Sunday, November 04, 2007

Emergency in Pakistan

President Musharaf has made history by being the only Pakistani president in history to impose emergency twice. Lot of commentators say that the situation is alike Martial Law, which has been imposed on the country no less than five times in its sixty year history.

However, what’s interesting to me is what the President said in his TV speech – “I appeal to my critics – give us time! Your democracies have matured over centuries, but ours is a new one and needs time. We are making great progress, but it is necessary, from time to time, to correct the course.”

It is very similar to what a prominent Bangladeshi blogger wrote, in defending the martial law in Bangladesh: “Over the last thousand years, Bangalees have not had much autonomous democratic control of their destinies. We have been ruled during this time from Delhi or London or Islamabad. Even since 1971, our political leaders have often been autocratic leaders. So theoretically speaking we have had at best 15 years in the last 1500 years of free rule. Given this, should we be so sure of what democracy or which model of democracy suits us best? Should we not even spend some time on deliberating on our structure of government and representation?” [That’s Farhan – in his Conversation With An Optimist; http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com]

I know this view is very prevalent in Asia, and I am sure the Thai generals also have some similar excuse. It is commonly believed by the elite that the people need to be told how they should vote [not far, in conceptualization, from the current US faith in Engineered Democracies].

However, despite this, the 'people' proved uncannily prescient. In Bangladesh, for example, governments were booted out for non-performance. In Pakistan, the experience has been similar. Even in India, which had a 20-month emergency period in its 60 year history, the dictatorial Mrs. Gandhi was taught a lesson by the electorate for suspending democracy.

So, I see the flip side of Musharaf’s argument. The democracy is immature, but so is the ruling elite. It is less a fault of people and democratic process, because they always voted well when given a chance, and more a fault of the ruling elite to improve the situation in these countries. Farhan is a very intelligent man and a keen observer of the political process, but he is indeed wrong – what the countries need is a restoration of democratic process, not the suspension of it.

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