Academic journal article Southeast Review of Asian Studies

Praetorian Democracy, Illiberal but Enduring: Pakistan as Exemplar

Academic journal article Southeast Review of Asian Studies

Praetorian Democracy, Illiberal but Enduring: Pakistan as Exemplar

Article excerpt

At first blush, the term "praetorian democracy," appears inherently contradictory. After all, praetorian regimes, as Eric Nordlinger defines them, are those in which the military plays major roles in the political sphere, ranging from the exercise of a veto over decisions of a civilian government to the replacement of a civilian government with one that was completely or substantially military in character. At a minimum, the term, praetorian democracy, suggests a peculiar hybrid, but realworld permutations of regime types can often outpace the existing lexicon. That said, a praetorian democracy is quintessentially a praetorian regime, in Nordlinger's sense of the term; however, the military does permit multiparty elections and accepts the outcome, provided that civilian rulers accept certain limitations in the exercise of governmental power, especially in regard to the military's corporate interests. The military asserts and maintains its paramountcy over all national institutions and, during the periods of elected civilian rule, the military is not subordinate to civilian authority, provisions of the written constitution notwithstanding. When, in the judgment of the military, the elected civilian government has encroached on any major domain of power the military has reserved for itself, a coup is likely, and military rule could eventuate. In this paper, therefore, the term, praetorian democracy, will be used to describe an "electoral democracy," in which the military is the paramount institution and controls one or more of the major domains of power. It is one form of what Fareed Zakaria calls an "illiberal democracy."

Illiberal Democracy as a Democracy Subtype

Classifying regimes as democracies or as non-democracies is fraught with difficulty, in part because democracy is both an aspirational concept as well as a descriptive term. It is aspirational in that democracy can be construed as an ideal; that is, as a set of principles, attitudes and processes that no nation can ever fully satisfy in practice. No regime can meet the strictest democratic standards of possessing a fully enlightened citizenry or of ensuring that all citizens are able to place items of concern on the national political agenda with equal effectiveness. Thus, it is axiomatic that all regimes, including the most democratic regimes, can become even more democratic. (1)

At the same time, democracy is a practical and meaningful label for identifying nations and distinguishing them from non-democratic nations. Consensus exists among political scientists that some nations such as Norway and Australia are unquestionably democratic while others, such as North Korea and Myanmar, are decidedly undemocratic. Therefore, understanding democracy requires the classification of regimes by established criteria and measurable indices.

Among political philosophers, some classifications of democracy operate at a fairly high level of abstraction and aim to distinguish between competing ideal types of democracy that need not exist in the real world. Each model of democracy is attached to its own distinctive bundle of principles of justification, key features, and general conditions. In this vein, Jane Mansbridge draws a sharp distinction between adversarial democracy and deliberative democracy, while David Held delineates nine models of democracy which he draws from both theory and practice, from both ancient history and the contemporary world. (2) Though these and like efforts inform the normative concerns of political philosophers, comparative political scientists are less focused on constructing regulative moral ideals and are more devoted to understanding the process of democratization, the study of which is predicated on political scientists not only articulating criteria for determining when, in fact, regimes can be adjudged to be democratic but also for classifying regimes according to the degree of democratization achieved.

Among empirical political scientists, a notable consensus has emerged about the criteria for what counts as a liberal democracy. …

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