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February 20, 2018

Decency in democracy


February 20, 2018

A few days ago, the International Development Minister, Lord Bates, resigned after being absent from the British parliament when a question he was to answer was raised by an MP. By doing so, he demonstrably lived up to the democratic ideals of accountability to parliament.

It was not a one of a kind action and certainly not a matter of an individual’s personal choice but actually a manifestation of a mature democratic order. Though one cannot expect this level of political maturity in Pakistan in the near future, one can at least draw some parallels for the sake of setting the direction right.

Democracy in Pakistan is yet to take firm roots for many reasons. First, it is disconnected from the demo (the people); hence, does not represent their true voice. Economic independence and education are the key empowering factors for people to make reasonable judgments in elections, and hold their chosen representatives accountable afterwards. So far, people constitute the weakest link in the overall democratic chain. Education is still a luxury for most and so is the chance of breaking the shackles of poverty across the country.

Second, political parties in general are undemocratic in their character. Except the Jamaat-e-Islami, there is no other mainstream political party that can pride itself in playing outside the shadow of dynasties. One of them even passed on the leadership torch to the third generation with others acting as buffers and ushers. Challenging the traditional authority is bound to bounce back with adverse implications for one’s political career. Acquiescence to what the king decides is not only essential but also potentially a great source of blessing. Instead of serving as conduits of ideas from people across the spectrum, political parties have become personal fiefdoms of the feudal and capitalist classes. Paradoxically, most politicians talk of democracy as a necessary condition for Pakistan’s integrity. At the same time, they advocate that the crown of leadership should remain within one family for the purpose of harmony, stability and continuity.

The third debilitating factor for democracy is the rise of hooliganism and a culture of vulgarity. Some leaders use foul language against their opponents for things which otherwise require debate and serious discussion. Threats and derogatory remarks may earn some short-term political dividends, but they have historically kept decent individuals away from active politics for fear of losing their hard-earned honour in society. To exclude someone in any manner is against the spirit of democracy.

Even more dangerous to democracy is the conscious attempt to tarnish the image of parliament and make a mockery of its role in the larger scheme of things. The supremacy of parliament is enshrined in the constitution but the way its members and others treat it is against the ideals they claim to protect. The persistent absence of some leading figures from its important sessions, arrogance of ministers to answer vital queries and hurling abuses in public gatherings make parliament nothing more than an assembly of the unfit, elected by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.

As we move closer to elections in 2018, democracy will start drifting more and more towards trivialities as politicians will begin tossing new and old scandals into the air. The real problems and challenges facing the country will only get a scant mention and attention in the media, as prime time television and newspaper front pages’ will be occupied by sensational stories. Social media, in particular, will mix fact and fiction to construct realities and put forth absurd narratives. We, the public, will then judge politicians on what they say more than on what they have done and will actually do.

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University.

Email: [email protected]

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