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EDITORIAL: With the country on the cusp of holding general elections, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency’s (PILDAT) ‘Quality of Democracy’ report for 2023 is a timely reminder of the immense challenge we still face in our journey towards becoming a truly representative, working democracy.

As the report rightly notes, “democracy in Pakistan is stuck in a familiar and deepening rut”, with the institutions of state not performing their constitutional duties to a standard one would expect.

Our history of lack of civilian supremacy and the recurring role played by non-democratic forces in derailing elected governments has often been cited when talking about the ills of our governance system, and rightly so.

One must, however, also acknowledge the tendency of our political class to remain mired in petty power struggles instead of focusing on the important challenges confronting us on the economic and security fronts. As the PILDAT notes, “political parties … continually suffer from a crisis of confidence as their political fate depends not on their popularity or the cogence of their governance policies”, but on how skillfully they manage the expectations of powerful state institutions.

The inability of the political class to agree on “an unbreakable set of rules” for governing the country and that of state institutions to remain confined to their constitutional roles remains the overarching ill that Pakistani democracy continues to face.

This view is further cemented when one looks at the performance of both houses of Parliament and the provincial assemblies in 2023. There appeared to be little evidence of our legislators having some sort of a vision for the country, and as the PILDAT notes, what we got instead was our lawmakers being mired in partisan political blame game, mocking of opponents and being readily manipulated by first one government and then another, as well as by the establishment.

Moreover, despite the recent welcome efforts of the Supreme Court to ensure that there is no further delay in the holding of general elections, the chances of these polls being truly free and fair remain in some doubt. Here, the role played by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has come in for some valid criticism by the PILDAT, which notes that it allowed some “clearly partisan caretaker ministers … to continue in office”.

In addition, the ECP revoking the PTI’s electoral symbol due to its inability to hold intra-party polls in line with its constitution, ended up giving the impression that the party is being deliberately throttled in advance of the general elections.

There may be a lack of genuine democracy within the PTI, but as the report notes, “the ECP had not carried out similar scrutiny for other parties whose intra-party polls are also conducted as a mere formality”. The ECP’s decision – later suspended by the Peshawar High Court before it was upheld by it– therefore, reeked of double standards.

As far as the state of media freedom is concerned, the media landscape continued to be marred by censorship, intimidation of journalists, and a “culture of buying media voices in support of or against a political party”. It goes without saying that a truly democratic culture has little chance of taking root without a genuinely free media that can readily hold the powerful to account.

We must remember that a genuine democracy transcends mere electoral processes. Beyond the electoral rituals of conducting transparent elections and ensuring a peaceful transfer of power, what is also important is that this is followed by effective governance that empowers people and establishes a fair and just social order.

On this count, Pakistan still has a long road to travel. Despite there being little cause of optimism at this stage, one can only hope that the coming elections prove to be a harbinger of positive change as remaining on our current trajectory is a luxury we can ill-afford.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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KU Jan 05, 2024 11:35am
The PILDAT report is very much in line with the powers that be, and says, ''it happens'' without giving critical details of the political persecution or rights of aspirants or voters. Guess we are heading towards a ''hamari democracy, hamari marzi'', or at best emulating Bangladesh elections where opposition has been sent to the moon.
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