Euphoria about elections?

There is ear-rending clamour for holding elections on time, lest heavens should fall on earth. It is hoped that it will be all hunky-dory after the election. Hallmarks of the post-election governments to date have been patronage and clientelism.

Whichever party comes into power, it enriches and empowers only the close coterie encircling it: ministers, advisers and similar luminaries.

The masses remain empty-handed. They get nothing by way of healthcare, housing and other basic needs.  Not to speak of masses, the healthcare and housing system is highly skewed even in civil services. I for one retired plot-less, flat-less after cumulative 39 years’ service under the province and federation. I was deprived of in-service healthcare upon retirement.  Aside from the wretched common man, why has no court ever taken notice of perks and privileges of various classes of serving people, including judges and bureaucrats.

Our courts remain submerged in a plethora of politically-tinged cases. They do not focus on real needs and human rights.  Judicial gladiators focus on optics, which have nothing to do with the needs of the man in the street.

To correct multifaceted social injustice, all stakeholders, in khaki and muftis, should try to achieve the Aristotelian `Golden Mean’. Or else, continue on auto-pilot until divine retribution strikes

Roedad Khan in his book Pakistan: A Dream Gone Sour cautions the judiciary against over-indulgence in politics. He says Mr Justice Muhammad Munir, shortly before pronouncing his infamous verdict on the notorious Dosso case, said: “… when politics enters the portals of justice, democracy, its cherished inmate, walks out by the backdoor”.

Periodic elections are a sine qua non of Westminster–type democracy. Democracy has certain flaws which obstruct it from delivering the goods (welfare). Some flaws, mentioned heretofore, are inherent and others are peculiar to Pakistan.

Not democracy, plutocracy.  In his study of political systems (oligarchy, monarchy, etc), Aristotle concluded demokratia was probably the best system. The problem that bothered him was that the majority of free people (excluding women and slaves) would use their brute voting power to introduce pro-poor legislation like taking away property from the rich.

Aristotle suggested that we reduce income inequalities so that have-not representatives of the poor people were not tempted to prowl upon haves’ property.

One of the USA’s Founding Fathers, who was later President, James Madison harboured similar concerns. He feared `if freemen had democracy, then the poor farmers would insist on taking property from the rich’ via land reforms . The fear was addressed by creating a senate (as in the USA) or a house of lords (as in Britain) as antidotes against legislative vulgarities of a House of Representatives or a House of Commons.

Aristotle would rejoice in the grave to see both Pakistan’s National Assembly and Senate, being populated by the rich. One member, now predicted to be a PM 4.0, defiantly wore A Louis Moinet `Meteoris’ wristwatch, worth about Rs460 million. Another, a proponent of Medina riasat, lived in a 300-kanal house. Our PMs-to-be (like the PMs-that-were) never took any legislative steps to promote merit. Or equalise citizens in access to education, medicare, housing and jobs. Both houses are populated by the rich.

Authority: In real life, ‘authority’ does not vest in elected representatives (see golden words of our Constitution). There are visible and invisible stakeholders. The most questionable is the megalomaniac exercise of authority by judicial adventurers. There is a Latin quip, quis custodiet ipsos custodies?, who will guard the guardians? The phrase epitomises Socrates’ search for guardians who can hold power to account. Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, according to historian Lord Acton.

Theoretically, the people hold ‘power’ to account. But the ‘people’ are an amorphous lot without a legal identity like an institution, except as ‘voters’ during elections, usually not fair.

Elected representatives (power) are under the delusion that they are superior to all unelected institutions. But the representatives should exercise their authority under Allah’s authority within the bounds of our Constitution.

The Constitution is based on separation of powers. But, the purblind titans of authority think each of them is omnipotent. Their clash paves way for the invisibles. Lest the kingpins in various institutions should forget  French jurist Jean Bodin’s dictum ‘majesta est summa in civas ac subditos legibusque salute potestas’, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects, [is] unrestrained by law’. Bodin explained power resides with whosoever has ‘power to coerce’. In the past, Pakistan’s bureaucrats, judges, politicos, and even praetorian rulers fought tooth and nail to prove ‘I’m the locus in quo of ultimate power.’

