M.A. Shiwani: Democratic Witch Hunts

Pakistan’s political system is finally beginning to show that it has the capacity to uphold democratic ideals.

The robustness of the credentials underpinning democratic political systems has been the subject of great examination for decades. Democracy has, since its introduction, been labelled a mechanism of the bourgeoisie — one that retains all political and economic control in the hands of the owners of capital but creates the perception that power lies with the masses. Indeed, many democratic systems have provided proof of the inherently flawed concept of democracy but in that sense, no political system in the contemporary world has been exemplary of the principles that it champions. It is, however, important to acknowledge that in the last two years, political events across the globe have shown that democracy may not be that bad after all. In August 2016, Dilma Rousseff— the then president of Brazil was impeached because she allegedly manipulated the federal budget, increasing the political backlash the government was receiving because of its various corruption scandals.

Such probes and allegations have now become a regular occurrence in Brazil with Michel Temer — the current president of Brazil, recently becoming the country’s first president to be formally charged with a crime while in office. In similar fashion, South Korea’s apex court recently upheld the impeachment of Park Geun-hye who became the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office by its parliament over a wide range of corruption scandals. These events are visibly proving that separation of powers between the government and the judiciary and ensuring that the judiciary is genuinely autonomous will bear fruit in the form of accountability; even in states that have grueling histories of rampant corruption.

Brazil and South Korea have both established that leaders, despite being elected, will not be able to use their powers in the pursuit of personal interests. Such events are reshaping the political landscape of these countries; those who run for office will now be cognizant of the seriousness with which abuses of power are dealt with and this will, in itself, begin to eliminate issues of corruption.

Iran is a theocratic democracy — one where an unelected Ayatollah can veto an elected parliament. Just one week ago, Hossein Feriedoun — the brother of the Iranian president, was arrested on corruption charges. Rouhani’s supporters see this as an attempt to undermine Rouhani but the very notion that the brother of the president was arrested in a country that only has some components of democracy (many academics feel that Iran is still a dictatorship) shows that democratic systems can succeed in ensuring accountability. The fact that such apparent witch hunts are a component only of political systems that are either democracies, or integrate democratic concepts, goes on to show that democracy does, in fact, diffuse power and, in that process, hold rulers liable.

China, in contrast, continues to show the pitfalls of a non-democratic system. The Business Insider, in an article titled China has lots of problems — but a revolution isn’t one of them explains how the recent removal from office of the party chief of Chongqing and his subsequent replacement by a loyalist of the Chinese president shows that power has never been as concentrated in the hands of the head of state in China since Mao Zedong. It goes on to report that Xi Jingping’s anti-corruption campaign is now showing increasing signs of being a policy adopted to purge potential rivals and ensure that power is held exclusively by his loyalists. The recent protests by rights activists over China’s horrid treatment of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo have shown that there is civilian dissent in China and that most of this dissent is not even known to us because of China’s curbs on the media is testament to the repression that results from undemocratic regimes.

Though the, ‘Single Greatest Witch Hunt of a Politician’ in history is taking place in the United States, the US has, admirably, always taken presidential scandals very seriously and that is why it will not be alluded to in this article. Pakistan, on the other hand, has not; until recently. This article in The Nation wonderfully shows how the seriousness of the corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the active and judicious involvement of the judiciary in dealing with the allegations is reason to believe that Pakistan may finally be making a permanent transition to democracy — indicating that democratic systems inherently entail an empowerment of accountability mechanisms.

Pakistan has been historically plagued by issues of corruption and undemocratic rules and now that the second elected president (after the end of General Musharraf’s military rule in 2001) is coming to the end of his term, Pakistan’s political system is beginning to show that it has the capacity to uphold democratic ideals.

None of the countries mentioned in this article have perfect political systems, nor are their civilians fully satisfied with the workings of the state. However, it is important to understand that the mere existence of a mechanism that holds leaders accountable and safeguards the interests of the people does give hope to the common man. As a Pakistani, I may or may not agree with the political views of those that are attempting to hold the Prime Minister accountable but I cannot deny the fact that, just by knowing that it is possible to know if the leader of my country upholds the morals of its constitution, my faith in the political system of Pakistan has been revived.

Mohammad Ahmed Shiwani is an intern at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. Any views belong to the author.

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Filed under Brazil, Discussion, Iran, Pakistan, Politics, South Korea

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