Democracy become hypocrisy and meaningless as soon as it loses its ability to deliver. When a system of governance in the name of democracy fails to take care of its citizenry and promotes and protects the interests of a few, the exercise becomes a farce. People lose trust in the system and open the floodgates of mayhem, mis-governance and anarchy. It matters less if the voters’ trust is being abused in the United States, Bangladesh, India, South Africa, Pakistan or in Europe. If a voting mechanism delivers oligarchy, just because the rich and the powerful are able to buy the poor voters’ grievances, weaknesses and dreams, then democracy becomes a salable commodity going to the highest bidder as is the case in many countries.
In the United States, many still pose the question what if Donald Trump was a factory workers in the Rust Belt? Would he still make it to the White House? The answer may not surprise anyone because the role of money in politics is undeniable and that it is in fact shaping and reshaping the political landscape in states across the nation. But it is the strength of American democracy, its strong democratic traditions and core values of transparent and just accountability that guarantees democracy in the Land of the Free and the Braves. The system forces even the wealthiest of the wealthy and powerful reaching public office, learn how to respect the public mandate or lose the job. We saw the latest example on September 29 when President Donald Trump’s hand-picked Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had to resign.
Countries like Pakistan, where the term democracy is used as a prostitute going in the lap of highest bidder, are suffering because of an indifferent electorate, lack of respect for the supremacy of law and the constitution, corrupt to the core leadership and the powerful civilian military establishment defining, refining and redefining national interests in line with its institutional interests. The Pakistani National Assembly is expected to approve a controversial legislation, after it was approved by Senate, that will allow a convicted criminal to head a political party. The exercise comes after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as the nuclear-armed South Asian nation’s prime minister for being dishonest by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, banning him for life from holding a public office or heading a political party.
Sharif and his cronies have become a symbol of misrule and corruption in Pakistan and yet they are not willing to go away respectably because they do not believe in the very system they use to prolong their rule. Ishaq Dar, Sharif’s confidante and a close relative, like many others also clings to the office of finance minister despite being indicted in a corruption case. Examples like these will never strengthen democracy in developing countries like Pakistan and will always create room for acceptance of autocratic rule. Reason, a democratic rule sans transparent accountability leads to its own genre of autocracy, where the rule of the majority turns into the tyranny of the majority.
Conversely, the Western democracies have always thrived not because their electorate represent the most educated class in the world but because of its tough accountability practices. The resignation of Mr. Price is one example of American accountability, healthy political traditions and display of self respect and esteem. Mr. Price offered to resign and President Donald Trump accepted it after reports appeared in the media that he had spent a million dollars of taxpayer money for his travel on private jets. Mr. Price has apologized and promised to reimburse the amount to the kitty.
Politics aside, Mr Price’s exit is a good example of American democracy at its best, during one of the most difficult phases of its history. The inbuilt constitutional mechanism and democratic traditions kicked in automatically as soon as it was known that Mr. Price had unnecessarily spent taxpayer dollar for what appeared to be his personal comfort. The incident may apparently mean an end to his political career but it has reinforced the trust of millions of Americans voters in the system they have so proudly adhered to for generations.
Alas such examples are hard to find in third world quasi democracies like Pakistan where Nawaz Sharif is still rallying his supporters over his humiliating exit, claiming he has been victimized by the court or Ishaq Dar, a confessed money launderer, sitting in national security committee meetings of a nuclear power without any guilt or shame.
While President Trump can make American democracy stronger by improving his choices for important offices and strengthen the accountability system even more, Pakistan can save its democracy by bringing the corrupt Sharifs and Dars to justice. Pakistanis don’t need to reinvent the wheel to do so. But they do need to reverse the wheel in opposite direction where the system does not serve the interests of individuals. Rather individuals serve, protect and strengthen the system.