Oligarchy is the new democracy

Shabbir Ahmad

MARCH 15 is an important day in the global political history. On this day Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator of the first century BC was assassinated by a group of aristocrats. His death precipitated the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the era of Roman Empire. The 7th US President Andrew Jackson was born on 15th March 1767 in a lower middle class family. His father died few weeks before his birth. He was the first man from an impoverished background to be elected as the President.
Though Julius Caesar was a dictator and believed in ruling the people by force while Andrew Jackson was an elected president and gave a new dimension to the democracy by passing political power from established elites to the ordinary voters based in political parties. Yet one thing is common in both of the aforementioned personalities. Both of them belong to humble backgrounds. Neither had they inherited a fortune nor a strong political background. They made their way to the throne through an untiring struggle. But can an ordinary man imagine making his way to the position of head of a state in the contemporary world? It’s a subjective question and it might be possible in some countries but in majority of the countries including Pakistan it is a distant possibility.
When it comes to the involvement of common man in Politics in Pakistan, the name of a political party instantly comes to mind. Yes it is Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). PTI emerged as a third major political force in 2011. The Chairman Imran Khan claimed that PTI is a common man’s party. PTI came into being in 1997 and since its inception to 2011 the party hardly won a single seat in the National Assembly because it was the party of common people. Then the scenario suddenly changed and scores of political stalwarts and businessmen joined the party. After the inclusion of these seasoned politicians, landlords and businessmen PTI became a strong political force and emerged as 3rd largest party in the previous General Elections. Same is the case with other such political parties.
Election campaign in Pakistan costs a lot of money. Although the Election Commission of Pakistan has clearly defined rules about the election campaign including its expenditures but the political elites doesn’t care about these rules. They spend millions of rupees on public gatherings, parties and persuading people to vote in their favour.
The local administration is also under their influence as most of these people or their family members are former MPAs, MNAs, or ministers. Now even if a common man dares to contest elections against these elites, none of the major political parties will give him party ticket. They know he cannot win. If he convince a party and managed to get ticket even then his chances of winning the elections are negligible because people in majority of areas of Pakistan cast votes to personalities. They do not care about the party. We have seen a lot of such examples in the past. A person contest elections representing PPP and he wins by a thumping majority. In next elections the same person contest elections representing PTI and against PPP. He wins by the same majority.
On one hand it shows that either the original definition of democracy is incorrect or we need to call this system something else because it is not the rule of people but it is the rule of elites. Oligarchy seems an appropriate term here. Democracy has taken a turn down elitist lane and become a country led by a small dominant class comprised of powerful members who exert total control over the general population — an oligarchy. The government represents the rich and powerful, not the average citizen.
The aforementioned facts shows a grim picture of the political system in Pakistan but the last year’s local bodies elections has provided a ray of hope for us. Dozens of common people with no political background have been elected in those elections. A few middle class educated young men and women were elected in the 2013 General Elections. Now it is the duty of these elected people to raise their voice for common man on the respective political forums. They need to emphasize the importance of education because an educated person will not cast his/her vote blindly. He will keep in view the future of his constituency and his country and will vote for the right person.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Germany.

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