Democracy in the Dock

Democracy can only succeed if feudalism is buried and the parliament plays its role in legislating for the people.

By Justice (R) M. Shaiq Usmani | March 2020

Islamic history bears a witness to the fact that in spite of Islamic jurisprudence providing for governance through consultation and deprecating totalitarian rule, soon after the Right guided Caliphs in the early years of Islam, totalitarian rule, like in the other Empires in those times, became the norm in the Islamic world and continues to remain so to this date with brief variations here and there. In Muslim India the Muslim kings wielded absolute power even though they owed cosmetic allegiance to the Caliphs in Baghdad and hence could pretend that they were not absolute rulers and had some kind of divine sanction.

Intellectually too, there was no attempt by Muslim scholars to evolve some rules for representative government which indeed is the crux of democracy. There were no Montesquieu or Thomas Paine amongst them. The concept of Separation of Powers and efficacy of Human Rights was far removed from their vision. Though some of them were very learned men they mostly involved themselves with laying down rules for daily lives of the Muslims rather than for their collective well-being as a polity, with the possible exception of Ibne Khaldun who was the only one who advocated separation of state from religion. As a result, the Muslims never evolved a culture of democracy in as much as it connotes Representative government.

Even in Pakistan, the successor to Muslim India, the majority of our founding fathers were of an autocratic bent of mind and representative institutions or government were far from their minds. It is only the personality of Jinnah that kept them on the track of democracy even though in pursuit of this objective, Jinnah himself had to take measures that were by no means democratic, such as becoming the Governor General as well as the President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan after Partition. While it is true that Jinnah instinctively favoured a Democratic system of governance but because of being imbued by the Anglo Saxon culture, it is the Parliamentary system of government on the Westminster model that he favoured. He never tarried to think whether such a system would suit a country like Pakistan and its inhabitants. Essentially, democracy is a system of representative government and there is no specific model of it. The United States, when it gained independence from the British, in spite of its people belonging to the same milieu as its erstwhile rulers, it chose a different system of governance that came to be known as a Federal Presidential form of government which has lasted for the last two centuries without any interruption and even a civil war could not dislodge it.

Similarly countries like Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries have evolved their own systems of representative government which have lasted. The trick then is in choosing a system of government that suits the background and ethos of the people and not to imitate a system because it has worked well in some other country.

It is here that Pakistan went wrong and failed to install a truly democratic system, which is epitomized by the famous saying of Abrahim Lincoln, “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

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The writer is a former Judge of the Sindh High Court. He has been actively involved in human and women’s rights causes.

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