THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN: DEMOCRACY AND ITS CONTENTS

The concept and practice of democracy is vast and broad. Elaborating upon it is beyond the scope of this paper and a minimalist definition of democracy is propounded here. (There are variants of democracy. It is liberal democracy that we are referring to in this paper).Liberal democracy, according to, Francis Fukuyama, is more than majority voting in elections; it is a complex set of institutions that restrain and regularize the exercise of power through law and a system of checks and balances(Fukuyama, 2011:4) While free and fair elections are the sine qua non of democracy, it lacks substance if the electoral process is not coupled with the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, civil and political rights and freedoms of the people(www.democracy-asia.org). ‘The state must practice the principle of equal citizenship to all irrespective of religion, caste, ethnicity and regional background. It must also ensure equality of opportunity to all for advancement in social, political and economic domains and guarantee security of life and property of its citizens’ (www.democracy-asia.org).

Democratic systems and polities are usually more legitimate in the eyes and beliefs of the citizenry. It is almost a truism now that most states in the contemporary world take recourse to democracy as a legitimizing practice even though for some this is merely rhetorical. Legitimacy is of two kinds: Vertical and Horizontal. ‘Vertical legitimacy establishes the connection, the ‘right to rule between society, political institutions and regimes. It is the belief by the population in the rightfulness of the state and its authority’(Ohlson & Soderberg, 2002:7).’Horizontal legitimacy concerns the limits of and criteria for membership in the political community that is ruled. It refers to the nature of the community over which formal rule is exercised, to the attitudes and practices of individuals and groups within the state to each other and ultimately to the state that encompasses them. If the various groups and communities within the state accept and tolerate each other, horizontal legitimacy is high’ (Ohlson & Soderberg, 2002:7)

In sum vertical legitimacy refers to responsible authority and voluntary subordination and horizontal solidarity refers to mutual acceptance and tolerance at various levels (Ohlson & Soderberg, 2002). These two interact and are interlocking: one is incomplete without the other and constitutes almost an equation. The absence of horizontal legitimacy within society may lead to dissipation of loyalty to the state and its institutions.

The discussion over legitimacy blends into the nature of the state in contention. While the paper does not allow is to probe deep into state typologies, it, however, is germane to point out two categories of states that have a bearing on the discussion. That is, strong and weak states. Strong states typically have a high degree of legitimacy whilst weak ones suffer from what is called the legitimacy gap. Strong state legitimacy accrues from the social contract between key groups in society. ‘In strong states, approved mechanisms for adjustment, change and transfer of power exist and command sufficient support so that they are not threatened from within the state. The idea of the state, its institutions and its territory are all clearly defined and stable in their own right’(Ohslon & Soderberg, 2002:6). Weak states, by contrast are characterized by the following features:

1. Lack of societal cohesion and consensus on what organizing principles should determine the contest for state power and how that power should be executed:

2. Low capacity or low political will of state institutions to provide all citizens with minimum levels of security and well being:

3. High vulnerability to external economic and political factors;

4. Low degree of legitimacy accorded to the holders of state power by the citizenry (Ohlson & Soderberg, 2002: 6-7).

Substantive democracy, strong states, and high legitimacy-both horizontal and vertical- go together and form a salubrious fit. Weak states and low levels of democracy or non existent democracy, au contraire, comprise the other extreme.

And it could be inferred that weak states usually lend themselves to some form of authoritarianism, praetorianism and patrimonialism or a combination thereof. While there may not be a robust causal and empirical relationship between these, the evidence towards this is borne out by the experience and trajectory of post colonial experience and trajectory of most states in the Third World. Pakistan falls along the continuum of the weak state and thus displays classic features of semi authoritarianism or a semi democracy where the inherent weakness of the state combines with other features and conceptual underpinnings that cumulatively render the state inhospitable to democracy and democratization. It suffers from both a lack of horizontal and vertical legitimacy. The real, existing democracy in Pakistan thus is at odds with the thrust and gravamen of democracy The Pakistani state and its various convolutions suggests it falls low on the legitimacy scale or continuum. There is no coherence to either the state or the nation of Pakistan and various groups have over time vied for offering a competing narrative for Pakistan. In the process, extant state weakness which the state was born with has led to a crisis of legitimacy.