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Democracy & rule of law

Huzaima Bukhari

“The rule of law is the basis for any democracy. And without the rule of law in democracy, you have chaos”—Meles Zenawi, 13th Prime Minister of Ethiopia from 1995 to his death in 2012

According to the World Justice Project Report 2017-2018 (WJPR), as far as rule of law is concerned, out of 113 countries surveyed, Denmark ranks as number one country with the rate of 0.89 on a scale of 0 to 1 with 1 representing the strongest adherence while Venezuela ranks as 113 with the rate of 0.29. Pakistan ranks 105 with a rule of law compliance rate at 0.39. What a shameful position for a country that takes pride in calling itself Islamic Republic with majority citizens claiming to be ardent observers of Islamic principles regardless of the sect they claim their allegiance to. Consequently, there is tremendous stress on five times prayers, fasting during the month of Ramazan, annual pilgrimage to Mecca, unlimited umrahs (optional religious sojourns), different Eid (holy festivals) celebrations, charity etc. Ironically, these activities entail rigid rules and regulations without which their performance becomes void or non-performance tantamount to committing a sin, which implies that people who are practicing Muslims should involuntarily be habitual law abiders. Alas! This is not so! At least, when it comes to obeying the laws of the land in the protection of which they are enjoying the status of first class citizens.

The rule of law is the principle that no one is above the law, even those who enact, interpret and administer the same. The rule of law serves as a safeguard against tyranny, because fair, just, and impartial laws ensure that rulers do not become corrupt or despotic. Establishment of a welfare State is a cherished goal, and rule of law sustains it. Under the study of jurisprudence, the concept of ‘rule of law’ is quite complicated but in simple terms, it implies that all persons are subject to law. This is in sharp contrast to monarchy or oligarchy where the rulers are above law. So, if a commoner murders someone, he could be hanged but the king would get away by killing anyone In order for any government to exercise complete control over its citizens and the overall administrative structure, it has to enforce rule of law without discrimination. Hence, if a high court judge is caught flouting traffic rules, or if a government official is involved in smuggling activities, or a professional is found making public, confidential information about his clients; they should all be given exemplary punishment and must be forbidden from taking any advantage of their high profile statuses or even their connections. 

When rule of law is in place, it reduces corruption, checks poverty, overcomes diseases, inculcates discipline and provides a shield to the people against all forms of injustices. For establishment of a peaceful society, rule of law is the foundation stone upon which development, good and accountable governments build themselves. As mentioned by WJPR in their report: “The rule of law is not just the rule of lawyers and judges: All members of society are stakeholders.”

Rule of law has a direct bearing on every living member of the society—be they humans or animals. The act of a single person can positively or negatively affect many lives leading to either prosperity or adversity. Even good deeds need to be performed under certain rules and regulations otherwise they could lose their efficacy or could be misconstrued let alone anything that is in utter violation of law. Before anyone, especially the political masters, resolve to improve a country, it is incumbent that they first establish rule of law within their own ranks and then attempt to bring the nation under its control. By the way, the best way to discipline a nation is through a highly strict and ruthless enforcement of traffic rules.

Where for example in a country, business environment is uncongenial, corruption is rampant, instead of facilitating, regulators place hurdles, contracts are openly breached and the courts take forever to adjudicate such disputes, neither a local party nor a foreign investor would be willing to put his money. Other than this, a poorly developed infrastructure, presence of unskilled or dishonest contractors, existence of faulty regulations, no guaranteed security of life or property, are some other factors that may discourage prospective investors who would certainly give preference to those countries where matters are more streamlined and justice is timely delivered. No wonder that in the last few decades, there has been such humongous flight of capital from Pakistan and such scanty foreign direct investments.

It would be interesting to know how a country is evaluated for the purpose of determining the extent of rule of law. The WJP bases its study on four universal principles derived from internationally acclaimed standards. These are accountability, just laws, open government and accessibility with impartial dispute resolution. Thus, the level of accountability of the government as well as private actors under the law is of prime importance. The quality of laws is considered on the parameters of being clear, well publicized, stable, just and evenly applicable while open government envisages whether the processes by which laws are enacted, administered and enforced are accessible, fair and efficient. Last but not the least, delivery of justice is viewed from its timely dispensation by competent, ethical, independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources and ably reflect the make-up of the communities they serve. These four principles are further developed in nine factors of the annual report index with each edition of the index relying on more than 110,000 household and expert surveys to measure how the rule of law is experienced and perceived in practical, everyday situations by the general public worldwide

Unfortunately for Pakistan the picture is quite bleak in terms of rule of law if this survey is accepted as correct and from whatever is prevalent in the country there is no reason not to believe its authenticity. Where justice is posthumously granted after a life-term of imprisonment, where the rich thrive on taxes cruelly extorted from the poorest of the poor, where connections or bribery become the only ways to get one’s legal and genuine matters passed through government offices, where merit is pushed back to accommodate nepotism resulting in disasters and loss of priceless revenue, where the state institutions are crumbling before political aberrations in the name of democracy, the country is definitely screaming for establishment of rule of law.  


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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