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IMPERFECT DEMOCRACY

Holding Parliamentary elections in about 60 days from a standing start, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) says that “Local Bodies” polls cannot be held soon for various reasons, informed sources claim delays may range from 4 months to 8 even.    The deliberate foot-dragging in the various Provincial Local Bodies Bills confirms lip-service only to the concept for local govt.

While the perception of a democratic environment has been created by the national polls, laws are being framed for power to be in the hands of a few trusted individuals selected by “democratically elected” rulers. To Musharraf’s credit, while his Local Bodies initiative was not perfect, it did bring self-govt down to the grassroots level.   This was soon corrupted by those politicians who became his collaborators from 2002 to 2007, very much with Musharraf’s willing knowledge to perpetuate his uniformed rule under the guise of “democracy”.

One is deeply disappointed at PTI’s performance to date in KPK, Imran Khan needs to come good on his repeated promises of a model local govt, and soon!  To quote my article “An Exercise in Democracy” of August 18, 2005, “Democracy is of no use to the individual unless the various freedoms are available at his (or her) doorstep and he (or she) has a say without any hinderance in the governance of his (or her) immediate community. Local Bodies provides the “grass roots” democracy that is extremely important for the welfare and well-being of a unified society,” unquote. Without providing effective participation of the citizen in the affairs of his community, democracy is a convenient farce, in a feudal society it is a hypocrisy. Vested interests have prevented local govt from functioning on one pretext or the other since 1947, with disastrous results.  Where are we now? To quote my article “Politics of Expediency” of Feb  28, 2013, “The deliberate hash of local government to reflect the diverse demographics of the ruling coalition, the PPP in the rural areas and the MQM in the urban areas of Sindh, the Sindh People’s Local Government Ordinance (SPLGO) was essentially a hybrid measure which never resolved the vertical integration of the local governments with the provincial tier.  Condemned outright by Sindhi nationalists as a sell-out of ethnic Sindhi interests, there was reaction even from diehard PPP loyalists in interior Sindh,” unquote.

The divide of language was the major factor leading to Pakistan’s self-destruction in 1971, the feudal politicians from West Pakistan first delayed the development of the first Constitution of Pakistan and then devised tools like ‘One Unit’ and ‘Parity’ to deny the majority Bengali population (56%) their inherent democratic rights on the one-man one-vote concept.  East Pakistan never claimed the right to rule at the Center; they only wanted was to be treated fairly, the ultimate tragedy was that to stay within Pakistan they accepted parity even when they were in a majority. Even that was denied to them.

Large joint families in West Pakistan possessed hundreds, even thousands of acres of land (and continue to expand in now 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 behaviour of the dependant peasants and town population.  Can feudals ever allow power in the hands of the people whom they detest?  We need a Magna Carta in Pakistan!

Bengal did not have a strong feudal upper class but a vast peasant and lower middle class. Most politicians had no stakes in feudal landholding. Despite the strong muslim religious feeling among an overwhelming majority, the socialist tendency was cause of grave apprehension for West Pakistani feudal leaders, further aggravated when the East Bengal Assembly voted as early as 1950 to end feudalism.  Abolishing Permanent Settlement and absentee landlordism, and imposing ceilings on land-holdings they ensured that no new feudal landholding.  With West Pakistani feudals vehemently against any commensurate land reform, Pakistan was condemned to repeated cycles of short-lived periods of corrupt civilian rule, descent into chaos and as a result repeated military intervention.  Did Bangladesh really secede from Pakistan or was it the other way around? Feudal mindset and democracy can never co-exist, the compromise of conscience in favour of nepotism is the major reason for the sorry state of Pakistan today, leaders are not prepared to shun their kith and kin for the good of the state.

A good “Local Bodies” system, Ayub’s Khan’s Basic Democracy was corrupted by being person-specific in having indirectly elected posts and becoming the electoral college for an indirectly elected President.  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, came from a few wealthy and noble families. We fool ourselves that the indirectly elected Senators in Pakistan get elected because of their popularity, competence and/or integrity, are they any different from in the Roman Senate of 20 centuries ago?

To quote my article “Local Bodies Elections” of  January 1, 1998, “If the Nawaz Sharif government can reform the system and make it simpler, we will be a long way towards true governance. By not giving the voter participation at the grassroots level you disenfranchise the voter, he (or she) must be brought out of the cold into the mainstream, the crux of unity and integrity lies in citizen participation in the community and up the tier into national development. The person directly elected will be accountable or at least can explain credibly at the local level the reasons why a particular civic facility and/or utility is not available. Every deprivation is presently laid at the Central and/or Provincial government’s doorstep.”

To quote the 1998 article further, “in Bangladesh the Upazila concept (in 1982 than BD President Gen Ershad through an Act created over a 1000 self-governing units) was a very potent exercise, unfortunately manipulated for political purposes it lost its fundamental credibility of government “by the people, of the people and for the people” providing governance at the grassroots level. Community participation is the basic ingredient for the unity of the nation, a non-complex simple formula for integrating and solidifying the foundations of this country. With Mian Nawaz Sharif genuinely interested in the amelioration of the miseries of the common man, this is the motorway that leads to the heart of the problem” unquote.

Rampant feudalism keeps us prisoners in the heart of darkness. Despite the magnificent counter-insurgency campaign conducted by the Armed Forces, terrorism continues unabated, only participation by all common citizens in the governance of their own communities will deny terrorists the logistical and moral space they need to foment their horrors.   In today’s world, good governance at the local level is a vital ingredient for national security. The real question is whether  we shall ever see the light before this country plunges permanently into a dark abyss?

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