“A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency” (Obama)
Democracy is a form of government in which power is held by the people and exercised by them through a system of representation involving free elections to benefit the whole society. For a society to move forward in the right direction and this system to be a success, it must be ensured that those in authority make rightful use of the power bestowed upon them and remain liable to answer for their conduct. Although democracy in Pakistan is still at a nascent stage, it can be made to deliver if political corruption in the country is curbed, the influential role of the judiciary in the evolvement of democracy is realized, and voting is made a privilege instead of a right.
Ever since Pakistan gained independence in 1947, it has experienced turbulent times on a democratic front. The fickle nature of Pakistani democracy is evident when taking into account the various coups d’état that have been carried out by military establishments against civilian governments periodically which have resulted in a state of martial law being enforced four times in the country’s short history. In the aftermath of these events, chaos prevailed and Pakistan was thrown under dictator rule. However, the country recently experienced its first successful transition of power from one civilian government to another following general elections, with the previous government having completed their stipulated term in office. It is a step in the right direction for democracy in this country but there are many hurdles still barring the way. The newly elected government has been highly inefficient in dealing with insurgents and the Taliban who have accepted open responsibility for blatant attacks on Shia Hazaras that have left at least 800 dead and more than 1500 wounded. The recent attack at the mountain base camp in Gilgit-Balistan, which resulted in the deaths of nine foreigners, served as a massive blow to the tourism industry in Pakistan and further demeaned the country’s already tattered global image. Unless the new government can quickly devise an effective strategy to bring about peace and economic stability, yet another military takeover seems to be on the cards.
Political corruption in Pakistan is at its peak. During the last four years of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s tenure, Pakistan lost an astounding US$94 billion due to corruption, tax evasion, and bad governance. In 2012, Pakistan was ranked as the 33rd most corrupt country in the world, according to the Corruption Perception Index. Unless political corruption is rooted out of the democratic system, the nation will fail to progress significantly. This is where the country’s judiciary has a role to play. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has already given indications that it will intervene to try and limit the proliferation of corruption in the country. In June 2012, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was disqualified by the highest bench of the judiciary on charges of contempt of court. The Supreme Court also instructed the country’s government to initiate a treason case against former President Pervez Musharraf who came into power following a military coup in 1999. An empowered judiciary, along with a free and independent media led by capable journalists, would serve well to keep corruption levels in the country under control. In addition, bodies such as the National Accountability Bureau and Public Accounts Committee will continue to bring more corruption cases to light. A separate Accountability Commission could also be set up to ensure all institutions perform their duties without any breach of morals. In doing so, it must be ascertained that feudalism and the practice of inherited politics is abolished and the vibrant youth of the nation empowered and educated to secure the country’s future.
One of the main reasons the evolution of democracy in the country has stalled is illiteracy among the masses. In a recent report, Pakistan ranked 113th among 120 countries regarding literacy rate. For democracy to flourish in Pakistan, a certain level of education must be made a prerequisite for an individual to cast their vote. The issues that plague this country today are beyond the scope of understanding of the average uneducated voter. If educated people, who have a better understanding of political policies and are less prone to manipulation and ideological hegemony, are allowed to vote on behalf of the illiterate as well, it would benefit the entire nation. Furthermore, referendums could be used to give the whole electorate a chance to voice their opinion on the more important issues the country faces. This would lead to higher transparency in running the affairs of the state along with a higher involvement of the masses.
To ensure that politicians in the country remain accountable, voters who are aware of the laws being formulated and whether they are in accordance with the interests of the public are required. The presence of such a community in society would keep a check on the government’s actions as it would bring into question any action of the government it deems contentious. This would result in the general public being empowered at the end of the day through their elected representatives which is the true essence of democracy.