08182017Headline:

Role of Politicians by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

The liberal democracy championed by West grant sovereignty to people but this sovereignty has to be exercised through an agency granted to individuals through an electoral system. The idea behind this transfer of sovereignty to an agent is that a lay man does not have sufficient time and resources to understand all complexities of a policy. The agent, that means that parliamentarian, is a dedicated professional who has the knowledge, resources and ability to devise policy for the sovereign, meaning the people, which has granted him/her the agency. But this is not the only layer in the system there is another super layer in the form of political parties. The justification for the existence of political parties is that individuals in a parliament cannot arrive at a consensus if they all engage in a debate on a policy matter. Political parties in the Western form of democracy play the role of clubs where likeminded parliamentarians come together to vote on a policy matter.

There is an inherent conflict in the two layers that is the agent that has the mandate from the sovereign and a political party that has not secured a mandate directly from it. To resolve this dilemma various mechanisms were evolved to bridge this gap. Proportional representation is one such system. This solves the problem partially because in proportional representation, a political party submits the list of people that will become members of parliament on behalf of the people. Since leaders of political parties are pursuing acquisition of power they do not necessarily chose individuals on their capability alone but also consider their loyalty to them.

Political parties also become cause for divisions within a country. In USA there are blue states, those that are majority Republicans, and red states, that are majority democrat. In Europe there are right and left wing parties. In UK and Turkish elections recently ethnic and regional parties gained success like Scottish National Party (SNP) and Kurdish HDP respectively. This creates another challenge for the system because a parliamentarian is supposed to serve all constituents equally but in reality they prefer to safeguard interests of those that have voted for them. This is another reason for continued disenfranchisement of people in the Western Democratic model.

Another dilemma with Western political model is that a candidate seeking agency from people has to campaign for himself/herself which requires resources to finance the campaign. It also builds up individual ego as a person has to brag about his qualities to appeal to the electorate to get elected. Candidate Obama spent over $1 billion on his campaign to become President of USA for his first term. A US congressman on average spend $500,000 on this election campaign which is almost 20 times average salary of a person. This requirements of resources makes it hard for capable people that lack resources to become participant in Western democratic systems. It also opens doors for vested interest to finance candidates in return for promoting policies that suit their business and financial interests. It is because of heavy involvement of special interests that people are increasingly alienated from democratic governments around the world. The participation of voters have been declining on average around the world while unrest and protests have been on the rise.

China, with its single party rule, is presenting another model. There are elections for local government positions but all other tiers are through promotion within party ranks. In this system bureaucracy is controlled by party officials and a vast majority of them are members of the party anyways. So there is no real differentiation between government and a political party. This system could function well if it is run by capable managers as evidenced from the economic growth of China and Singapore. But could create havoc if a bad manager rise to the top. During the tenure of Mao the two initiatives promoted by him i.e. great leap forward and Cultural Revolution brought havoc to the nation resulting in loss of millions of lives and economic chaos.

Islamic political thought proposes a modern system which I tried to present in the book Islamic Social contract. It suggests that an individual cannot campaign for himself/herself rather the constituents get together to promote a capable candidate. There is no need for political parties because all candidates are expected to vote on a policy to the best of their ability as agents of the sovereign. In case a consensus cannot be formed on a major policy issue then it is taken to the people for a referendum and a vote that crosses a minimum threshold is considered acceptance by the people. If a referendum does not cross the minimum threshold then it is considered as lacking sovereign support. Head of government is chosen through popular vote and enjoy the right to form government. Cabinet positions are filled through approval of parliament but if unnecessary hurdles are created by it then the head of government can go directly to the people for the approval of the cabinet. Parliament, government and justice form three pillars of the state. Bureaucracy executes the policy of the government through allocation of budget and prioritizing projects based on the preferences of the government.

Islamic political thought also encourages people to be active participants in the affairs of the state and do not become passive after granting agency to parliamentarians. This involvement should be campaigning for good candidates; voting in elections, monitoring performance of the government through civic organizations; participating in referendums and surveys. If a cabinet member or parliamentarian does not perform their duties than the electorate has the right to recall that person through signing a petition that has to cross a minimum threshold before it becomes effective.

Like all other fields Muslims lack creativity and originality in political science as well. Most Muslim majority countries got independence from their imperial masters in the last five or six decades. Post-independence most of these countries adopted Western democratic model which in a way is continuation of the colonial mindset. This created a rift between the underlying community and its political elite. It has been two generations since independence and the time is ripe for initiation of a scholarly collaboration among Muslim political scientists to come up with an alternate model to the Western democracy.

Western democratic model is failing to live upto its promise and requires serious overhaul. Islamic political thought can offer a new approach to democracy that has the potential to deliver to people.

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