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Reforming the unreformable

Pakistan is in the grip of a system of spoils controlled by those who want to benefit form a governance anarchy. When Pakistan crafted its constitution under a democratic revolution after long tussle between the praetorianism and democracy in 1973 the demons of the colonial legacy could not be exorcised. The constitution still carried vestiges of 1935 Act bequeathed by a colonial power that wanted to rule by dividing the colonized subjects. Little thought was given by the framers of the constitution to the socio-economic realities and cultural milieu rooted in centuries of mal-governance in sub-continent.
Westminster polity was adopted as a panacea to our political woes. A weary nation having experienced a flawed pre 1958 parliamentary system and a post 1958 authoritarianism masquerading as presidential rule, had little patience to debate the lineaments of new constitution. The British parliamentary system worked well in Britain due to an unwritten constitution rooted in liberal traditions adopted voluntarily by an educated population. Another reason was the consensus amongst the population about the ethical and legal boundaries to be respected by all irrespective of the social status. A democracy as practiced in the advanced Western democracies is a system of governance where the governments and people have entered willingly in a social contract and therefore comply with its norms and rules voluntarily.
The success and failure of a democracy depends upon the quality of participants i.e people. Democracy is a system of governance that operates through consensus. Now imagine if the majority of the voters are illiterate and poor with very little civic sense; what would they agree at? Or else, if a majority of the voters do not have a developed sense of public morality on issues such as graft, jobbery, nepotism, and corruption, what would their consensus be? Since a system of governance depends on democratic principles of consensus and engagement any attempts at forcing people to conform to higher ideals of public morality would entail state coercion. A democratic dispensation in Pakistan therefore would always be constrained in its ability to force compliance with universal principles of public morality and civic sense.
By hammering on a narrative of anti corruption the public expectations had been raised to a feverish pitch by PTI during election campaign without realizing that Pakistan was a not a democracy in the real sense of the word but an anocracy i.e a flawed democracy. In such democracies the lack of public and elite consensus on anti-corruption and best governance practices in the world leads to a disconnect between the leaders and the led. In simple words if the people value corruption the leaders would be hard put to teach them the virtues of honesty. The question then arises about the functioning of the state. How would a state function if it refuses to enforce standards of civic behaviour and legal conduct that ensure peace, order and development in a society. The answer lies in either muddling along as a soft state that cannot even ban a shopping bag. Either open institutionalized avenues of corruption for all stake holders or chart a radical course through hard reforms that bite all the beneficiaries of the old system.
Consider for instance the current political dispensation that has a leadership ostensibly wedded to a radical agenda of reforms aimed at banning corruption and enforcing high standards of social, political, and economic conduct. PTI government led by a charismatic idealist Imran Khan has come in power on the promises of eradicating jobbery, nepotism, corruption, and inequality from society. What it encounters is a population without consensus on all of the above objectives. There is a vast rural population whose preoccupation with daily grind of earning two square meals prevents it from aspiring for a greater vision other than keeping the present standard of living intact.



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