This quote is actually an extract from the book titled “Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty” authored by James Bovard, the American libertarian writer and a candid critic of cronyism.
Abraham Lincolns resounding Gettysburg Address taught me “democracy is for the people, of the people and by the people”. Study of political thought revealed to me that democracy is a not only an abstract political doctrine but an ideal which is ardently practiced by culturally superior and politically mature countries. A genuine democracy ensures prevalence of orderliness, positive propriety and committed discipline through unrelenting adherence to rule of law and constitutional morality. In addition, it guarantees mainstreaming of neglected and vulnerable sections into social, economic and political activity.
In theory, democracy is essence of our constitutional philosophy which aspires to establish an egalitarian social order based on rule of law. However, in practice, our democracy is profoundly autocratic and the same is stained with legends of corruption, nepotism and favouritism. Democracy is being used as an instrument for protection and advancement of vested interests, the ruling elite has deluded the masses into believing that they (masses) the real rulers.
Our current government, despite the fact that it is democratically elected, resembles a powerful Monarchy similar to one that existed in United Kingdom before the Glorious Revolution of 1688. A complete family enterprise, comprising almost all close relatives (father, daughter, brother, nephews and cousins) are enjoying powerful portfolios and privileges, as if they are Duke of Faisalabad, Princess of Gawalmandi and Earl of Raiwind.
Since the institution of Constitutional Petition No. 26 of 2016 (Panama Gate) in Supreme Court of Pakistan, my ears have time and again heard the leaders of the ruling political party chanting slogan “Democracy is under attack, if the Prime Minister is disqualified or convicted, he will win his case in people’s court”.
After, analysing the said slogan, I think two questions need to be addressed:
First, is Democracy under threat?
A democratic polity, in its quintessential purity, is theoretically repulsive to corruption, it is a gospel truth that corruption crumbles the validity of the collective ethos, frustrates the hopes of the citizens and has the potentiality to obstruct the rule of law. Corruption in a civilised society is like a like cancer, it affects not only an individual but the society as a whole by undermining and jeopardising state institutions.
Montesquieu theory of “separation of powers” and “system of checks and balances”, Bentham’s political doctrines, American Charter of Rights and 19th century liberalism, were propounded to prevent arbitrary exercise of power. The maxim “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” emphasises that unstructured discretion means misuse of power, zero accountability and lack of transparency, which is a top recipe for corruption. Democracy and accountability are two sides of the same coin, currently democracy is not under threat rather corrupt practices and dirt of status quo are being unearthed. Panama probe will not derail democracy in-fact it will strengthen and lay strong foundations on which superstructure of a genuine democracy can be built.
Second, will the electorate solely determine fate of Nawaz Sharif?
Law is a galaxy of stars, it has many colours, shades and forms, one such form is the supreme law of the land popularly known as the Constitution of state. Constitution is sine qua non of democracy; it has overriding nature and in case of conflict prevails over all other general and special laws. Apart from other vital functions, it governs the behaviour of various actors on the constitutional stage. If angels were to govern, no control on them would be essential, however, a democratic government which is to be run by men, needs to be controlled and this is only possible through a constitution.
The job of the people is to elect not decide who is qualified or disqualified from entry into assemblies; the judicial organ of the state has to decide eligibilities on the touchstone of Constitution
The democratic values survive and become successful where the persons in charge of the institution are, Firstly, elected according to the provisions as provided in the Constitution and Representation of Peoples Act 1976; and Secondly, their post electionactions is strictly guided by the constitutional and other related legal parameters. Both constitutional and statutory provisions in relation to elections exist because systemic corruption and sponsored criminalisation of politics can rust the nucleus of elective democracy. A democratic polity expects and aspires to be governed by clean people, no cautious master leaves the keys of his chest with a person whose integrity is doubted or is a convict.
Therefore, the constitution in form of Article 62 and 63 provides safeguard against criminalisation of politics by barring entry of certain class of persons into assemblies. These provisions ensure that in order to strengthen democracy best available men should be chosen as the people’s representatives. Such people would be able to make the best even out of aim perfect constitution as a constitution is like a machine, it acquires life because of the men who operate it. The job of the people is to elect not decide who is qualified or disqualified from entry into assemblies; the judicial organ of the state has to decide eligibilities on the touchstone of Constitution.
We need supremacy of rule of law and accountability across the board, no sane individual will assert we live in democracy when a poor man for stealing a bicycle ends up rotting in jail and the ruling elite (under investigation for money laundering, corruption and misuse of authority) is welcomed with official salutes. If a poor man had submitted forged documents in the Supreme Court, by now I am sure his visit to Adiala Jail had been arranged. Democracy is losing its charm, at its best it has become irrelevant and at its worst has become oppressive for the common man.
Panama Probe on reaching its logical conclusion may to some extent restore the trust of masses on democracy. At the moment the sheep and wolves are voting for the same meal, however, the meal after being served is being swallowed by the wolves only.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore
Published in Daily Times, July 24th , 2017.