The Ballot Box Process: Why It Produces An Unstable Power In Pakistan

Pakistan has been, since the independence, a democratic state. Although it is a relatively weaker institution in Pakistan now, and often overruled by the military and bureaucracy, its mere existence is actually key to understand the process of development, and for that matter, power holding here.

The foundations of Pakistan were laid by the Muslims of India, following their growing demand for a separate state to freely practice their religion.

Just before the independence, when All-India Muslim League and specifically Muhammad Ali Jinnah was anxious to put more and more men into the party to strengthen the idea of Pakistan, he issued an appeal stating:

“Vote for a Muslim Leaguer even if it be a lamp-post.”

And people compiled cheerfully; some even literally! When the independence came, the gentlemen thus elected found themselves in a position of vantage to assume power in the newly founded nation, and the take the whole political system into their immature hands.

The outgoing Parliament of Pakistan had 80 seats, each member presuming to represent about a million of his countrymen. Those who were, in the beginning, thought to serve the idea of Pakistan, later got influenced by the hunger for power after its creation. Fortunately, the lamp-post was the only one that never abused its power.

To this day, much of those in power are their direct decedents, who were bought into politics by the nation’s founder himself.

Without any knowledge of politics what-so-ever, these landlords, tribal chiefs and political families, or so-called, mafias, protected through their kinship, still command an enormous sway and are found in the top ranks today — making the democratic process, in some manners, a fancy name for the same traditional inheritance in the rural areas.

The Indian subcontinent has also been long ruled by its infamous caste system, which granted power to the inherited ones only, far from their abilities. India has always had more influence of traditions on its societies, then it had of religion or even the kings. The poor locals, who comprised most of the land’s population, often never secured jobs above the menials in the society, and the concept of democracy was unknown to India until the British arrive on the shores of Bombay, who in fact used the very same caste system to expand their colonialism later.

According to Francis Fukuyama (an American political scientist, political economist, and author), the colonial powers left three institutions in former colonies as a legacy after the decolonization: the bureaucracy, military, and democracy.

The bureaucracy and military were strengthened by the colonial governments in order to maintain strong control over the domestic environment.

Democracy, however, did not flourish as the locals were not used to of the self-government.

After decolonization, the nascent states had strong institutions of bureaucracy and military, as it was much easier to maintain than to create something out of scratch.

While the democracy, which these newly independent civilians had to form, was relatively a weaker institution and got influenced by the other two powerful authorities.

This lead to a strong grip of the former two institutions on the state of affairs in the decolonized states such as India and Pakistan, who stood above the law and interfered in the democratic process.

Whereas the democratic institutions itself were not as developed as in the case of the western societies.

And that is exactly how it went here as well. When the British left divided India, the two nations inherited the western democratic system, a system that is, as said by Socrates, to cruel too be used for a nation, especially the new ones like India and Pakistan.

He was seen as hugely pessimistic about the whole business of democracy. In Book Six of The Republic, Plato describes Socrates falling into conversation trying to get him to see the flaws of democracy by comparing society to a ship.

If you were heading out on a journey by sea, asks Socrates, who would you ideally want deciding who was in charge of the vessel? Just anyone or people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring? The latter, of course, says Adeimantus, so why then, responds Socrates, do we keep thinking that any old person should be fit to judge who should be a ruler of a country?

Socrates’s point is that voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. And like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people. Letting the citizenry vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme sailing to Samos in a storm.

In fact, it is truer for Pakistan — a developing country — then for any other nation. Democracy is too cruel for a nation like Pakistan, where more than half of the population is deprived of reality, basic education and are strongly influenced by their traditions — the most important being the caste system itself.

The reason why ballot box produces a corrupt power in Pakistan today is to be found in its root cause that it is not meant to produce power in a nation like Pakistan. The very people it tries to deal, are unaware of how it works, or it should work in the first place. While the ones inherited — those addicted to power — know exactly what they have to do to manipulate the locals’ point of view and get into power. As they have been doing for centuries.

Pakistan, as a nation founded on the basis of religion, has to find a balance between its secular and religious values. It has to form a balanced democracy, as suggested by Socrates, and more importantly by Islam itself, a form of democracy between the ballot box and dictatorship in order to progress socioeconomically.

The state system should not be left in the hands of very people who themselves are in desperate need of change, but rather given to those who reject these people as they are and have a vision of how they should be, and also the guts to realize that vision.

Until then, the ballot box will continue to produce an incapable power, not because of the candidates, but because of the people themselves, who elect them.

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