‘No government is the best government’ these were the words of President Ronald Reagan. As a student in the eighties such statements were music to the ears. For the first time after the Second World War, two elected leaders of the free word (Reagan, Thatcher) conspired to weaken the state. Most regulatory frameworks were done away with, a new concept of free market was introduced.
Multinational Corporations (MNCs) started to control the world economy. The mighty United Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR) Collapsed resulting in a unipolar globe. Un-controlled capitalism became the new order of the day. Unfortunately the biggest casualty of this new realignment has been the democratic order.
Common good has become uncommon in the 21st century. For over 2000 years democracy with all its faults has ensured a participative approach for collective benefits of the society. Only the five Nordic Welfare States (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark) have been able to weather this storm against the democratic order.
Elections alone cannot deliver democracy the entire order has to be democratic and equitable for state institutions to gain strength
In most other cases the states have caved into vested interests. Developing countries like Pakistan with a colonial past are severely disadvantaged to face this onslaught. A colonial state is not designed to serve the masses which are treated as subjects not customers who have the power of vote. That is why constitution making has always been an uphill task is such cases.
Democracy has been deliberately weakened in the land of the pure. A constitution is an agreement between the rulers and the ruled. Through an electoral process the levers of state are entrusted to elected representatives. Despite all teething problems the 1956 constitution moved Pakistan in the direction of a democratic republic. Its abrogation followed by the deplorable 1962 imposed document weakened the democratic order while strengthening the colonial state.
The free and fair electrons of 1970 were a hallmark for democracy which produced a very able legislature. As the levers of state were in undemocratic hands the system collapsed. As the most popular leader of what was left of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) took charge. He moved the long lost republic in the direction of a constitutional democracy. The unanimous 1973 constitution keeps the Islamic Republic of Pakistan together.
While the first dictator abrogated the constitution in 1958, the two usurpers after the 1973 version tried to disfigure the document. Though the constitution has not been fully followed nor implemented, there is talk of a new version. To check the efficacy of any framework it has to be fully tested which has not happened yet. Before any changes are incorporated the constitution must be implemented in letter and spirit.
Recently in the trial of General Pervez Musharraf under Article 6, an interesting situation has emerged. If nothing else it has created an environment of restraint. ZAB was convinced that this article would put an end to adventurism but there were two takeovers. Only after the trial of the usurper under this article constitutional requirement have started to be taken seriously.
In order to strengthen the state, democratic institutions have to be taken seriously political parties have to introduce democracy at all levels to inculcate a culture of debate and discussion. First understanding followed by working for common good is required. Consensus building and participation is essential. Data based decision making has to be practiced to ensure accountability.
Weakening of democracy will weaken the state which is in no one’s interest. Together we can all swim or sink
Unfortunately democracy has been in decline in our times. The largest and the oldest constitutional democracies are in trouble. In India fundamentalists have taken over who are now trying to change the constitution to exclude the minorities who have lived there for centuries.
United States has always derived strength from the immigrants whose entry is now being discouraged. Walls are being erected to keep them out. Economic strangulation has become the order of the day. President Donald Trump is facing impeachment, while Narendra Modi in India is trying to quell street protests for his survival.
Mafia’s rule over the Islamic Republic to squander its resources and then manage to escape conviction. Their influence and penetration into state institutions runs very deep. The state is unable to investigate and then convict the powerful through effective prosecution. Rule of law is only applied to the weak and the powerless.
Read more: Has democracy died in India?
Elections alone cannot deliver democracy the entire order has to be democratic and equitable for state institutions to gain strength. In the land of the pure while we have succeeded in formulating a constitution now a framework is required to hold credible elections for the rule of the ballot to prevail. Respect for the constitution has to be ensured at all levels.
State institutions must operate within constitutional boundaries those who violate must be taken to task. For the future of our coming generations a mother like state has to be developed based on democratic foundations. Weakening of democracy will weaken the state which is in no one’s interest. Together we can all swim or sink. Common good has to become common again for humanity to progress, hope must replace hopelessness for brighter days ahead.
Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished here with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.