Pursuing the Dream

Pakistan is a long way from a functioning democracy. Space needs to be created for
the people’s economic well-being as well as their intellectual wellness. The government
must also demonstrate that it is the servant of the people and not their master.

By Dr Talat Farooq | March 2020

The end of the Cold War was greeted with an optimistic ‘’end of history’’ thesis that argued in favour of ‘’unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism’’. This approach saw democracy as the end-point of humanity’s quest for the ideal form of governance.

Fukuyama’s optimistic approach was reinforced by Bill Clinton during his two terms in the White House. His administration never tired of endorsing economic interdependence as the harbinger of ‘’Democracy Enlargement’’ in the world - a world in which, according to Clinton, the US must lead ‘’alliances of free market democracies in Asia, Europe and the Americas in support of democracy and economic liberty.’’

A number of former Soviet-bloc countries embraced democracy in the early 1990s. By opting for open political processes the new-comers appeared to strengthen the hand of the democracy enthusiasts in the US and the West. The newcomers, however, began to falter by the end of the decade as they struggled to cope with unfavourable economic trends and transnational crimes that globalization brought in its wake.

To be fair, modern globalization did introduce and reinforce democratic norms and universal principles of human rights in a number of international and regional institutions. The UN war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the establishment of an International Criminal Court that empowered humanitarian law, are cases in point.

Contemporary globalization has also enabled exchange of ideas between common people, thus giving them a voice in domestic and global politics; at the same time, mass media has exposed them to fake news and conspiracy theories that can manipulate voter independence. More interestingly, the advancement in communication technology can facilitate external interventions in a country’s electoral process. These developments undermine the voter’s freedom to choose.

Mass media is not the only medium influencing political outcomes. Over the past four decades or so the concept of democracy has lost its immaculate roots in the face of the massive cost of running for public office. This has given wealthy corporate interests and influential non-state actors the opportunity to manipulate election outcomes by investing in the electoral process. To return the favour, the representatives of the people often lobby for regulations that favour corporate interests at the cost of public interest.

The democratic idea of free-trade, that was supposed to benefit the working class in the developed and developing countries, has failed to deliver. Consequently, inequality of income and distribution of wealth has increased, widening the gap between the rich and the poor not only in the developing world but also in the democratic, developed countries. This has spawned distrust of the ruling elite and given rise to populism and ultra-nationalism that weaken democratic norms of inclusiveness and equality. Brexit is an apt example in this regard.

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The writer is Senior Consultant at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute and author of Pakistan’s Strategic Choices in the 1990s (Routledge, UK, 2016). She can be reached at talatfarooq11@gmail.com

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