THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN: DISAGGREGATING THE NATURE

At the risk of sounding tautological, it may be posited that the historical and contemporary situation and condition of Pakistan lends itself to the assertion that Pakistan displays strong features of not only patrimonialism but also praetorianism and semi authoritarianism. It is, to use the Huntingtonian phrase, ruled by an ‘oligarchic praetorian elite’ with the military at the forefront. ‘The military in Pakistan, according to Talat Masood, has historically co-opted a cross section of the political elite and shared office but not power with them to give a democratic facade to the regime. These politicians enjoy the benefits of being in office but do not exercise real power and have to accept the rule of the President and the army’ (2007:3). Political parties in Pakistan then operate under structural constraints imposed by various military regimes. And this condition has fostered a degree of lassitude and paralysis wherein these parties. Instead of interest articulation and aggregation, they take recourse to clientist networks and indulge in patron client relationships. This impacts the state as the state is viewed as a source of largesse and this largesse is in turn doled out to clients or patronage networks. This condition then renders the elections and the electoral process rather infructuous and not reflective of genuine and substantive democracy and genuine power rotation. In fact, the leverage exerted by the oligarchic praetorian elite over political parties and the political parties links to the power structure of Pakistan renders these into a tool in the hands of the army- a situation that , as we shall see, reflects semi authoritarianism. So what are the features of semi authoritarian regimes?

‘Semi authoritarian regimes are political hybrids. They allow little competition for power, thus reducing government accountability (Ottaway, 2003:5). However, they leave enough political space for political parties and civil society organizations to form and for an independent press to function to some extent and for some political debate to take place (Ottaway, 2003:5).

More importantly, semi authoritarian regimes are not flawed democracies; rather they are carefully constructed and maintained alternative systems (Ottaway, 2003:5). The most important characteristics of semi authoritarian regimes is the existence and persistence of mechanisms that effectively prevent the transfer of power from incumbents to a new elite or organizations. These mechanisms of blocking power transfers function despite the existence of formal democratic institutions and the degree of political freedom granted to the citizenry. There is little room for debate on the nature of political power in society, where that power resides and who should hold it. Elections, in this schema are not the source of the regime’s power(0ttaway:2003:13). Power flows and accrues from other sources like the military or the institutional complex generated and perpetuated by the military and their allies like the co opted political parties defined by clientism and patrimonalism. As such, the political system becomes distorted. Elections under such conditions are merely a fig leaf to conceal real power and accord a patina of legitimacy to the incumbent regime. According to Jennifer Gandhi and Ellen Loust-Okar, ‘authoritarian elections are usually an institutional tool that dictators use to co-opt elites, party members or larger groups within society. Elections may also serve to co-opt the opposition’(2009:3). In most cases of authoritarian elections, the authors add, the emerging picture is that elections are not uncompetitive exercises, simply returning preselected candidates but rather an exercise in competitive clientism wherein candidates vie for the privileges of acting as intermediaries in patron client relations and incumbents manipulate such a system to insure their prolonged rule (Gandhi & Loust -Okar, 2009:5). In such electoral and competitive authoritarianism regimes, elections and other democratic institutions offer a medium through which political parties may seek power and influence even though highly circumscribed. Elections are, by and large, rendered as instruments of authoritarian rule than instruments of democracy. The political system of Pakistan displays classic features of semi authoritarianism, praetorianism and patrimonialism. This is validated and borne out by the intermittent and recurring break down of the constitutional and political order in Pakistan, weak political institutions and processes, expansion of the role of the military bureaucratic elite, military elite and military dominated civilian governments and narrow based power management(Rizvi, 2005) The Army, as is well known , is the real political arbiter and power and it co-opts political parties who in turn in indulge in patronage aand take recourse to patron client relationships to perpetuate and justify their existence.

Elections are rather shambolic and correspond to the ‘competitive clientism’ paradigm, and offering no real opposition to the incumbent regime. In the process, the Pakistani polity is badly damaged and transitions to democracy are either botched and democracy never really consolidated. This condition or set of conditions may said to accrue from the disjointedness of the idea of Pakistan, its disconnection from the state of Pakistan and weak institutionalization.