By Syed Shahabuddin
March 6, 2020
Democracy refers to a system of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised through a system of direct or indirect representation, which is decided through periodic free elections. The term “democracy” comes from two Greek words: “demos” (the people) and “kratia” (power or authority). Thus, democracy is a form of government that gives power to the people. However, even though the power lies with the people, they give it to their elected representatives temporarily on the assumption that the elected representatives know the issues and problems of their constituents and will take care of them.
Therefore, to properly represent the constituents, the representatives must speak the language and know the environment and problems of their constituents. To keep up-to-date on the issues of their constituents, representatives must regularly hold town hall meetings to communicate with the constituents about legislation the representative is working on or introducing in the assembly or other actions taking place to solve the problems of the constituents and the country. The representatives must listen and communicate with the constituents in the language the majority of them understand; conversely, the constituents must be allowed to express their concerns using their native language.
Therefore, the representatives must be from the district/province they represent because they understand the environment people are living in, the culture of the district/province, and the language of the people. Without this background, the representative cannot understand the constituents or appreciate their conditions and problems. Therefore, representatives trying to be elected from a district/province where they do not live cannot represent the constituents they claim to represent.
The courts in the United States often articulate three benefits of candidate residency requirements: the ability of candidates to understand the problems and needs of their constituents, the need for voters to have adequate time to assess the candidates, and the prevention of political carpet bagging. Thus, no one who does not meet the residency requirement can represent the constituents of the district the representative wants to run for election. That is why some countries require that the representative must live in the state/province or district from where the representative wants to be elected.
The dilemma for political theorists in this context has been that if a person represents a particular local electorate in the parliament, should they pursue that electorate’s interests or the national interest? Given a choice between the electorate and national interests, most members would probably claim that their local electorate is their prime concern as ultimately their political survival is based on their electorate’s opinion. ‘Good’ representatives have been broadly conceived as either ‘delegates’ reflecting constituent concerns or as paradoxical given the multiple and competing demands. Dovi argues, “A good democratic representatives are not likely to be approved by or even appreciated by every one of their constituents, let alone by all citizens.
Thus my claim is not that a good democratic representative will be valued by every citizen (or even a majority of citizens); rather, my claim is that good democratic representative will be the unbridled advocate of their constituents.” Prieb has said, “I think ultimately what’s important is that the candidate knows the people and knows the area that they are about to represent.” Layman said, “I think it’s really important that the voters in the district and the representatives in the district all live in the same place.” In the Washington Post (2017), a writer stated, “I think if you live outside the district, you should not be allowed run for office. Period. How can you adequately represent your constituents if you live outside the district in which they live? You don’t represent them at all, actually.”
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, anyone can choose to run for office in any district. Worst yet, politicians are allowed to run for office in as many districts as they want. If elected from more than one district, then the politician picks the district he/she wants to represent and vacates the other district(s) from which the representative was also elected. For example, a person from Sindh who either speaks Sindhi or Urdu can run for office from his district as well as from any district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where culture, language (Pashto is the native language), and living conditions are different than Sindh. Probably, the contestant has no intention of representing the district in KP if also elected from a district in Sindh. In some cases, a contestant can run in five or six districts and then vacate, if elected, the seat of the districts the candidate had no intention to represent.
This practice of a candidate running for office in more than one district creates many problems. One, if the candidate wins in more than one district, he/she must vacate the districts he/she does not want to represent. Therefore, another election must be held in the districts that the contestant won but does not want to represent, thereby costing the government additional money and time for another election. Second, the non-resident contestant deprives the legitimate representatives who are from the district, thus depriving the constituents of being represented properly.
Further, if the candidate is only elected from the district that is alien to him/her, then the elected representative cannot really represent the constituents or care to represent the district honestly. However, the representative may hold the seat because it is the only district from which the representative was elected. This is dishonest behaviour on the part of the non-resident candidate whose only interest is to make sure he/she gets elected anywhere with no intention of properly representing the constituents. It is a complete disservice to the constituents, democracy, country, and society.
A good democracy requires an honest representation of the constituents. Thus, this shenanigan has to end for the good of the country and the people. If nothing changes, this dishonest behaviour will continue causing a loss to the constituents who are not being properly represented and costing the government for holding elections again. Therefore, the problem has three solutions. First, the easiest and cheapest solution is to change the law requiring that candidates must have a house in the province/district and have lived there for at least six months to a year before running for election in that province/district. Second, if the law is not changed, then require any candidates in the non-state or non-district area to bear the cost of a new election if he/she decides to vacate the seat(s) after being elected, and make them pay a hefty fine for causing a delay in the election. Third, a candidate who wins but vacates an elected seat should be banned for life from running for election in more than one district.
If Pakistan wants to be a democracy, then it must allow the constituents to be represented honestly and properly instead of by corrupt politicians making money by charades of representing people about whom they have no interest or care. Sadly, this is the case with most Pakistani politicians whose main interest is to get elected and then ignore the people of the country and their constituents until the next election. Worst yet, many politicians who lose the election accuse the elected politicians of having won by fraud or with the help of the army. If these politicians believed fraud or the army’s help is a common way of winning an election, then it should be true in every election.
Thus, if the losing politicians had won, the same would be true of their being elected either by fraud or with the army’s help. If this is a commonly accepted way of winning an election, then everyone should accept the result and let the elected politicians finish their term. Instead, the losing politicians cannot wait to get back and steal; they resort to civil disobedience to win back power, costing the country billions in economic activity and security. Does any Pakistani care whether the country is a democracy? I think not; it is a charade impersonating as democracy.
Syed Shahabuddin is Ph.D. (USA), Professor Emeritus (USA)
Original Headline: Pakistan’s Democracy: Is it Real or a Charade?
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan