefarious action should be the top priority of all political parties. Furthermore, to achieve this, the head of parties needs to see other parties as competitors in a fair race instead of enemies. If this is not realized, it will be like running in a circle, and after every episode and melodrama of civilian supremacy, we will be back to square one.
The writer is a scholar of political science with a deep interest in the politics of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.