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Feudalism Stunts Democracy

The historian Marc Bloch defined “feudal society” as a warrior aristocracy bound by vassalage. A lord was a noble who held land, the land was called a fief. Those granted possession by the lord were called vassals, expected to give service to their lord. Wealth was derived from agriculture organized not by market forces but by customary labor services owed by serfs to landowning nobles.

Rulers who adapted feudal institutions to increase their power were called “feudals”, their governments labelled “feudal monarchies”. When feudals started paying wages to the soldiers, workers and labourers, historians presented medieval feudalism in the 14th and 15th as a system in decline, calling it “bastard feudalism”. In contrast to the rest of world, this medieval system continues to exist and flourish in Pakistan masquerading under the façade of “democracy”.

Large joint families possess hundreds or even thousands of acres of land in Pakistan worked by peasants or tenants living at or below subsistence level. Comparable to medieval Europe, feudals virtually run towns, operating private prisons for personal enemies, the locals dependant on them generation after generation through debt bondage. This control makes the landlord an all powerful master, able to critically influence the distribution of water, fertilizers, tractor permits and agricultural credit and, consequently exercising considerable diktat over revenues, police and judicial administration of his area, and crucially the voting behavior of the dependant peasants and town population.

With half of Pakistan’s GNP and bulk of its export earnings derived primarily from the agricultural sector, few thousand feudal families control almost two-thirds of Parliament. With key Federal and Provincial executive posts distributed between them, this oligarchy dominating power since Pakistan’s inception is as callous of the plight of the poor as were the 19th century European feudals and capitalist barons who migrated into politics and business. Blatant exploitation and brutal domination by the rich and powerful created space for communism, the same lack of compassion for ordinary people gives space for extremist Islamists in Pakistan today, Naxalites in India, Maoists in Nepal, etc.

Every vote has equal weight, all citizens being considered equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. Equality and freedom are identified as important characteristics of “democracy”, no unreasonable restrictions can apply to anyone seeking to become a representative by the strength of a free voting process. The freedom of the citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties protected by a Constitution governed by the Rule of Law, with separation of powers, an independent judiciary, the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, sanctity of contract and property etc.
Within the limits of the Constitution the fundamental principle of liberty is to govern and to be governed in turn. With the poor in majority in numbers and each citizen having one vote, making them (theoretically at least) more powerful than the rich. A minority can be ruled by a majority in the absence of governmental or constitutional protections of individual or group right, made acceptable to the minority by the fact that they are protected and that political minorities/majorities are fluent and changing.

Popular protests and harsh criticism from the mass media often enough force sudden, unexpected policy change. Any catalyst eg loadshedding, can effect drastic change in policy, and even in govt. Frequent policy changes in business and immigration rules deters investment, and so hinders economic growth. Some believe that democracy is not desirable for a developing country in which economic growth and the reduction of poverty are top priority, China and Singapore being examples of lack of connection between democracy and economy growth. Economic growth picked up in Pakistan only during the periods of military rule rather than under democratic dispensations.

The peoples’ faith in the democratic process in Pakistan has been shaken because elections are rigged, the votes are purchased and known corrupt people, tax evaders and smugglers are foisted by the feudals upon a poor, illiterate electorate, unable to make an informed political choice. Instead of correcting the 40% fraudulent votes in the electoral rolls, the Election Commission became defensive. One hopes the Acting CEO Justice Shakirullah Jan will take steps to cleanse the tainted votes. Such elections do not throw up the best or the most deserving but the scum of the community, only because they are the richest or favorites of the people in power. Once the feudals determined that Local Bodies of a new crop of leaders at the grassroots level would create and force- multiply challenge to their domination they became an anathema, how can the present feudal leaders in Parliament tolerate those who can question them by the strength of a vote that is not subject to their influence or coercion?

The famous revolutionary Che Guevara was suspicious about elections in democracy, “Democracy cannot consist solely of elections that are nearly always fictitious and managed by rich landowners and professional politicians.” Elections are necessary but one cannot have democracy just by holding elections, only get a perverted version thereof. A minority of powerful Romans in the Roman Republic got overwhelming control through a system of gerrymandering, most high officials, including members of the Senate, coming from a few wealthy and noble families. Are the Senators elected in the recent indirect Senate elections in Pakistan any different from the Roman Senate of 20 centuries ago?

Feudal mindset and democracy can never co-exist , there can be no democracy, liberal or illiberal, in a feudal country like Pakistan. What goes by the name of democracy in any feudal society is hypocrisy, this condemns Pakistan to repeated cycles of short-lived periods of corrupt, civilian rule, descent into chaos and ultimately military intervention.

The black law (made defunct by the Supreme Court) called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), and the subsequent elections in February 2008 because of the NRO, subverted this process and allowed the same cabal of feudals (albeit with differing permutations and combinations camouflaged with a few genuine democrats) to slide into power. Hell-bent upon breaking the rule of law instead of upholding it, almost every tenet of the Constitution has been circumvented. Despite all their rhetoric to the contrary the Supreme Court seems hesitant to act against this farcical democracy, undermining its credibility and thus compromising its own authority in the process.

PM Gilani’s stance in the contempt case says it all (“refer the issue to Parliament”, blithely says eminent lawyer and friend, Aitzaz Ahsan, tongue-in-cheek) and forget about the US$ 60 million! The crux of the feudal philosophy, public money once looted is gone and finders’ keepers, losers (in this case the people of Pakistan) are weepers. Ordinances enacted on the strength of the fraudulent vote that got most legislators into Parliament will eventually make the Supreme Court powerless to act. When that happens, military intervention to stop the rot eating away at the integrity and sovereignty of the country will become unavoidable, triggering inevitably exactly what the SC is trying to avoid.

The implementation of democracy within such a non-democratic state can only be brought about by revolution. Hopefully the military will have learnt its lesson, it will stop at removing the govt only and not blunder into a military takeover.

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