Guided Democracy

Democracy may have arrived in South Asia but it is mostly in name
because this part of the world remains a very backward regionand all
because power is never given to the masses.

By Muhammad Waqar Rana | March 2020

Democracy means government with the consent of the majority, obtained through a vote at the periodically held elections, on the basis of adult franchise. Consent expressed through a poll has to be informed and free. To ensure honest, fair and transparent elections, institutions are created under the constitution to protect the integrity of the electoral system, which includes an election commission and the judiciary. These bodies must be vibrant and proactive in their functions. People must also ensure by the their attitude, political behaviour and participation in the process the vitality and integrity of the whole government and guard it against manipulations and capture. They must own the system and save it from external forces.

Moneyed/land mafias and corporate/capitalist cartels create irresistible temptations for those in power. Only an ingrained ideological commitment to the loftier ideals can provide protection against this cancerous malady of corruption. Democracy also comes under threat from various institutions within the state, which are prone to arrogating resources and powers. All these anti-democratic forces threaten the most cherished ideal of the people - liberty. Liberty is the bedrock of a free society, freedom of thought and conscience. Strict compliance with the basic democratic norms and processes confers legitimacy on the governments formed thereunder.

The idea of a democratic state is intertwined with a welfare state. A constitutional democracy on the western model envisages that all three organs of the state, legislature, executive and judiciary, function within their allotted spheres and in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution and or conventions developed around certain practices that ensure observance of democratic norms. The cornerstone of liberal democracy is individualism. A government founded on common consent pre-supposes that the government does not trample upon or undermine liberties of people. The constitution ensures a check against unlawful actions of the executive and legislature in the form of an independent judiciary, which has the power of judicial review. The executive is also responsible to the parliament for its policies. A democratic government is obligated to protect certain values necessary for the society, which include rule of law and respect for humanity.

The people of South Asia share common stock and history. With the exception of Nepal and Bhutan, all other countries, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, have written constitutions and democratic governments with varying experiences and different political histories. All these countries were British colonies. People were gradually introduced to democratic institutions. A brief survey of the constitutional dispensation and political history of these countries would help in our ultimate analysis and conclusions.

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The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and former additional attorney general of Pakistan. He holds an LL.M. degree from Harvard Law School and is the co-author of a book ‘Comparative Constitutional Law.’ He can be reached at mwaqarrana@yahoo.com

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