Democracy being set on fire: Dr Farrukh Saleem

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Dr Farrukh Saleem

WE HAVE the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). We have the Political Parties Act. We have the Representation of the People Rules. We have the Electoral Rolls Act. We have the Delimitation of Constituencies Act. We have universal suffrage. We have had 11 general elections over the past 48 years. We have 115 million voters. We have all the procedural ingredients to produce an electorally-legitimate government. We have all the procedural ingredients of a democracy.

In 1990, Pakistan’s per capita income at $371 was higher than China’s $317. In 2019, Pakistan’s per capita income stood at $1,284 while the per capita income in China skyrocketed to $10,261. Question: What went wrong in Pakistan? Answer: Pakistan’s ‘procedural democracy’ failed-miserably so. Question: What went right in China? Answer: China’s ‘substantive democracy’ won-and nothing succeeds like success.

In Pakistan, we have three criteria for national leadership: lineage, popularity and the ability to win elections. In China, the Chinese also have three criteria for national leadership: performance, training and evaluations.

China has four levels of formal administration: Township with 40,000 townships; County with 3,000 counties; Prefecture with 300 prefectures and 34 Provinces. At the county level, the Local People’s Congress has directly elected deputies. At the provincial level, deputies are indirectly elected by the members of the Local People’s Congress. The deputies of the National People’s Congress are also indirectly elected by the People’s Congress of the immediately lower level. China has the ‘Three Ticket system’-democracy at the bottom, experimentation in the middle and meritocracy at the top.

We have a ‘parliament’, a ‘judiciary’ and an ‘executive’. So does China. We have ‘separation of powers’. China does not. In China, all state institutions have the same goal: to succeed in meeting the needs of the people.

Pakistan’s ‘procedural democracy’ is about ‘electing and rejecting’. China’s ‘substantive democracy’ is all about ‘tried and tested’. Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others.” China’s democracy is about ‘ShangShangCe’ or ‘best of the best option’. China’s ‘substantive democracy’ has a comparative advantage over the West’s so-called ‘liberal democracy’.

In Pakistan, our top leaders are sons and daughters of top leaders. In China, top leaders have successfully run provinces or province-level municipalities. In Pakistan, top leaders have this unique ability to win elections. In China, top leaders are judged on five criteria: poverty eradication, job creation, local economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

On the ground, China’s ‘democratic rule’ is much more inclusive than most other systems of governance. There are 650,000 ‘Villanger’s Committees’. The People’s Political Consultative Conference (PPCC) has 300,000 participants. The National People’s Congress has 2,980 members. The Central Committee has 205 Full and 171 Alternate Members. The Politburo has 25 members and, at the very top, is the Politburo Standing Committee with 7 members. China’s politics is participatory and its institutions focused on meeting the needs of the people.

On the ground, Pakistan’s ‘democratic rule’ is about ‘exclusionary politics’ and ‘extractionary state institutions’. Exclusionary politics has meant several members of the same family being involved in politics-members related by blood or marriage. Exclusionary politics has meant several generations or multiple siblings being involved in the ‘business’ of politics. Exclusionary politics and extractionary institutions must both be laid to rest-the sooner the better.

Pakistan’s democracy is on fire. Our democracy can somehow afford Rs500 million for MNAs and MPAs but not a rupee to buy COVID vaccines to save the lives of the voters. Right now, the best investment for any country in the world is to invest in COVID vaccines-protect your population and reignite the economic engine. Israel’s ‘substantive democracy’ has already vaccinated more than 60 percent of its population. Pakistan’s ‘procedural democracy’ is waiting for charity to arrive.

Pakistan’s democracy is on fire. Pakistan’s ‘democratic elections’ are in essence an intra-elite competition. On average, 2 out of 3 of our legislators belong to approximately 400
families (this according to the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives).

Pakistan’s democracy is on fire. On 25 July 2018, fifty-three million Pakistani voters voted for 1,192 MNAs, MPAs and Senators. The only ones who have benefited from this ‘procedural democracy’ are the MNAs, MPAs and Senators. The fifty-three million voters are worse off now than before the elections.

China’s ‘substantive democracy’, on the other hand, has lifted 850 million Chinese out of poverty in about two decades.

– The writer is a senior columnist based in Islamabad.