Democracy in Pakistan

 

Of the elite, by the elite, for the elite

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) surprising victory in the recent by-election in Punjab where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) was favored to win is an interesting development as the country prepares for the next general elections.

The National Assembly seat which the ruling party won a few days ago was previously won by Imran Khan’s political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The loss of the PTI in a constituency where it was a clear favorite to win means that the party’s popular ‘narrative of change’ is not adequate to win a general election in a country whose local political structure is still rooted in caste, feudal and other patronage structures. PTI has been working on a so-called political campaign to introduce true democracy in Pakistan. The campaign aimed at convincing the masses to vote for ‘what works for the county’ rather than ‘what works for their narrow interests,’ however, has not brought any results.

While Pakistan may have a formal constitutional and democratic structure, the current deep-rooted feudal and tribal dynamics of the country mean that the next general election will be won by a political party which has a lineup of electables with strong patronage links rather than candidates that are better qualified.

Domestically, Pakistan’s political structure is not ready for genuine democracy. Throughout Pakistan’s entire history, not a single political organization has tried to bring about massive reforms to uproot the entrenched tribal political structure in order to produce a true democratic order. There are two major reasons why this has never been done before and is not likely to happen any time in the foreseeable future. First, all political parties in Pakistan drive their support base from these tribal, feudal and semi-feudal political structures. Any attempt to challenge the existing social and political structure would not only pose a challenge to political parties immediate interests but would also alienate local tribal, ethnic and feudal groups and families that maintain their political relevance and control through such structures. Second, the country’s middle and poor class voter base has been accustomed to the current political structure to an extent that any idea of radical reforms which promises fairness and true democracy is deemed a threat. Arguably, the entire society remains divided into ethnic, caste, tribal and family lines. The protection of family, ethnic, caste, and tribal interests are considered far important than any idea of a political system that promises justice, fairness and a truly democratic order where anyone has a practical chance to run for a National Assembly seat without having to worry about massive financial and patronage support. The country’s elite class doesn’t see any interest in bringing mass change to uproot a structure that is keeping them in power in the first place.

The campaign aimed at convincing the masses to vote for ‘what works for the county’ rather than ‘what works for their narrow interests,’ however, has not brought any results

On the other hand, Pakistan’s civil society remains weak and has seldom made any attempts to force the ruling elite to bring a reformed political structure. During the past seventy years, none of the civil society groups have ever engaged in a sustained effort to force the state toward changing the existing political structure that only undermines the dispensation of true democracy. Any local rebellions by marginalized ethnic and political voices have been pushed aside by the ruling elite. Liberal and secular groups do not find space in an environment that only supports and provides legitimacy to the existing political structure. Similarly, the middle and working classes are too weak to introduce a social revolution that would oust the feudal dominated political structure and introduce a proper democratic order.

Moreover, pressure for change in this regard has not come from outside. States with close ties with Pakistan, particularly the United States and China never saw a democratic Pakistan as feasible to their geopolitical regional security and political interests. For instance, Washington has always preferred to engage with the country’s powerful military and persons with influence to find quick fixes for its regional security and political interests rather than supporting and pushing for the deep democratization of Pakistan. Similarly, China and Saudi Arabia, which are also Pakistan’s close allies, have never pushed the country’s ruling elite for liberal democratic reforms. Apparently, International states see a democratic Pakistan an impediment to their geopolitical interests which to the former are far important than Pakistan’s democratic transformation.


The ruling elite of Pakistan don’t see any incentive in the country’s true democratic transformation, for that will directly challenge their political influence in the country. Moreover, the country’s urban and rural middle and lower middle classes remain highly disorganized politically and are not in a position to put up a solid struggle to force democratic change in Pakistan. Generally, Pakistani society remains divided along caste, ethnic, tribal and family lines and any rhetoric of true democratic change in Pakistan is not likely to influence the country’s voting patterns that are tied to caste oriented social, political and power structures.

The country’s ruling elite needs to realize that the existing political structure in Pakistan is only undermining the process of modernization and true democratization which does not bode well for the country’s long-term future. Moreover, Washington and Beijing need to push Pakistan’s ruling elite toward adopting modernization, for only a deeply transformed and progressive society can truly accept democracy.

Moreover, pressure for change in this regard has not come from outside. States with close ties with Pakistan, particularly the United States and China never saw a democratic Pakistan as feasible to their geopolitical regional security and political interests

Beyond formal constitutional structure, the current political arrangements in Pakistan only strengthen nondemocratic mindsets and forces in the country. By aiding the existing feudal and tribal structures, political parties in Pakistan are only further strengthening non-democratic forces in the country whose interests remain tied to the prevention of Pakistan’s true democratic transformation.

 

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.

 

By            :               Umair Jamal

Date         :               March 4, 2018

Source     :               Pakistan Today

 

This entry was posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.