The Indian Analyst

Democracy in Indian Subcontinent




In the ancient times, democracy in the republic form had existed in India.  This is evident from the writings of Rufus and Diodorus Siculus in their histories of Alexander, that mention a group of Indian people called the Sabarcae or Sambastai among whom "the form of government was democratic and not regal." The origins of modern India's democratic political system lie in the historical processes of interaction between a stable society and venerable culture and forces of change created both within India and brought to bear on it from beyond its borders in the circumstances of British rule.

Today with a population of over 1 billion, India is the largest democracy in the world.  Legislative elections were held in India in four phases between April 20 and May 10, 2004.  Over 670 million people were eligible to vote, electing 543 members of the 14th Lok Sabha (the House of the People, the lower house of the Indian legislature).  The Election Commission of India, an autonomous constitutional body, is responsible for deciding the dates and conducting elections according to constitutional provisions.  The Election Commission employed more than a million electronic voting machines for the 2004 elections.

A Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has come to power at the Center, under the leadership of Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh.  The sitting government of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) (under the leadership of Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr. L K Advani), was defeated in the general elections.


Historically, the political and government culture in Pakistan is a strong product of its past that links to the pre-partition British Rule.  What Pakistan's leaders knew best from this inheritance was the so-called viceregal system that made little or no provision for popular awareness or involvement.

The system was designed to rule over a subjected population and intended to keep order and collect taxes.  In fact, what the British bequeathed was often a contradiction between theories of governance and their practices.  Ideals of representative government and equality before the law were incomplete transformations.

The territorial issues and border conflicts with India, the socio-cultural differences within the country, struggle for a share of power between the states and the early death of the founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah are those realities which not only politicized the policy-making elites and their willingness in introducing the fair democratic procedures but also encouraged the non-democratic elements including the army.  Consequently, even after half a century the country could not get cleaned from the feudal, tribal and panchayat systems and sectarian segregations and the public has been left untutored in the kind of vigilance usually needed to hold political leaders accountable. 

In general, opportunities for a fair governance, true democracy and civil society in Pakistan can only flourish when democratic practices are allowed to prevail under the supremacy of unchanged constitution.  The repeated dismissal or overthrow of elected regimes, alterations in the constitutions that suit to existing ruler, leaves no positive memory and little chance for institutions to adapt and supportive values to root.

After deposing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf took over as the Chief Executivein October, 1999.  General Musharraf declared himself the President of Pakistan in June 2001.


Nepal has a monarchy system of government.  Following pro-democracy demonstrations on 16 April 1990, King Birendra dismissed the government and proclaimed the abolition of panchayat system of nominated councils.  Under the Constitution of November 9, 1990, Nepal became a constitutional monarchy based on multi-party democracy.  King Gyanendra (brother of King Birendra), took over when his brother and most of the royal family was assasinated.  As a result of continued Maoist attacks on Security apparatus, the King dismissed the government and dissolved the Parliament, in 2004.  The Maoists are fighting to replace the Himalayan country's constitutional monarchy and multi-party parliament with a one-party communist republic.  Added to the nation's woe is the perceived political ambitions of King Gyanendra and the incompetence of the mainstream political parties to find solution to the pressing problems of the people.


In January 1975, parliamentary government was replaced by a presidential form of government.  Sheikh Mujib became President, assuming absolute power.  In February, Bangladesh became a one-party state.  After the assassination of Mujib, Gen. Zia took over power in November 1975.  The country's first direct presidential election in 1975 resulted in victory for Zia.

After a series of coups, ending with Gen. Ershad, who was deposed and arrested after a popular uprising in December 1990, general elections were conducted in February 1991.  Bangladesh National Party won the elections.  In the general elections held in 1996, Awami League won.  As of now there is a multi-party parliamentary system in Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, there are separate elections for the President and the Parliament.  The President is elected directly, while the government is constituted from the elected members of Parliament.  After the Presidential elections of 2000, Chandrika Kumaratunga became President.  Though the April 2004 general elections resulted in a hung Parliament, the United People's Freedom Alliance comprising Chandrika's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Janata Vimukti Peramuna emerged as the single largest party and formed the new government.  Ranil Wikremesinghe, the United National Party leader was replaced by Mahinda Rajapakse of the SLFP as Prime Minister.  Rajapakse was the Leader of the Opposition when Ranil was in power.


Maldives has a Republic form of government.  In March 1975, President Nasir dismissed the Prime Minister, Ahmed Zaki, and abolished the post of Prime Minister.  Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became President in November 1978.  Legislative power is held by the unicameral Citizen's Council (Majilis).


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