Analysts seem to be bitterly divided on the elections issue. While one school is shouting hoarse the benefits it would bring to the fledgling democracy, the other is adamantly demonizing elections as a defender of the status quo. That the two schools of thought straddle extremes on the opinion spectrum is a travesty in itself. How can opinions be so divergent on what is good or bad for Pakistan?
Well some credit for this split must go to the media which has enlightened many especially in the urban middle class to shake off the slumber and take sides. In my opinion people advising against the elections are not against the institution of elections. They are just not comfortable with a crumbling state and an unchanging electorate to form the backdrop of elections. In their opinion such elections will only throw up the same faces and perpetuate the stasis.
Let’s take a shot at the first perspective. That is elections will be a continuation of the democratic process and if rulers have indeed been corrupt and governance disasters, then people will hold them accountable in elections by not choosing them. This argument is premised on a hallowed tenet born of international experience that elections at regular intervals enable people to gradually weed out the corrupt and incompetent. Is that really so? The purists cite modern Western democracies as examples of an unhindered political process, of repeatedly giving the power back to the people.
Democracy as we see in the West took centuries to evolve. It was a slow process and not just a consequence of recurring elections. There were other variables too like functioning accountability mechanisms, justice for all, education and governance that were embraced whole heartedly on the state/societal level and which went a long away in shaping democracy. Justice for all meant the individuals were liberated from the need to rely on bribe, connections to get justice, it meant equality of all before law. Education meant a greater awareness of one’s rights and a better understanding of who to vote for and why.
The academic discourse on democracy is explicit in suggesting that good governance leads to improved living standards which then lead to greater emphasis on participation and rational self-expression, which are highly correlated to democracy. Academics are also unequivocal in stressing the need of education to enable people to make rational choices, demonstrate better political literacy and above all embrace democratic values like freedom, tolerance, human rights etc.
Let’s analyze Pakistan. Of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, nearly 200 have rural constituencies. Results of rural polls are therefore hugely important to the destiny of Pakistan. And rural politics, as Dr. Farrukh Naseem puts it, “is all about three things: ‘dharra-bandi, langaar bazi and thana-katcherry’ (DLT). We have already gone through eight vicious cycles of DLTs”.
Justice at thana/katcheri level especially in rural areas is almost impossible without bribes/connections. Literacy is abysmally low especially in rural areas. This keeps the voters in rural areas bound to the powerful local feudal. Over the past 35 years, we have had 8 elections. All returned to power the same faces, all failed to break the social contract in the rural areas. Election statistics from 1977, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008 show that winning candidates in rural areas for e.g rural Faisalabad have always belonged to one of the six land-owning classes – Jatt, Rajput, Arian, Gujar, Baloch or Kharal, wrote Dr. Farrukh Naseem in The NEWS recently. Lesser said about governance, the better as it has been an unmitigated disaster.
If there had been no martial laws, we would have had few more elections. If history is anything to go by then the results of these elections would have been no different. Though media has breathed life into the urban electorate, the rural constituencies, the biggest past of the electorate remain insulated and static. Elections, therefore, held today or tomorrow, are likely to throw up mostly the same faces until and unless other variables like justice at thana/katcheri levels and literacy in rural areas change for better. Pakistani elections in the present conditions would in fact protect the status quo.
The solution is perhaps in an interim set up of technocrats appointed for 3 years after taking on board all the stakeholders including army, politicians, judiciary and media. There will be no witch hunts during this time. The interim set up will have clear, pre-meditated targets in socio-economic domains with special focus on improving justice and literacy in rural areas. The set up will be empowered to make structural reforms in the realm of accountability, taxation, economics, policing, education etc. The intent will be to take decisions an elected governments avoid fearing popular backlash and fast track changes necessary to make elections a productive exercise.
Plato argues in “The Republic” that only “Kallipolis”, an aristocracy led by the unwilling philosopher-kings (wisest men), is a just form of government. I do not agree with him in entirety but I do agree with the part of rulers being wise and just and add that only a liberated, wiser electorate leads to wiser and just rulers.