In search of democracy by Imran Jan

The next miracle of democracy might be Kanye West and Bilawal. Count on it.

Earth’s most inefficient animals are humans, yet they possess brilliant cognitive skills. However, that universally accepted belief appears more like an untested hypothesis if we look at how we choose leadership. Pigeons are known to fly in a group sticking to a certain tradition and following their leader. Birds change directions during flight by copying the leader, which almost always flies in the front.

In my humble view, most people around the world would one day become completely religious because humanity has been receiving centuries of training to do one thing better than any other: believing in what it cannot see but accepts it exists. That ghostly thing is called democracy.

One of mankind’s dangerous inventions is the ballot. Casting of the vote has been equated with the existence of democracy in society. That is a profound mistake. Like growing a beard is the ultimate step in the strength of a Muslim man’s faith, ballot is the ultimate step to merely complete the mechanics of an established democracy. Without the key, the car engine can’t be turned on but equating the key with the car is what I as a child did. I, too, held on to my father’s car key.

Kings ruled over people with whim as their guiding principle. Today, global leaders do the same, while citizens watch helplessly. The only difference is that the ballot has legalised that unrepresentative kingly behaviour.

In Israel, about 20% of the Israeli population is Arab and therefore does not matter to the leadership. Israel does not have a constitution just like it doesn’t have permanent borders. In India, low caste citizens can be maimed, murdered, raped and whacked and the state wouldn’t move a muscle. I grew up in Pakistan and the only time I saw what we call democracy is when the PPP and the PML-N kept moving in and out of the PM House only because one was picked up by a general who had ruled without the people’s approval and the other was the daughter of a popular leader who was recruited by another unrepresentative general.

Today, the children of both of those illegitimate leaders harbour dreams of holding the same job their parents held. Many questions would be raised but nobody would ask this one simple question as to why they should even be considered to be voted in as leaders of this country. Only ballot-confused people wouldn’t ask such a question.

I came across an article in the Times titled “Colin Powell Still Wants Answers”, which discussed the tensions in the months leading up to the US decision to invade Iraq. Powell and his British counterpart Jack Straw, tried to convince their bosses, Bush and Blair, respectively, to avoid invading Iraq.

Powell wanted Bush to ask the UN to have a resolution for Saddam. Bush even forced the manipulation of the intelligence to ensure the invasion. The most tireless lobbyist for the Iraq invasion was Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate who hated Saddam and would have loved nothing more than having America whack the guy for him. The Bush administration jumped on the intelligence that Chalabi provided. Even Powell expressed his frustration about it to Straw saying, “You wouldn’t believe how much this guy is shaping our policy.”

What was missing in all this was the people’s approval. Did the American and British citizens want this war? Did the unpeople of Iraq? Even involving the UN is completely undemocratic. It is a global body where the opinions and interests of only five nations matter.

About 55 % of the eligible voters voted in the US presidential elections 2016. And a further half of that — a tiny bunch of people — determined the future of the proudest democracy in the world. The next miracle of democracy might be Kanye West and Bilawal. Count on it.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2020.

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