For The People?
By Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
January 25, 2013
Citizens should realise that the failure of a government is not the failure of the democratic system
As a resident of Islamabad, I have viewed and experienced the recent unfolding political events at first hand in the past few days. A cleric with fiery rhetoric and claims of ushering in a revolution came into the capital with considerable fanfare and then dwindled into non-existence. In the same period, there were two suicide blasts in Quetta, which took the lives of more than hundred innocent people, later resulting in a three-day protest by the grieving families, where they refused to bury their loved ones until firm action was taken by the government. Further, there was the news of the prime minister’s arrest. The shockwaves of these events also sent the stock market crashing, delivering another blow to an already reeling economy. The foremost concern in everyone’s mind throughout this time has been the perceived threat to democracy and the collapse of this nascent and fragile system.
There is no doubt that this should be the main concern, as after considerable sacrifices and effort this system has been implemented, while it still requires time to take hold within society. The most important entity in the paradigm of democracy is the ‘citizens’ or people. The statement that democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people has become a cliché. The people own this system and choose the individuals who are to manage the affairs of the country. This is perhaps the only system in which the populace can contribute in governance of the country and hold their representatives liable for any mismanagement.
However, it has become evident in the past few days that within the political and government circles, the challenges faced by democracy are different from the ones perceived and faced by the citizens. The concept and magnitude of this threat is being subjected to a myopic view and has been narrowed down only to a political level. Politicians or political parties are perhaps one percent or even less within the entire population. There is no doubt that the political strata are major stakeholders in this process, but what about the people and their concerns for democracy? No doubt the dismissal or arrest of a prime minister, who plays a vital role in running the democratic process, is a major concern, but how is the non-availability of gas and electricity for consumers not a threat to democracy? The formation of a neutral caretaker government is imperative before the next elections but why is the deteriorating law and order situation not a concern for democracy? Have we taken out jamhoor or people from the concept of jamhooriat (democracy)?
The sectarian and ethnic killings in Balochistan were not considered a threat to democracy, but those killings transformed into the implementation of Governor’s rule within the province. The sit-in staged by tribesmen in Peshawar, the rising fuel prices or the stock market crash have all been dismissed by the political circles as a danger to democracy. The growing activities of the Taliban and other banned militant organisations are not considered a threat to this process; rather, some political parties have covertly joined hands with such groups. The focus remains on only the political dimensions of the challenges to democracy. By allowing the issues of security, the economy and radicalisation to fester, discontent has been created among the populace. The citizens consider themselves to be disconnected from this system, but feel concerned for its wellbeing. Citizens want democracy to continue, but realise that they are unable to present their views and opinions within the corridors of power.
When the problems of citizens are brought forward, government and the political machinery fails to deliver or function, which shows that these issues are not considered a priority. On the other hand, a political development will immediately grab the attention of every sphere of the state machinery and political parties. This has resulted in a gap between citizens and political leadership, which is being exploited by radical groups and elements, which want to see this system fail. For now, it seems that citizens are discontented and are being isolated to the limit where they only vote to elect members of parliament. People are now searching for individuals who can be termed as their representatives and carry their voice to the seat of power. This is also one of the reasons why the discontented masses will jump to support any individual who claims to initiate a revolution. I have previously stated on many occasions that we do not need a revolution here. People in various parts of the world are striving to implement a democratic system, while in Pakistan, we have already achieved that and the system needs to be strengthened.
If the political leadership and democratic forces are serious about addressing the challenges faced by democracy, they should highlight and address the needs of the citizens. To strengthen the process, it is important that political parties should take citizens along through every step. Citizens should realise that the failure of a government is not the failure of the democratic system. Rather within this system, citizens have the option to vent their discontent and hold the government accountable. It may take some time, perhaps even years, but democracy should be allowed to flourish and strengthen, as it will ultimately benefit the people of Pakistan.
Gulmina Bilal Ahmad is a development consultant.