Democracy san Constitutional Liberalism of No Use
This bundle of freedoms – called constitutional liberalism – is not synonymous with democracy and is theoretically different and historically distinct from democracy. For much of modern history what characterised governments in Europe and North America, and differentiated them from those around the world, was not democracy but constitutional liberalism.
During the 19th century most European countries went through the phase of liberalisation long before they became democratic.
For 156 years until July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by the British Crown through an appointed governor general. Until 1991, it never held a meaningful election, but its government epitomised constitutional liberalism, protecting its citizens’ basic rights and administering a fair judicial system and bureaucracy.
Elections are an important virtue of government, but they are not the only virtue. Democracy does not end with the ballot, it begins there. Governments should be judged by yardsticks related to constitutional liberalism as well. Despite the limited political choice they offer, countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand provide a better environment for the life, liberty and happiness of their citizens than do illiberal, sham, democracies like Slovakia, Ghana and Pakistan under their elected governments. Constitutional liberalism has led to democracy everywhere, but democracy does not seem to bring constitutional liberalism. In fact, democratically elected regimes in the Third World generally ignore constitutional limits on their powers, deprive the citizens of their basic rights and freedoms and, in the process, open the door to military rule, as has happened several times in Pakistan.
Contrary to what President Zardari says and believes, today the greatest threat to Pakistan’s democracy, in fact Pakistan itself, stems not from religious militancy and sectarianism but from (a) the absence of a genuinely democratic political order, and (b) the surging American imperialism. The Farewell Address of George Washington will ever remain an important legacy for small nations like Pakistan. In that notable testament, the Father of the American Republic cautioned that “an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.” “It is folly in one nation,” George Washington observed, “to look for disinterested favours from another…it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character.” No truer words have been spoken on the subject. Pakistan is paying, and will continue to pay, a very heavy price for the folly of attaching itself to America. In this country democracy is only permissible when the results are favourable to America.
Governments are instituted to secure certain inalienable rights of human beings as the American Declaration of Independence put it. If a “democratic” government does not preserve liberty and law and does not protect the life, property and honour of its citizens, that it is a “democracy” is a small consolation.