Original Articles

Making Democracy Work – by Mustafa Kamal

The citizens of third world countries lurk between despair and hope. Their shattered hopes have made them more indifferent to the state affairs. In 21st century, when the developed world is benefitting from the tested wisdom of democracy, people in the developing countries are either looking towards military dictatorship or a narrow fundamentalist version of electoral democracy as the only way of salvation.

Pakistan, like other developing countries has been facing constitutional crisis since its inception. Our failure in drafting a cohesive constitution has paved the way for military despotism. In recent past frequent change of governments has been as common in Pakistan as it used to be in France during the 17th century.

There are no failed states, but failed democracies. The failure of democracy is the cause of state failure. Saving the states can be achieved only by saving democracies. It doesn’t matter which particular party heads the democratic governments.

One of many qualities of democratic governance is its self-correcting nature. Accountability of their elected representatives by public through transparent voting is still the best way of political transformation without hanging politicians, bloody violence and fancy revolutions. We should use no other means for political transformation than relying on conventional wisdom of people.

As some people are blaming democracy for all our national ills, amidst such confused narratives, our aim must not be wrapping democratic institution and seeking alternative ways as a governance model but to seek for ways whereby democracy works better.

Informed public opinion is one way through which democracy can flourish. Pakistan has changed. People now don’t have only one state sponsored television to influence public opinion. The thriving media industry can play huge role in shaping public opinion in favor of democracy. The more informed citizens Pakistan has, the more political and policy options will emerge.

Devolution of powers and emergence of regional political parties and groups will strengthen democracy. The 18th Amendment which empowers provinces by decentralizing administrative powers will have the most significant impact on democracy in Pakistan. Blaming federation for usurping provincial authority and misleading people on the bases of such rhetorics will not influence public opinion anymore. More practical policy oriented parties will emerge to lead the people in right direction.

Democracy fails because of high expectations of people. People have high expectations with political parties because they invest their time, energies and money at grassroots levels for them. Failing fulfilling such expectations create annoyance and resentment among people. That is not the case with dictators as they come to power by force and people have less affiliation with them. The expectations of people can be fulfilled by delivering result and fulfilling the political promises made with them. Democracy, in other words must be result oriented, not a mere blame game rhetoric aiming to malign the opponent political parties.

Fostering the cooperation with civil society organizations can lead to a strong democracy. With their international agendas of human rights, pluralism, good-governance, capacity building of communities and humanitarian aids, these civil society organizations can offer innovative ideas and ideals to governments and politicians as per their international exposure and their experiences of working with various national, international, ethnic and linguistic groups.

Pakistan, unfortunately, has always been at odd with civil society organizations. Public-Private partnership should be articulated as a top policy agenda for a viable and result oriented democracy.
In the last analysis, it is not the responsibility of politicians and parliament alone to uphold the democracy and work for its sustainability. The behavior of each state institution, particularly the judiciary and media to act in a democratic way and according to their prerogative authority and minimal interference with other state institutions can foster democracy in Pakistan.

(The writer holds a degree in Public Policy and is an Independent Researcher based in Islamabad who can be reached at itsmepapa@hotmail.com)

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  • Thanks to LUBP for introducing us to such a clear-headed young writer. This article should be a mandatory read for the impetuous youth to understand the basics of democracy.

  • The sacrifice of the world famous leader and chairperson of the PPP, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, for democracy and the country in 2007 strengthened the PPP, and hence it came into power after over eight years’ government of the general-cum-president, Pervez Musharraf. This was the time when all political parties of the country had to welcome the PPP and play their role in addressing the socio-economic, law and order, poverty, corruption and energy crisis issues. It was time to join hands with the PPP to bring many constitutional amendments to curb the entry of army dictators into politics and their favourite practice of dissolving democratically elected governments, but that happened only partially.
    In Pakistan, the role of opposition parties in the past has been to create impediments for the democratic set-up with the apparent intention of getting a chance to rule through an undemocratic intervention. This merely reduces the delivery capability of the government and paves the way for army generals to take over. It is time all opposition and ruling parties and the apex court learn that it is the unity and consensus of all parties and the judiciary that can stop future army takeovers and lead Pakistan towards economic progress and an improved image in the world.