"My mother always said, democracy is the best revenge."
-- Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the late Benazir Bhutto
WASHINGTON -- Of all the understandings of the democratic idea, none could be more wrong than this one. Democracy at its very core is an antidote to the kind of dynastic revenge young Bhutto was suggesting.
For the Bhuttos, elections are a means for the family to regain power. Benazir was always avenging the death of her father, the former prime minister hanged two years after a coup. Bilawal is now pledged to do the same for his mother's martyrdom. The Pakistan People's Party has always been a wholly owned family subsidiary. Hence the almost unseemly haste with which Bhutto's husband and son were given immediate control upon Benazir's death.
Democracy was meant to be the antithesis of feudalism. Popular sovereignty was to supplant divine right; free elections to supplant dynastic succession (a progression Americans have not completely mastered either). It is clear that Bilawal meant to put the best gloss on his mother's dictum. He, like she, would avenge the political murder of a parent not with violence but through the ballot box. Nonetheless, his unmistakable assumption of aristocratic entitlement clangs against his professed fealty to democratic means.
His mother was the same. In more than one journalistic profile, she was characterized as "a democrat who appeals to feudal loyalties." Part of the reason for the precariousness of Pakistan's democracy is precisely that it remains a largely feudal society practicing democratic forms.
But Pakistan is hardly alone. The very same week Pakistan nearly imploded, a close and disputed election sent Kenya, heretofore one of the more stable democracies in Africa, into a convulsion of tribal violence. These bloody eruptions come against a background of less dramatic but equally important defeats for the democratic idea. Russia acquiesces cravenly as its nascent democracy is systematically dismantled in return for a bit of great-power posturing and a measure of oil-fueled pottage doled out by Czar Vladimir. China even more apathetically continues to concede stewardship of its market economy and modernizing society to a Leninist dictatorship. How many decades will it take before we acknowledge that the axiom that economic liberalization leads to political liberalization may not be axiomatic?
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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