Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 11.04.2008

By Samia Altaf  I don’t really care if the cabinet eventually includes all 342 members of the national assembly. As an analyst, I am interested in understanding what the size and distribution reveal about the nature of politics in Pakistan. I want to explore why an Opposition, vociferous in its condemnation of the previous government’s excessively large cabinet, feels so compelled to go one better when it inherits power. What is going on is obvious – a largely indiscriminate division of portfolios without matching qualifications to job requirements. Why it is going on is of greater interest. Mark first the discussion about who should get what. A lot turns on the ‘deservingness’ of the candidates. How unfair to deny X who spent the most time in prison while the leaders were exiled? How about Y who had her assets confiscated and was humiliated to boot? This is the...

Democracy/Governance, Pakistan, Politics / 07.04.2008

By Shreekant Gupta  On the crowded and chaotic streets of Rawalpindi, Sheikh Rashid the former federal minister is everywhere.   His corpulent, moustached face looks down at you beatifically from huge billboards and hoardings, from posters dangling from lamp posts and on the back of rickety smoke-belching vehicles.  At some places it is only him and at others he is pictured along with other party candidates.  At roadside tea stalls and in the homes of the elite in Satellite Town and elsewhere, views for and against him are equally vehement.  In the National Assembly elections in 2002, though he won from both Pindi constituencies NA 55 and NA 56, the race seems wide open this time, and he is up against strong ‘noon’ (PML-N) candidates at both places. Welcome to Pakistan’s noisy and vibrant democracy.  Wait a minute, democracy and Pakistan, isn’t that an oxymoron?  Well, that is...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 28.03.2008

BySamia Altaf An editorial in The News on March 21, 2008 (“Bilawal to the rescue”) got it wrong when it expressed sadness at the “strange dynastic politics that have taken root in the region.” Dynastic politics have been rooted in the region much like they were in most other parts of the world in the past. The distinction of South Asia is that, unlike elsewhere, it has not left dynastic politics behind. Three centuries ago it was quite normal to have a Dauphin and a regent in France. Today, a French citizen would be completely nonplussed by the thought of such a practice. In South Asia, however, the practice is not only familiar, it is actually demanded by the citizenry. How else would one explain a democratic India feeling the need to transplant Rajiv Gandhi from an airline pilot to a Prime Minister? Examples abound across South...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 01.03.2008

This is a companion piece to The Politics of Identity in which we outlined the views of Professor Stanley Fish on identity politics. In this post we present a critique of Professor Fish’s analysis, apply his framework to politics in Pakistan, and try to demonstrate the importance of context in such matters.  Professor Fish’s articulation of identity politics is most easily understood in the concrete context of the contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. An ideal non-identity voter would be one who behaves as if he or she is completely unaware of the “skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other marker [of identity]” of the two candidates. The voter (visualized as an abstract “citizen”) selects the candidate best qualified to lead the country and advance the policies (say on the war in Iraq, the Middle...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Modernity, Politics, South Asia / 23.02.2008

In setting up the next set of articles we use a thought-provoking op-ed by Professor Stanley Fish as the point of departure. Professor Fish deals with an issue, identity politics, which is of great relevance for us in South Asia. While the author’s application is to the election in the US (voting on the basis of color or gender), we can easily extrapolate some of the ideas to our context. Here is Professor Fish’s definition of identity politics: You’re practicing identity politics when you vote for or against someone because of his or her skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other marker that leads you to say yes or no independently of a candidate’s ideas or policies. An identity politics voter says, in effect, I don’t care what views he holds, or even what bad things he may have done, or what lack of ability...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 22.02.2008

It is useful to study the history of democracy in Japan to highlight an aspect that is almost completely overlooked in South Asia – the critical relevance of electoral rules. Japan is termed “the only stable industrialized democracy in Asia, with a well-established parliament, political parties that vigorously compete in elections, and a solidly legitimate democratic constitution.” It is a “predominant party democracy” in which the same party was consistently supported by voters under free and competitive conditions for a very long time (38 years). However, “the Japanese formula for a successful, dominant party democracy has had its negative effects – the role of excess money in politics and corruption.” All these aspects are related to electoral rules “since the electoral system is a major determinant of a political regime:” In many newly-emerging democracies the choice of an electoral system is increasingly being recognized as a vital element...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, South Asia / 17.02.2008

Continuing our tour of the post-colonial transitions in governance, we take a look at the unique experience of Hong Kong to see if we can add to our understanding of the relationship between governance and social, political and economic outcomes. The outstanding feature of the political set-up in Hong Kong was its institutional longevity – it was formally the same in the 1980s as it was a hundred years earlier. “There was no election and no universal suffrage until 1982, no political party until the 1990s and still, on the eve of the handover [in 1997], no fully elected assembly.” The question that comes to mind is why the British who were so eager to introduce electoral politics in India and Sri Lanka where the polities were rife with social cleavages, not willing to do so in Hong Kong where there was so much ethnic homogeneity? Leaving aside...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 13.02.2008

In an earlier post we had made the point that the alternative to unadulterated democracy was not dictatorship and more efforts at creating imaginative constitutional arrangements for transitional countries might yield better outcomes. We have already discussed the tragic consequences of attempts to introduce unadulterated democracy in British India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Now we can turn to see the outcomes of variations from pure democracy in some other former British colonies. The first interesting case is that of Malaysia – we focus on the variation itself and not on whether it was really a conscious attempt at imaginative adaptation. In this we rely on the chapter by Shamsul A.B. (Development and Democracy in Malaysia: A Comment on its Socio-Historical Roots) in the book that we have been using in the last three posts. The starting point was remarkably similar to the situation in India and Sri...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics, Sri Lanka / 11.02.2008

We found the book The Cultural Construction of Politics in Asia edited by Hans Antlov and Tak-Wing Ngo (St. Martin’s Press, 2000) referred to in an earlier post (Democracy in India – 1) very useful in furthering our analysis of governance based on concrete case studies. In this post we summarize the experience in Sri Lanka using the chapter by Peter Kloos (Democracy, Civil War and the Demise of the Trias Politica in Sri Lanka). The author starts by noting that in 1947 Sri Lanka seemed to have all that was needed to transform itself into an independent democracy and few post-colonial states had such a favorable point of departure: It had already had an elected parliament for more than a decade and a half… [It] had universal suffrage earlier than several European states. It had a high rate of literacy and also a newspaper tradition of a century and a half....

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Politics / 09.02.2008

By Bettina Robotka Some of the most significant changes in the world since the late eighties like the policy of “glasnost” (transparency) in the former Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the political changes in the socialist world have elevated the representative democracy as the most suitable political system available in the world. Many countries of Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union as well as many in the so-called developing world have since then taken to democracy as the model to be followed in their political setup. Parliamentary Democracy in many parts of the world has proved to be workable though it is also no perfect political system. “Suppose that elections are free and fair and those elected are racists, fascists, and separatists. That is the dilemma”, said the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke about Jugoslavia in the...