Demagogues, no leaders: During election season politicians pander to base sentiments of people to garner votes. The demagogues have no worldview. They pander to base sentiments of the gullible electorate to garner votes. They are megalomaniacs without any ideology.

None of the “elected” governments made an effort to ameliorate the lot of the common man. However those at the helm of affairs did enrich themselves and their kith and kin at the cost of the national exchequer. The poor performance of the democrats emboldened the praetorians to overthrow the “elected governments” or precipitate their downfall through political engineering. If not overthrown, some governments preferred to stay tamed and devolve the blame for mis-governance on the invisibles.

Why it is so? Stanley A. Kochanek unpuzzles the conundrum by pointing out `Parties in Pakistan are built from the top-down and are identified with their founders.  The office holders are appointed by the leader.  Membership rolls are largely bogus and organizational structure exists only on paper’ (Interest groups and Development). `Most political parties are non-democratic in their structure, character and outlook. The process for leadership selection is not by election, but by nomination.  Political parties have no links with the policy process as personalities rather than issues matter’ (Saeed Shafqat, Contemporary Issues in Pakistan Studies).

Iron law of technocratic oligarchy: A German sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties postulated the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Michels stated that the raison d’être of representative democracy is eliminating elite rule. It is an impossible goal. Representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable.

That’s why Noam Chomsky called even the American people a “bewildered herd” as a handful of people make decisions for them without their true participation.

According to the “iron law,” democracy and large-scale organization are incompatible. The rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is an inevitable upshot of “tactical and technical necessities” of democratic organisations. All organisations eventually come to be run by a “leadership class”, who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons or political strategists for the organization. Far from being “servants of the masses”, the “leadership class,” rather than the organization’s membership, will inevitably dominate the organization’s power structures. They control access to information, with little accountability. They manage to centralise their power, as masses (rank-and-file members) are apathetic, and indifferent to their organization’s ,decision-making processes.

No large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy. Power within an organization will always get delegated to individuals within that group, elected or otherwise.

Democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are bound to fail. The oligarchy has power to reward loyalty, gag dissent and influence members (masses).

Tax evasion: Shabbar Zaidi’s book Rich People, Poor Country points out that around 7-8 percent of the country’s total population have individual incomes possibly exceeding even the highest average per capita incomes in the world. In sharp contrast, our government remains poor— being able to collect taxes that constitute only 10 percent of the GDP.

He argues, a government not able to tax the rich will never have the resources required to provide the poor with economic and social protection.

No social democracy: In Pakistan, it is the vested interests, not the demos (people) of demo-kratia, who rule. There is no social democracy. In India, feudal fiefs were abolished in 1948. But, they have a heyday in Pakistan even today because of a decision of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case of the Qazalbash Waqf versus Chief Land Commissioner, Punjab, on 10 August 1989 (made effective from 23 March 1990). The Court, by a 3-2 vote declared land reforms un-Islamic and repugnant to injunctions of Islam.

Article 38 is titled ‘Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people’. And abolition of riba is just a sub-paragraph. While riba (interest) was re-christened PLS, partnership modarba/mosharika, and so on, nothing was done to provide social justice to the people. People are taxed without taxpayers’ welfare. Locke and others say the government can’t tax without the taxpayer’s consent.

To correct multifaceted social injustice, all stakeholders, in khaki and muftis, should try to achieve  the Aristotelian `Golden Mean’. Or else, continue on auto-pilot until divine retribution strikes.

Amjed Jaaved
Amjed Jaaved
The writer is a freelance journalist, has served in the Pakistan government for 39 years and holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law. He can be reached at [email protected]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Read

Tourists land car in stream while following Google Maps

A tourist’s car sank after they drove it into a stream while navigating the area through Google Maps. The four-member tourist group hailing from India’s...