Future of democracy

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  • Media has a key role to play

While one can rejoice the fact that in the history of Pakistan two elected governments had completed their mandated period and the transfer of power would take place through ballot second time around, but the fact remained that no real headway had been made towards consolidation of democracy in the last decade.  The elected governments remained riddled with crisis after crisis courtesy the conspiracies woven by anti-democratic elements within and outside the country. Regrettably the portents are not very encouraging for the future.

The PML-N government was put under pressure right from the beginning through the rigging saga spearheaded by Imran Khan and the longest ever sit-in staged by the PTI and PAT which nearly led to the fall of the government through unconstitutional means. Thanks to the support for democracy by the judiciary, army, media and the parties represented in the parliament, the widely believed international conspiracy to destabilise democracy failed to achieve its objective. The writ of the government was further weakened by the fall out of the Panama case that eventually led to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, Dawn Leaks and emergence of TLP which staged sit-in at Faizabad.

A report released by PILDAT last week unfortunately also paints a very bleak picture in the context of the coming elections maintaining that the pre-election process in the country was not fair. The agency has based its assessment on the perception that the establishment was not neutral in the electoral process and the NAB and courts also were not impartial. The report also said that it was increasingly evident that curbs were being clamped on the media by limiting its ability to function as a free and independent entity. If true that does not augur well for the future of democracy in this land of the pure.

The care-take government and ECP also have to make sure that the media operated within the parameters set by the internationally recognised professional and ethical codes without jeopardising its freedom

Political analysts also smell something sinister happening behind the scenes to manipulate the results of the elections through pre-poll rigging. They believe that the process started with the change of government in Balochistan, horse trading in the elections for senate seats and chairman and deputy chairman senate and forced defections from PML-N and their joining the PTI. They also viewed the resolution passed by the Balochistan Assembly for the postponement of elections for a month and the judgments of the Lahore High Court invalidating the nomination forms for candidates and Balochistan High Court and Islamabad High Court regarding delimitation of constituencies, as attempts to delay the elections.

It is however encouraging to note that the possibility of delay in the polls has been forestalled by the SC decision to suspend the judgment of the LHC on nomination forms. That indeed is very reassuring as far as elections taking place on schedule are concerned.

It is incumbent upon the ECP to provide a level playing field for all the political parties. The ECP should make sure that the rules and code of conduct devised by it in consultation with the political parties is strictly adhered to. The ECP is understood to have already taken adequate measures to prevent any chance of rigging on the polling day by any party and scuttling any chance of bogus voting by issuing voters list with photographs of the voters on it. It would be easier for the polling agents of the parties at the polling stations to identify the voter and facilitate the issuance of the ballot paper to the real person. The other measures decided by the ECP include the appointment of ROs from the judiciary and the distribution of the signed copy of the results at each polling station to the agents of the parties before sending them over to the ROs. That would eliminate any chance of manipulating the results at any stage.

There is no doubt that people are the final arbiters in deciding which party gets their franchise to rule the country but they need to be enabled to make informed choices. The media has a very crucial role in this regard. It will have to adopt a pluralistic approach by abandoning the polarisation that exists within in its ranks and give the public a realistic and unbiased information and assessment on the issues under debate so that the people can make the right choices. It should try to avoid being part of any effort to undermine a particular party or promote one at the expense of others.

The care-take government and ECP also have to make sure that the media operated within the parameters set by the internationally recognised professional and ethical codes without jeopardising its freedom. The media also has to realise that elections are an event which is concerned with shaping the future destiny of the country. Therefore, it has to exhibit utmost sense of social responsibility while reporting on the events or commenting on the issues and the stakes involved.

Perhaps it would also be a good idea for the caretaker government, ECP and some major TV channels joining hands in organising a debate among the leaders of the major political parties on their proposed manifestoes and allow them to confront each other for justifying the programme that they envisaged to claim the mandate of the people, like the Presidential debate in USA.

For democracy taking roots in the country and establishing the ascendency of the parliament and representative government, it is also incumbent upon the people to vote for the right candidates and take revenge from those who sold their mandate by not voting for them anymore. They are the real villains and detractors of democracy who are used in the number game by unscrupulous politicians and their mentors to manipulate the outcome of elections and insulting the will of the people. Pakistan cannot move forward on the ladder of democracy unless the people stand up against the sinister game that has been going on for the last seventy years.