Importance of democracy

Mian Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), urged the government to hold early elections in order to reduce uncertainty and save democracy. Mr Sharif was clear on one issue when he said, “Whether this government remains or not, the military’s role in politics is unacceptable.” He warned that the country is already facing isolation and another military coup would be a disaster. Over the years, Mr Sharif has been very vocal against a military intervention and an ardent advocate of democracy. This is the right approach but asking for an early election may not be feasible so long as the government enjoys an undisturbed majority. There are those who want new general elections by March 2012 to pre-empt the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gaining a majority in the Senate elections, given the political arithmetic in the assemblies, federal and provincial. This is a worrying outcome for those who oppose the PPP because with a strengthened PPP presence in the Upper House, the passage of legislation would become relatively easier. Then there are others who want the general elections to be held by the end of 2012. Given the political landscape, if the next elections are held at the end of 2012 or as scheduled in early 2013, we are likely to see a fractured mandate again. Despite the recent successes of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the PPP and the PML-N are likely to remain the two largest mainstream political parties. If the PPP is able to get a plurality, it could form another coalition government for the next five years.

The next stage in 2013 is the election of the president. The new electoral college for the next presidential elections will already be in place. If the PPP manages to get a majority in the Senate elections in 2012, and a substantive number of seats in the general elections, the new president will be most likely be of the PPP’s choice. The prospects, therefore, for the opponents of the PPP look bleak. But this is what a democratic system is all about. When one subscribes to democracy, no matter what one’s views of the incumbent president or sitting government, the only way to bring about change should be through democratic means. Democracy theoretically offers a level playing field to all contenders. The opponents of the PPP should try to change the political arithmetic instead of resorting to unconstitutional means. Instead of getting agitated by the upcoming Senate elections, let the system function and allow the voters to decide who will rule the country. The PPP government’s performance has not been brilliant, but a free and fair election will determine whether the people want to see them rule the roost again or not. Some parties allege that an election under President Zardari would not be free. Granted that the 2008 electoral rolls comprised a large proportion of invalid voters but that was not the PPP’s doing. General Musharraf was in power then. There is a deeper problem at hand: even before 2008, most of the elections have had fake voters lists. The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to prepare the revised voters lists by February 23, 2012. This is a mammoth task. Whether the SC extends the date or not, it is important that the voters lists should reflect the genuine electorate in order to facilitate a valid, transparent and credible election.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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