Let democracy work | By Abdul Hadi Mayar 


Let democracy work

IF political parties, civil society and the nation at large are serious about continuation and flourishing of democracy, the present is the right time to act.

While media, opposition leaders and people on the street are justified in lamenting poor performance of the sitting government, they need not forget the fact that any midway change of horses is not in consonance with set democratic practices, hence detrimental to long-term interests of democracy.

There is no denying the fact that Imran Khan’s government has somewhat dismally poor in all sectors during the past two and a half years.

Prior to his induction, the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) leaders and supporters had been giving a strong reassurance that once in power, Khan and his team were capable enough to turn around the national economy and even ‘slap the billions of foreign debts into the face of World Bank and IMF’.

In his public speeches and media talks, Khan claimed on oath to break the begging bowl once and for all.

Most of people believed in him, given his international repute, his purported diplomatic links and his much publicized edge of ‘understanding the West.’

He also used to speak high of his team, vowing that once in office, each of his players will show what governance and delivery really meant.

Managing to get the kick-start injection from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China with tacit support from the military high-ups, the government embarked on its ambitious task of steering the economy clear of its multiple crises, with Khan vowing to manage it without foreign loans.

However, all its illusions evaporated very soon and the IMF was approached for a bailout program.

Though the major slogan and narrative of Khan and his government was to counter corruption and adopt austerity, no goods were delivered on these fronts in the real sense.

While the flour, wheat, sugar and other scandals badly tarnished its reputation, the promises to convert the Prime Minister’s House and the Provincial Governor Houses into universities and colleges also vanished into thin air.

The only hallmark of the ever magnified ‘knower of the West’ remained his abortive model of economic turnaround by raising hens, buffalo calves and cows.

This dismal performance of Khan and his team reasonably compelled not only the seen and unseen spin doctors and power brokers, but of late the real powers behind the curtains as well to consider change of guard to arrest further rot.

Hence the release of Shahbaz Sharif, emergence of Jahangir Tareen Group, re-appearance of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and the political gimmicks in Punjab and at the center.

To every action from the other side, there has been a matching reaction from the government side, like stopping of Shahbaz Sharif from proceeding to London, reconciling with Tareen, and even the floated spin of dissolving assemblies and calling fresh elections.

The government’s latest claim of 3.9 per cent GDP growth rate is also seen as a response to the allegation of its poor economic performance. Despite that performance of the government, the fact remains that success of democracy is in continuation of democracy.

The history of democracy all over the world, including in the United Kingdom – the mother of parliamentary democracies — testifies to the fact that ‘ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.’

The British democracy has not switched from monarchy overnight. It has reached its present stage after passing through many turmoils, civil wars and even the Magna Carta.

The American democracy also passed through many ups and downs, civil the war of slavery, the civil rights’ movement and territorial disputes before it became an icon. India had such a terrible experiment with democracy that in mid-1990s, several snap polls had to be held.

However, no extra constitutional methods were applied to check the flow of democracy in these countries.

Rather, the electors and the elected were given full space to pinpoint ills in the system and rectify them. The result is a rewarding democracy.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani model of democracy has all along remained one of sham. No civil dispensation has been able to complete its tenure and no voting has ever stood the test of free, fair and transparent election.

Theoretically, the executive and the legislative do wield powers and are supposed to be independent in the exercise of their authority but practically none of them can act independently.

One of the major reasons for poor democracy and lack of leadership qualities in our politicians is that democracy has virtually not been allowed to take roots.

How will the politicians improve their performance when they are not given a chance to learn from their experiences?

It is not that the Pakistani electorates are short of the required wisdom. A look at the electoral history will show that the people have never voted wrongly.

They have never elected any political party or leader again once they have performed poorly.

Even if there are some flaws in selection of their leaders, repeated experiments will improve their skills with the passage of time.

Secondly, the completion of five-year tenure will provide chances to a sitting government to rectify flaws and improve its performance so to win another term in office.

Even if the replacement of the government becomes inevitable, in-house change must be preferred as that would be in line wit the set democratic practices.

—The writer is an Islamabad-based senior journalist, covering Afghanistan and Central Asia.

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