Democracy, as a system of government, may be ruling the political world, or most part of it; however, it seems to be facing serious challenges to maintain its glory. Rather, the facts and figures show that it is facing a degradation and a decline as far as the traditions and principles it has been standing for are concerned. A recent report, based on largest dataset on democracy and published in the journal – Democratization – has highlighted that democracy is declining in ‘24 countries around the world, which have about 2.6 billion people, and the most notable of these countries include India, Turkey, Brazil, Poland, Russia and United States.’ The decline in democracy here suggests that ‘there has been a shift towards autocratic rule,’ which can further hamper the institutional efforts for the democratization of societies and invigorate the inclination towards personality cult and personality-worship. Ultimately, the rights of the people and the protection of their basic freedom will suffer the most.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, here as well, democracy and democratic institutions suffer from the dominance of authoritarian designs and urges. Ill-fatedly, the blame cannot be put only on non-democratic factors, even the democratic ones have not been able to support the democratic culture and socialization. Major political parties in Pakistan that should lead as torch-bearers of democracy are hijacked by authoritarian leadership and cult of personality. Personalities have been prioritized over the parties and the result is that personality-worship has guided the party members’ and supporters’ affiliation and loyalty to a direction that automatically leads the way to authoritarianism. Another negative aspect of this has echoed out in the public through the noisy media in Pakistan: the political debates, discussions, promotions and criticisms are centered around personalities instead of parties. The attributes of personalities, their family background, and their personal relationships and habits have become the topics of debates among the politicians, political experts, party members, supporters and now the people as a whole. While the discussions on party structure, motto, vision and ideology have all been thrown to the backyard. Therefore, in such circumstances, expecting anything positive in relation to democratization of political environment is a fool’s errand.

At the same time, major political parties in Pakistan, like Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have not been able to reach to the common people through grass-root institutional development. Instead of reaching out to the people at the district and union council level, through consistent presence and performance, they have only reached the people through selection of personalities from such levels for party tickets. True that such arrangements can provide an opportunity to the people to make their voices be heard through those personalities, but their voices don’t turn into organized political demands, and the process does not inculcate in them the worth of democratic behavior.

If the case of Quetta’s Hazara community is studied in this regard, it can be observed that none of the major political parties mentioned above have carried out tangible measures to reach the community through grass-root democratic endeavors. They have reached to the people only during the election season, choosing personalities who might have never worked with the party and might have even contradicted party vision or ideology previously. In many cases, they have not even taken the responsibility of choosing party ticket holders from the community but favored independent candidates who are already contesting elections.

However, it is worthwhile to note that Balochistan’s political environment has been dominated by political parties that function at the provincial level, mostly based on ethnic and religious politics. This trend also paved the way for the formation of such parties and groups among Hazara community as well; therefore, Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), Majlis-e-Wahdath-ul-Muslameen (MWM) and Hazara Siyasi Karkunan (HSK) came to the front to lead the community. HDP’s motto is based on moderate ethnic political struggle, MWM has a religious ideology (Shia ideology) and HSK has its politics based on socialist ideology with a religio-ethnic flavor.

As far as party structure and democratic institutionalization is concerned, HDP is the most notable among the three. It has a well-defined structure – a central council; district council; two Bunyadi councils and then the union councils as per the number of Halqas in Hazara Town and Alamdar Road. All the councils are elected through proper election each year, and there are permanent members in them who keep on performing their responsibilities whenever required. This ensures training and development of the members throughout the year, and inculcates in them the democratic behavior and culture. Though all is not heaven, and there are some influences of personality cult and shortcomings in its performance, HDP has been able to set the stage to reach to the people at grass-root level. The election of 7 HDP councilors during the last local government elections are enough proof that HDP has the required institutional capacity to reach the people at the most basic level of government.

MWM and HSK, on the other hand, have not been able to reach the people through permanent institutional arrangements at the union council levels. Though, in the previous provincial election, MWM’s candidate, Syed Muhammad Raza, was elected (though with reservations and fraud allegations) from PB-2, Qta. 2 (now PB-27), party efforts to enlighten and train the people politically at the most basic level remains non-existent.

And, if we talk of HSK, it is not a political party in the strict sense of the term. It is a group of political theorists, with no well-defined structure. The group claims to have no faith in parliamentary election, but appears to be active in election and even contests.

Thus, for Hazara community, though it is only HDP that provides opportunities for institutionalization of democracy at the grass-root level, it faces challenges against the personality-worship ingrained within the tribal norms of the community, promoted by MWM and HSK, and believed by some among its own members. Therefore, HDP has to overcome it and focus more on institutional development and growth.   

Conclusively, it can be said that democracy at international, national and provincial level faces the threats of authoritarian rule and dominance of personality over institutions; therefore, it is necessary that the politicians, political parties and political institutions, in particular, and the people in general must choose to favor institutional development towards democratization of their societies so that they are able to safeguard democracy and, ultimately, their own rights and freedom.