Once again, the tires of vengeance and hatred have started to spin, and this time the chief of staff of a former Prime Minister finds himself in harm’s way. Whether the doctor had it coming, due to the ‘prescriptions’ he gave, is a different debate but is it all worth it when there are dozens of other problems lying unattended, like the floods, across the country? Even 70 years after independence, we are daily being exposed to petty politics, witch-hunts, and accusations of being traitors.
Although this all seems to be very Pakistani, but in reality, countries (especially democratic nations) across the world have been facing this. Wherever a particular political party enjoys a hold of power, be it in terms of a legislative majority in the House or an executive hammer, a witch-hunt is inevitable. Although the degree and volatility of such practices vary according to the intent of the aggressor and the independence and internal control of an institution. But the main purpose, to undermine the opponent, remains the same.
All of this not only tries to destroy the prevalent democratic norms and principles but also hampers the administration of justice in its true essence, as Lord Chief Justice Hewart put it, that “Justice must not only be done but must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” An onlooker in political cases can never tell whether the accused has actually committed a crime and is being tried according to the law, or is being punished for his ot her political beliefs. This all leads to more confusion, polarization, conspiracies, and lastly, becomes a breeding ground for populism.
Populism has taken all this to another level; by finding defects and problems in the democratic system (like a political killing spree) they show themselves as false victims and gain electoral sympathies. They get the advantage over regular politicians by reinforcing their ‘messianic’ personalities through social media and exploiting young minds. And once this happens the end result is a complete deterioration of the democratic structure.
Take the USA as an example; former President Donald Trump, a political outsider, made his way to the White House by making use of a generic populist arsenal, condemning the flaws in the system and the wide definition of American liberty. He gained sympathy by presenting himself as the victim of the Mueller report and his dispute with James Comey (Former Director of the FBI). He made severe allegations that the elections were stolen from him and incited the 6 January 2021 attack on Capitol Hill.
After 75 years of independence, it must be clear to every Pakistani that there isn’t anyone coming to save us; it is we who can save ourselves by not getting influenced by Twitter trends and fan cams, but supporting those who stand by democratic values and respect the institutions. Let us not get swayed away by fancy speeches and conferences, but allow the law to make its own way.
In modern times, nearly every democracy is facing such challenges; traditional coup d’etats have been taken over by the electoral wins of demagogues. Trump is once again eyeing 2024, unsurprisingly using the same tactics, the way he has played the Mar a Lago raid and the subsequent attempt to attack the FBI building in Cincinnati is just a start. All eyes are currently peeled on the upcoming Senate elections, and the defeat of anti-Trump Republicans such as Liz Cheneyin the primaries is alarming; although this seems very legitimate yet it is destructive.
The USA, which is believed to be the strongest democracy, currently finds itself sharply divided and covered in the populist dust. Our democracy on the other hand is very fragile but rather than making it weaker, our political parties, who are now in power must realize that their every step which is taken in the way of political revenge can never be beneficial for them or the country. It will only lead to more chaos and will give more political space to those who consider themselves above the law and do not respect the institutions of this country.
Harvard Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in the book How Democracies Di‘ say that there are two pillars for the smooth functioning of an effective democracy. Firstly, political parties must observe tolerance for their political opponents and recognize their political legitimacy in terms of the votes they receive from the public. The second pillar is institutional forbearance, which means that when in power they must avoid using state institutions against their political opponents.
This all seems to be a very ideal situation, especially due to our chequered political history and the current political environment in Pakistan. But after 75 years of independence, it must be clear to every Pakistani that there isn’t anyone coming to save us; it is we who can save ourselves by not getting influenced by Twitter trends and fan cams, but supporting those who stand by democratic values and respect the institutions. Let us not get swayed away by fancy speeches and conferences, but allow the law to make its own way.