01/02/2013 11:58 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

Pakistan's Collaborative Democracy -- Benefits of Dualistic Politics

Neoteric political theories, just like novel laws, can emerge from the concurrence of seemingly irreconcilable facts. Pakistan's collaborative democracy -- a form of government under which the leading political parties engage in dualistic politics of simultaneously governing and sitting in opposition -- has surfaced as a consequence of fortuitous election results. In the 2008 general elections, no political party obtained an absolute majority in the national parliament. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which won the most seats in the national parliament, has allied with other parties to form a multiparty national government. The Pakistan Muslim League (N), the second largest party in the national parliament, after a short period of alliance with the PPP, opted out of the national government and it now serves as the leading opposition party. The 2008 elections yielded even more complex results in the four provinces of Pakistan. The PML (N) won a clear majority in the provincial assembly of Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan, and has formed the provincial government. The PPP, the second largest party in the Punjab assembly, is serving as the leading opposition party. The PPP and PML (N), the two leading political parties, are thus simultaneously serving as ruling and opposition parties. This dualistic politics has laid the foundation of what might be called collaborative democracy.

Elements of Collaborative Democracy

A study of Pakistan's political system demonstrates that five elements are needed to institute collaborative democracy. First, a nation must be a federated state and not a unitary state to practice collaborative democracy. However, most nations in the world are unitary states and cannot practice collaborative democracy. Second, the parliamentary form of government, rather than the presidential form of government, is more conducive to collaborative democracy. Third, the democratic system must allow multiple political parties to contest general elections. A single-party state, such as China and North Korea, cannot establish collaborative democracy. Fourth, the leading party should form a multiparty federal government but sit in opposition in one or more provincial assemblies. If a single party sweeps the elections and makes no party alliances to form federal and provincial governments, collaborative democracy cannot be instituted. Fifth, and the most important, the leading political parties should engage in dualistic politics as they govern and sit in opposition at the same time.

The third and the fourth attributes of collaborative democracy listed above are self-evident and need no more elaboration. Other attributes do. Collaborative democracy can be cultivated in federated states, such as India and Pakistan; but, it cannot grow in unitary states, such as Turkey, where a single party may win elections and form the national government. If multiple parties are allowed in a unitary state, such as Israel, a single party may not win a governing majority in the national parliament. In such cases, the leading party may unite with other parties to form a coalition government. A coalition government in a unitary state, however, does not institute collaborative democracy because a leading opposition party may be completely excluded from the government. And if all leading political parties join the coalition government, the system lacks vigorous opposition, the sine quo non for universal democracy. In a federated state, however, collaborative democracy is cultivable since a leading opposition party excluded from the federal government may very well be the ruling party in one or more provinces. As noted above, the PML (N) is the leading opposition party in the federal parliament but it has formed its own government in the province of Punjab.

Furthermore, collaborative democracy may not develop even in federated states that adopt the presidential form of government, such as the United States. In a presidential form of government, an elected president forms the federal government whereas elected governors form provincial (state) governments. The concept of a coalition government is foreign to the presidential form of government. In the United States, a Democratic president may or may not collaborate with a Republican Congress or Republican governors for solving federal and state problems. Frequent gridlocks between the Executive and Congress demonstrate the absence of collaboration. The presidential veto may undermine even a bipartisan majority in the Congress. By contrast, collaboration is indispensable if no single party commands a governing majority in the parliamentary form of government. In Pakistan, the PPP does not have an absolute majority in the national parliament to form its own government. Therefore, the PPP must collaborate with other parties to form the federal government. Furthermore, even if a leading party enjoys an absolute majority in the parliament it may nonetheless form a multiparty government to expand political collaboration. This collaborative flexibility is unavailable in a presidential form of government restricted to a two-party political establishment.

Benefits of Dualistic Politics

Dualistic politics occur when a leading party sitting in opposition is also a governing party, and vice versa. In Pakistan, the PPP and the PML (N), the two leading political parties, engage in dualistic politics of governing and sitting in opposition at the same time. As noted above, the PPP governs the center and is the leading opposition party in the Punjab assembly. The PML (N) governs the province of Punjab and sits in opposition in the national parliament. The PML (N) critiques the PPP policies at the national level whereas the PPP critiques the PML (N) policies at the provincial level. The political alliances in the other three provinces of Pakistan are much more complex and beyond the scope of this analysis; however, these alliances are consistent with collaborative democracy.

Dualistic politics is qualitatively different from conventional politics. In conventional politics, the opposition party is determined to finding flaws in the government and may resort to honest, radical, and even irresponsible criticisms. In dualistic politics, the opposition party is restrained and pragmatic in its criticisms because it itself as a governing party is subject to similar criticisms. For example, the PML (N) reproaches the PPP for not solving the electricity shortage crisis. However, the PPP can similarly reproach the PML (N) for not solving the electricity crisis in the province of Punjab. Surely, dualistic politics can spawn what Imran Khan, the Chief of the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf, calls nura kushti, that is, fake fights between the PPP and PML (N). As governing parties, however, the PPP and PML (N) must engage in collaborative democracy to solve problems. They should not undermine each other's government. If they refuse to cooperate, the problems will multiply and both parties will lose seats in the next general elections.

Dualistic politics conducted in a responsible manner is highly valuable in preserving the constitutional system. In Pakistan, conventional politics has been destructive, bordering inanity, which led to military interventions. The leading opposition party with no stake in any government, federal or provincial, has colluded with the military to overthrow the ruling party. Under dualistic politics, the leading opposition party, such as the PML (N), has no incentive in conniving with the military because if the military comes the PML (N) itself will lose power in the province of Punjab. The PPP and PML (N) have a collaborative stake in preserving the constitutional system. Thus, dualistic politics provides a systemic safeguard against foolish conspiracies to unlawfully undermine the ruling party.


The leading political parties are more likely to engage in collaborative democracy when they govern as well as sit in opposition. Collaborative democracy is further strengthened when parties seriously consider building multiparty coalition governments at federal and provincial levels. Efficacious collaborative democracy, however, cannot succeed without vigorous but pragmatic opposition. Leading political parties should find a way to sit in opposition either at the federal or provincial level, but must refrain from undermining each other's government. This dualistic politics of governing and sitting in opposition at the same time will safeguard the constitutional system from degenerative conspiracies, unlawful collusions, and military interventions.