Does one-man-one-vote provide effective governance? by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

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I recently finished reading a book titled “Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century” by Nicolas Berggruen & Nathan Gardels. Before speaking about the ideas presented in this book let me talk briefly on the modern concept of democracy. In the aftermath of French Revolution, in 1795, which is termed as the birth of secular democracy, Western nations got rid of monarchs and evolved republics where public representatives were elected through adult suffrage. The developers of modern democracy argued that since an individual is too busy with their commitments to a profession and family, he could not have enough time to study the various aspects of a policy matter. They argued that policy development required full-time commitment from experts who were given agency to represent the will of the people through a public mandate secured in a general election. So far so good, but then a social problem can be approached from sometimes divergent ideological views. This gave rise to the emergence of political parties. Political parties became an expedient tool in securing majority vote in legislative assemblies to get a bill approved. This system worked for sometime until lobbyist for special interest learned the art of to influencing the assembly men to safeguard their interest at the expense of community interest.

Modern political systems are faced with two deficiencies that are getting harder to overcome. First is that although voters grant agency to their assemblymen but in most cases it is secured by a minority percentage of the total number of voters in a constituency. The winning Assemblyman is entitled to represent the whole constituency even those that did not agree with him ideologically and voted for his opponent. This creates a conflict of interest for both the legislator and voters that is hard to bridge in a practical manner. The second deficiency is that for an Assemblyman to ensure approval of a policy he has to join a political party to be able to gain a majority in the parliament. It means that he has to agree with his political party at all times even when his constituents disagree with it. This phenomenon became the reason for many PPP legislatures to lose in the last elections. The continuing dominance of political parties has limited the choice of qualified candidates to a community while on the other hand it has made it convenient for the vested interest to further their special interest in policy debates.

These inherent deficiencies have given rise to the questions whether a new institutional approach is needed to make democracy a more efficient system of governance. That is the subject matter of the book I mentioned in the beginning. The authors feel that the economic success of China in last 30 years, despite recessions in much of the West, is accredited to the fact that a single party has ruled her through a group of leaders that rose to the ltop positions because of their performance and capability. They call them Chinese Mandarinate  meritocrats. In their view unlike liberal democracy, Chinese leaders are unencumbered by the short-sighted populist views of people and hence can take tough decisions that might be painful in the short-term. For instance, to build three gorges dam they can move millions of people or even sacrifice historical buildings that come in its path. On the other hand in a democratic society planners have to be sensitive to public sentiments, about safety and pollution, when they sanction construction of a much needed oil refinery or a nuclear power plant. The authors feel that one-man-one-vote is driven by short term individual interest rather than long term greater good of the community.

The authors feel that a new political order has to be developed that is a hybrid between popular democracy and Chinese meritocracy. The system proposed by them is a four legged political structure constituting a bicameral legislature, Presidency and a presidential advisory. The upper house is occupied by a meritocratic leadership that consist of civilians that are experts like artists, journalists, intellectuals as well as technocrats that have risen through the bureaucracy and has shown capacity to deliver good governance. The members of the upper house are elected by a lower house that is itself elected through a stepped system of indirect elections. In this stepped system of elections, citizens choose their local community councilors who in turn elect regional delegates. These regional delegates elect provincial delegates who ultimately elect the members of the lower house. In terms of distribution of powers the upper house have the power to veto the bill proposed by the lower house. A President is elected by members of upper and lower houses. The President acts as the chief executive in consultation with a council that is recommended by him and approved by the lower house. Citizens express their views on policy and performance of the government through an autonomous monitory commission that in turn informs the legislators.

It is a complicated system with inbuilt conflicts of interest and avenues for manipulation by the powerful.

Islam does not propose a specific political system because it recognizes cultural differentiation among people and the evolutionary nature of men. Although Islam does provides guidelines that can be used to erect a political system. Islamic teachings prohibit an establishment of political parties and multiple levels of constitutions i.e. provincial and federal. Islam promotes unity of the community through ideological anchoring of its members. Islam grants the status of Khalifa (vice regent) to all humankind. This means every citizen of the State has the right to express their will through vote regardless of their level of education, financial or social status. Islam advises respect for authority and hierarchical nature of human community. These can be vested in a President (aamir), with executive authority, elected through direct vote by the people. The President is helped by a cabinet of experts to carry out the affairs of the State. A majlis-e-shura elected by the people performs as a legislature that defines the limits of power for various state institutions. The moral boundaries of an Islamic community are defined by Quran and Sunnah rather than through a majority vote as practiced in Western democracies. In the absence of political parties, candidates for the Majlis-e-shura are proposed by the community itself. Canvassing for the candidates of the majlis-e-shura is done by their supporters as they can not seek votes for themselves.

On the lighter note it is interesting that a Chinese scholar when confronted by an American scholar who extols the benefits of Western democracy was informed that the age of American constitution is shorter than the shortest Chinese dynasty in its 5000 years of history.


The write is a former President of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA and member of Advisory Committee of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf. He has authored three books titled Islamic Social Contract, Freedom by Choice and Lessons from Quran. He can be reached at facebook.com/abdul.quayyum.kundi

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