South Asia and the Fourth Wave of Democracy

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For seven years of the current decade Pakistan remained under military rule, with President Pervez Musharraf controlling political authority. The elections in February 2008 and President Musharraf’s resignation almost six months later has opened the way for political parties to restore popular authority for governing Pakistan. In the midst of an early split in the political coalition and the task of balancing national concerns with international pressures, the challenges confronting the rejuvenated democracy of Pakistan appear immense.

Western democracies allow a regulated process of exchange between the established political institutions and personalities occupying these institutions at a given time. Personalities shape the institutions to some extent and in turn get influenced by the institutional norms allowing the political process to grow and mature with the demands of time. One of the gravest challenges confronting third world democracies is the personalisation rather than institutionalisation of democracy. The political occupants redesign the democratic institutions during their tenure thereby disallowing democracy to take roots. The ensuing occupant in an attempt to undo the wrong committed by the predecessor lends a different, but equally personalized interpretation to the role of the given political institution.

In holding the dual office of the Army Chief and President, Pervez Musharraf inaugurated another era of military rule in Pakistan in 2001. From the widely criticised 2002 referendum to extend his Presidency for another five years to the 2007 declaration of Emergency President Musharraf has left an inedible imprint on every political institution of Pakistan. His attempts to out rightly attack the independency of the Judiciary precipitated the looming crisis in Pakistan and alliances to remove him from power gained momentum. In another legally baffling, but politically serving decision President Musharraf in 2007 issued a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). The NRO dropped corruption charges against ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but the legal technicalities of the Ordinance did not offer amnesty to Musharraf's predecessor Nawaz Sharif.vii Continuing with these arbitrary decisions of the Musharraf’s regime the new government in Pakistan is showing signs of political vendetta. In the politically motivated legal wavier granted by the NRO, Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, now stands to gain the most as Pakistan’s new President. Recently, the National Accountability Bureau, headed by President Zardari has re-opened corruption cases against Nawaz Sharif, continuing the policy of imprisoning political opponents. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s formula for ensuring democratic stability by allowing members of the same political party to occupy the offices of the President and the Prime Minister appears largely self-serving.viii The P.M. has also hinted at a new mechanism being devised to ensure the accountability of the judiciary and military. Depending upon the composition of the new body it is likely to impact the autonomy of the judiciary and leave the military in suspicion of the new authorities. After promising to reinstate the judges on assuming power, President Zardari has in fact lashed the country’s judiciary on the charge of failing to deal with his case impartially while he was held in prison for politically motivated charges. The commitment to building a moderate, stable and democratic Pakistan has been the convincing rationale of the personalisation attempts in Pakistan.

Dominance of personality based politics in Pakistan has resulted in the emergence of fragile democracy. With regular alternations in the nature of government (alternating between military rule and party-based politics) the institutional strength of democracy is continuously strained. Pakistan’s contribution to the fourth wave of democracy is the realisation that weak institutions run by strong personalities results in the fragility of democratic practices. Charismatic personalities can make a positive contribution to the democratic process only when its institutions are strongly anchored.

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