Waiting for the fall of democracy – by Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain

Waiting for the fall

We elect politicians because we feel that they are like us and because they are ‘of us and from us’ and therefore can represent us properly. And when politicians do not come up to snuff, we take it in our stride and go on and elect somebody else the next time around for that is the way of democracy

It has been over a year since Mr Zardari became the President of Pakistan and no Pakistani has yet died of hunger induced by his presidency or at least it has not been so reported by even the most virulent Zardari-hater in the media. It has been months since the army action pacified Swat and contrary to predictions made by media pundits, it is now peaceful enough for women to come out to shop for Eid. Obviously the pundits did not consider it newsworthy anymore.

It has been weeks since the Kerry-Lugar Bill was passed but the ‘establishment’ in Pakistan has not yet forced the government to refuse any aid under this new US law. Though it did seem just a few weeks ago that the ‘establishment’ and its ‘friends’ in the media were so incensed that in their opinion President Zardari should have, if he was a decent sort, just disappeared in a puff of smoke or better yet ‘drowned himself in a palm full of water’.

Our prophets of doom and gloom are definitely not like a Cassandra that nobody believes but who turns out to be right in the end. They are more like Chicken Little, running around shouting that the ‘sky is falling’, and the sky stays where it is. That is most apropos to their opinions about the imminent ‘fall’ of President Zardari. Yes, one day President Zardari will be president no more for that is the natural order of things, but that will not have any relationship to the present predictions of the ‘Chicken Littles’ in the media.

If those that oppose President Zardari believe in the Constitution of Pakistan then they must also accept that the only way for him not to be the president anymore is by constitutional means. Since impeachment, the only constitutional way of getting rid of a president is highly unlikely in this case; all the president’s opponents are banking on the Chief Justice of Pakistan to do their ‘dirty deed’ for them.

And concerning this I do sincerely hope that the honourable Chief Justice and members of his court will remember that Mr Zardari is a constitutionally elected President of Pakistan and not another army general who appointed himself president. As such I cannot imagine how Mr Zardari’s election can be reversed without reversing the results of the general elections held in 2008 that created the electoral college that then elected him president. But then I am not a constitutional expert by any estimation.

To expect politicians to be somehow more moral and smarter than the rest of us is indeed unwarranted. And as such to remove a politician from a duly elected position for lapses of judgment or unproved accusations of corruption is in my opinion contrary to the spirit of democracy and the will of the people that elected him.

Most importantly in Mr Zardari’s case, all those that elected him were completely aware of all the cases of corruption and other malfeasance he stood accused of. Of course none of these charges against him were ever proved even though he spent more than a decade in jail and was hauled from court to court all over the country while on trial not only under a military government but also during a presumably democratic dispensation.

As far as ordinary people are concerned, few if any of them are excited any more about stories of Mr Zardari’s corruption that go back to more than a decade ago. And so far nobody has been able to come up with any proof of any corruption that he might be involved in during his term as the president. Anyway, in the Pakistani context, the term ‘clean politician’ is definitely an oxymoron.

We elect politicians because we feel that they are like us and because they are ‘of us and from us’ and therefore can represent us properly. And when politicians do not come up to snuff, we take it in our stride and go on and elect somebody else the next time around for that is the way of democracy.

We choose judges because we think they represent better instincts that we have as individuals and because we actually expect them to be morally superior to us. We expect them to temper our baser instincts as a people and uphold the rule as well as the majesty of the law. Democracy is indeed a chaotic system of government and for it to survive a strong and independent judiciary is necessary to keep democracy working properly.

Sadly, in the history of Pakistan the apex court never came up to the expectations placed upon it to defend democracy. Starting with the Tamizuddin case it seems that the Supreme Court of Pakistan always sided with anti-democratic forces all the way up to and including the Musharraf takeover ten years ago. The way the present Supreme Court handles the issue of the NRO, as it applies the rule of law to the president, will very likely have a significant influence on the future of democracy in Pakistan just as the Tamizuddin case did 54 years ago.

As a president, Mr Zardari has done much that he should not have done and also there is much that he should have done that he did not. In his defence I must however say this that even if he did everything that his detractors say he should have, they would still be demanding that he ‘do more’. That of course does not mean that he should not do whatever is needed to restore the prestige of the party that he heads as a co-chairman and to improve the performance of the PPP-led government at the centre.

A good thing we have seen about President Zardari is that even if he seems initially reluctant, eventually he does end up by doing the right thing. And that is not at all bad.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at smhmbbs70@yahoo.com