Strengthen democratic values -The Express Tribune

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When there are rumours of abrogation of the 18th Amendment and assertions of Presidential system of government being more suitable for Pakistan, and opposition takes it up in the parliament and it becomes a running topic of the media, what conclusion should one draw from this level and quality of discourse? Are the critics sincere in once again raising the demand for change, creating confusion inadvertently, or representing certain vested interests? Irrespective of the motivation, why is this topic time and again drawing the attention of politicians and newsmakers? More likely, these critics are looking at the symptoms and not the root cause of Pakistan’s weak democratic culture and have drawn the conclusion that the flaw lies in the parliamentary form of government. Ignoring constitutional and legal obligations and well-established parliamentary practices has become a common practice of the present government to bulldoze its agenda that reflects a feudal mindset. The opposition is more interested in theatrics and walk outs and the military leadership in retaining its hold on political power as the final arbiter. All these factors have a cumulative impact that is undermining democracy and demoralising the people. Our top priority should be to set these contradictions right otherwise we would like an inefficient engineer blaming the tools rather than accepting our inadequacies.

Democracy demands strengthening of political and economic institutions which, in our case, remain very weak — some even deliberately so as to manipulate policies and outcome. Moreover, “democracy is a continuous and time-consuming process and is not a product”. For the process to be successful, political leaders have to adhere to the essentials that the process demands: the strengthening of parliament and parliamentary committees and taking legislation seriously. Democratic culture has to be acquired that requires the ability to listen to views with which one may not necessarily agree. Our volatile politics have to be stabilised and the culture of hate and populism should be discouraged. It is only then that we will restore confidence globally and attract international markets and foreign investment. The present political chaos and poor governance have derailed any chances of substantial foreign investment and could affect gains accruing from CPEC and benefits of our strong political ties with China. Besides, political instability and a weak economy give India leverage to keep the pressure on Pakistan as it realises that major powers will look the other way.

A democratic government cannot be ideological and no leader has the right to impose his philosophical views on the nation. Recent tendency of some of our leaders including the PM and media to glorify authoritative systems or the early period of Islam may have worked successfully in that timeframe and suitable for a certain culture or a country but cannot be imposed unilaterally in democracies. In a democracy, judiciary has a huge responsibility. The Supreme Court and other lower courts should function efficiently as the quality of their performance has a direct bearing on the welfare and the state of the society in terms of its adherence to the rule of law and faith in democracy. The election commission, its performance and its strict neutrality are also essential for a fair and solid democratic foundation.

Another area where Pakistan needs to focus is women’s participation in politics and their fair representation in parliament, cabinet and decision- making bodies. The elevation of Justice Ayesha Malik as the first woman judge of the Supreme Court is a landmark event and should open new avenues for coming generations. There is no example of any country that has prospered and is in the front ranks without participation of women.

The EIU’s Democracy index measures the state of democracy “by rating electoral processes and pluralism, the state of civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture on a scale 0 to 10”.

Take any of these yardsticks and we are lagging behind in a big way. Our electoral process suffers from lack of confidence of main political parties. The government is introducing electoral reforms but there is no consensus on it among major political parties. Our leadership is not tolerant of pluralism. Generally, they would ram through their agenda without taking the opposition in confidence. The state of civil liberties in certain areas is restricted and follows guidelines that betray lack of confidence on the part of government or state institutions. Functioning of government is an important component of the measure of where we stand. And it is all to see where we stand. Political culture, as discussed earlier, is still of intolerance and confrontational.

Pakistan has to pay special attention to Balochistan and erstwhile FATA areas that have been economically and politically neglected and have faced the brunt of chaotic neighborhood. The people of the area deserve full support in strengthening their provincial and local institutions. The localised problems — political or economic — should be dealt with by the local and provincial leadership or with their full involvement. Interference and involvement of the federal government and military in strictly provincial matters have had a demoralising effect and retarded their progress and allowed anti-state elements an opportunity to exploit local grievances.

A country’s democracy or economy will not improve in a society where there is such a high percentage of uneducated people. Pakistan’s politicians can no longer treat education in a casual manner. It should be given high priority and an emergency status to meet the younger generation’s modest aspirations.

In the last decade there has been a decline in democratic practices and even the US, the world’s oldest democracy, is labelled as a “flawed democracy”. Apparently, there has been a loss of confidence in the government for which President Donald Trump is largely responsible. This trend is evidenced in many other developed economies. “The latest Economist Intelligence Units Democracy Index 2016 shows 72 countries experienced a decline in democratic values and those that became more democratic were outnumbered by 2 to 1.”

Surely, the people of Pakistan are looking up to a leadership that strives for strengthening democratic values.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2022.