June first was a historic day for Pakistan: as the caretaker prime minister took his oath of office, Pakistan, for the first time in its history, completed the full term of its second elected government. The skeptics would have us believe that it is no big deal, and that democracy has not solved many of our problems. All of these objections are valid but also rely on a faulty narrative, a narrative that democracy by itself can, somehow, immediately transform a nation. Democracy, however, is a messy and a long-term process and it takes years, decades sometimes, for things to change, but electing our representatives every five years through a fair election is the absolute first step toward greater change.
Yes, this government probably made a lot of mistakes, but they have had quite a few accomplishments as well and we, regardless of our party affiliations, should bear that in mind. As the system develops and becomes more transparent and responsive to people’s needs, it would continue to prefect itself.
Democracy, however, needs a responsible, aware, and critically conscious citizenry. I am not one of those who believe that only a college degree can make us into critically aware citizens; I think people can always be aware of their material conditions and then ask the government to remedy the ills around them. But I do believe that critically aware education can play an active role in enabling us to become more informed, tolerant,and responsible citizens of a democracy.
Democracy by itself is not a panacea for expedited development; it does not solve all our problems simply by being there. Democracy is first and foremost a process and it also creates, over the long-term, a system of government that MUST respond to the will of its constituents. It is this accountability in front of the people that makes democracy the best possible human-made system. Yes, sometimes the will of the majority can take us to places we do not want to go, but if the minority voices are heard and if the press does its job, or is allowed to do its job, of always informing the public and holding the powerful accountable, then a democratic system has a higher chance of perfecting itself in serving the people.
There are those in our society who believe that they are the only one’s who know the best interests of the people and the nation. Most of the times these privileged and powerful people have lived far removed from the every day exigencies of life; their needs are fulfilled, often at the cost of the future of our children. But from their safe, cozy and privileged existence, they deem that their opinions, somehow, should have more weight. Maybe, some of their claims are true, but to think that a few privileged individuals who have neither seen any want int their lives nor have had to struggle for existence can somehow KNOW the dreams and aspirations of the people is a dangerous kind of hubris.
There are also politicians who see being elected as an end in itself. For them, taking a public office means that they get the right and power to plunder the nation, build private wealth, and use their power to oppress people. This is the most dangerous group, for their actions are often invoked to “prove” that democracy and electoral politics is inherently corrupt and hence not suitable for Pakistan.
There are also those who consider themselves the custodians of faith: they want us to believe that only their version of truth is worthy of our reverence and all others are either suspect or fit for elimination. sadly, these traders of faith also pit us against each other to a point that we come to hate others even when we do not have any personal interaction with them or even know them. This is another form of politics of hate and exclusivism.
And of course, there are also those who are actively engaged in destroying our national infrastructure and take pride in killing civilians and solders, all in the name of God.
These are some of the internal dangers that we face as a nation and as a result fascist thought and practices offer themselves as the ultimate solution to our problems. Against the material and ideological challenges to Pakistan, democracy, sometimes, comes across as a s slow, corrupt, and ineffective system. But we must never acceded to any other alternatives, especially the ones that silence the people, rely on hate, or ascribe our destinies to a coterie of unelected “leaders” who do not have the power of popular vote behind them. We must continue to struggle for the creation of an open, fair, and transparent system of democratic government with the hope that an open system is more likely to become humane, representative, and accountable to the people. We all also must live responsible, compassionate, and informed lives. And, despite the myriad of our problems, we must remember that in the end we are all Pakistanis and, regardless of our differences, our destinies are intertwined with each other and with the future of Pakistan.
This government has concluded its term. Yes, there was corruption and a lot of those associated with power have done questionable things, but, to be fair, the government also tried to address people’s problems and did formulate policies to make people’s lives better. And all of this was done in the public eye with open debate in the national assembly: that is democracy! When our elected leaders make their decisions under the scrutiny of the press and with the full knowledge of their people, there are no secret deals possible.
So, while one government, imperfect as it may have been, has successfully concluded its term, let us prepare ourselves for the next one, and the one after that, all elected by the popular vote and held accountable by the people!