Winston Churchill once described democracy as “the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.” And this is what Woodrow Wilson, a scholar and former President of USA, said about the American government: “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of bosses and their employers - the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.”

These quotations from two leading Western democratic leaders are not meant to provide a defence for the miserable performance of most of the governments in Pakistan. A leading Pakistani journalist called Pakistan, the other day, a “hollow democracy”. It has all the trappings of a democratic system, but its spirit and character have been manifestly undemocratic. What is worse is that it has failed to perform even moderately well. The book, entitled “Why Nations Fail -The Origins of Power, Prosperity And Poverty”, about which I wrote in my last column, has diagnosed failure as the absence of inclusive and participatory political and economic institutions.

In our case, democracy by itself, has become an extractive institution. People at large are exploited by a more or less corrupt elite, which feathers its nests by eating up the national resources. It makes promises to look after the masses at the time of elections, but does little to fulfil them. It boasts of adherence to constitutional obligations, but cavalierly ignores them. Says the constitution: “The state shall secure the well being of the people........by raising the standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth, of means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest.......provide basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, housing and education.......for all citizens.” What the federal government and at least three out of the four provincial governments have done during the five years is the opposite of the mandated constitutional obligations. Instead of “well being”, the people have been reduced to a “subhuman” level and pushed to eking out a miserable living.

Monopolies, cartels, corruption and misuse of authority have added to the “concentration of wealth” in the hands of a few. And the basic necessities of life - food, clothing and housing - are now increasingly out of the common man’s reach.

A well known Pakistani columnist recently wrote that we have become “a representational dictatorship.” In all the nine elections during the last 42 years, the same families have been returning to power. His finding is that only 3,000 out of a total of 30 million families have taken part in these elections, capturing 100-dozen seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies. Interestingly enough, he has used the term “extractionary institutions” - the same as mentioned in the book referred to the above.

According to his calculations, Rs 100 crore per day are extracted by these institutions from the masses by the elite through various corporate entities, including PIA, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel and Utility Stores Corporation.

And according to a World Bank report 62 percent of Pakistanis have to survive on a monthly income of Rs 6,000 or less.

Add to this the horrendous picture of the masses of this country, agonising hardships they have to suffer in getting some sort of medical care and in dealings with the extortionist minions of the government. With no gas, with soaring prices of commodities of daily use, electricity outages, rising unemployment and increasing personal insecurity, what has the elected elite done for their welfare?

Imran Khan raised hopes of bringing about a change in the body politic.  A “tsunami”, he said, was coming which would sweep away thieves and looters, who have brought the country to the brink of the precipice.

Of late, there have been a lowering of the PTI tempo. Into the arena has jumped a scholar-politician of Pakistani origin from Canada to transform the country’s politics. He held a huge rally at Minar-i-Pakistan, Lahore, soon after his arrival and is now poised to lead a procession of four million Pakistanis to Islamabad.

The political parties in power have not only been taken by surprise, but are worried about this sudden show of strength. They and a section of the media have reacted sharply and accused Dr Qadri of sabotaging democracy. His previous record has been cited as evidence of his dubious credentials.

The “Sheikh-ul-Islam” as, he calls himself, has appeared on a number of popular TV channels and answered questions hurled at him about his sudden appearance, the source of funds for his campaign as well as his demands and programme. The eloquent cleric has spoken with conviction and offered a brief for his revolutionary agenda. His plea for electoral reform and the imperative of strictly following relevant constitutional provisions to ensure that only honest and reliable candidates would contest the elections, has struck a responsive chord amongst people generally. If the reforms advocated by him are accepted and the Election Commission of Pakistan strengthens its position and ensures that it will accept candidature of only those who fulfil constitutional and other legal requirements, there is a possibility of desirable candidates getting elected. In other words, Dr Qadri wants to block the return of most of the present MNAs and MPAs. Better representatives will then be expected to undertake the tasks laid down by the constitution for the welfare of the masses and the good of the country.

What Dr Qadri stands for makes sense and merits support. His message is good and very much needed. There may be questions about his background and record. He, however, has every right to pursue his agenda.

It looks from the latest news that preventive steps are being taken by the government (in Islamabad a number of private vehicles and containers have been forcibility taken by the government) to place obstacles against the long marchers and thus disallow the crowds to enter certain parts of Islamabad. There are also rumours of possible attacks on the rally. Dr Qadri says that the government would be held responsible if he is attacked or harmed or the processionists are stopped and harshly dealt with.

Whatever be the end result of the ‘long march’, it can be said at this stage that part of Dr Qadri’s mission has already been achieved. In a most dramatic and effective way, he has spoken for tens of millions of Pakistanis, who urgently need and want a ‘change’. If the same tested-tried-and-found-wanting lot again comes back, people’s miseries will go on multiplying and Pakistan will further go down.

Can we afford this frightful prospect?

So Qadri or no Qadri, we all must work sincerely and resolutely for a change-for-the-better - a change that, to a large extent, hopefully, will bring in decent, sensitive, knowledgeable and genuine representatives of the people. Pakistan desperately deserves a new and better leadership.

Dr Tahirul Qadri’s message and march are bound to have a considerable positive impact on all political parties to work for the good of people in the light of the country’s constitutional provisions.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.

Email: pacade@brain.net.pk