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Testing democracy

Shaheera Syed
Democratic consolidation is a long, extended and cumbersome process, especially for Pakistan in which authoritarian strands are deeply embedded in the very social fabric. After struggling for years, Muslims in the sub-continent did manage to carve a piece of land for themselves and proudly named it Pakistan- literally meaning land of the pure- however, the transition didn’t automatically translate into an installation of a successful democratic system. Until 2013, not even one democratically elected government was able to complete its tenure and transfer to the next without being interposed by a military coup. Hence, it makes sense that whenever it is faced with opposition, the current elected ruling party PML-N unapologetically uses the excuse of fragility of the system and need for immediate socio-economic relief and action to mask its own ineptitude.The opposition does raise havoc at every scandal that surfaces but the response of the ruling party always ends at the punch line that at least we have democracy. Having democracy on paper may pave the way to get an invitation at the big table but it doesn’t translate into anything substantial for the local populace. The system persists to be riddled with chronic problems with plummeting human development indexes and a judicial and legal framework that is in shambles. Culturally, Pakistan hasn’t been able to divorce itself from the colonial mindset limiting progression of thought and inclusion of competent people in the policy discourse of the country.Hence, it is downright naïve to argue that sustenance of the ruling party – PML-N – is imperative for democracy to consolidate in the country since the political regime first has to be fully democratic in its nature for the process to even begin. This is not to discount or belittle the amount of progress that Pakistan has undertaken over the past seventy years but to highlight the dangers of lumping that progress with the longevity of one family’s rule over the country. For history bears evidence that similar arguments have always been used by monarchs, aristocrats and dictators to legitimize their supremacy.In 2013, overcoming numerous challenges and having governed the country twice already, optimists believed that the return of supposedly much wiser and mature Nawaz Sharif to the political front of the country after fourteen years was the glory moment that Pakistan had been waiting for. The past four years under Sharif’s rule tell a slightly different tale. The most significant fallback are the controversial allegations against the premier’s three children having offshore financial holding listed in Panama Papers, blatant refusal to even acknowledge the charges by the party and the subsequent reaction of thousands of people marching on the streets to protest against the government. Admittedly, it has been almost a year since the Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca released the documents, however, that is no excuse to dust the issue under the carpet. Many politicians including Iceland’s Prime Minster stepped down for being implicated. Nothing justifies for the Pakistani premier to be treated differently. Ideally, had there been a slight chance that the charges held some truth, the so-called self-proclaimed champion of democracy should have stepped down gracefully instead of turning this into a long-drawn tussle of power between ego-centric power elites in the country. Despite that, the current probe against the Sharif family in the Supreme Court of Pakistan represents a unique opportunity for the country. It is a true test of the strength of democratic power of the institutes in Pakistan and their ability to sustain the political pressures that they are posed with. Due to the nature of the issue, the international community is in the position to build ample pressure to ensure that the process is fair and just. If the courts of Pakistan are able to conduct a successful and fair probe and are able to make the political elite of the country comply with the decision- it will be a remarkable precedent steering the country away from personality driven politics. And a monumental step to build trust in the system that holds everyone accountable and to truly establish the rule of law in Pakistan. However, despite the sensitive and crucial nature of the issue, it is astonishing to hear popular thought leaders and media gurus in the country convincing the opposition and local populace to move away from the issue at hand since it has already consumed too much of the nation’s time. This is not only a consciously deceiving notion but an absolute disservice to the country itself. Belittling the magnitude and possible impact of the Panama probe takes away the opportunity from the country to embark upon a process that can potentially consolidate its feeble democracy.The rising consciousness of the middle class, political activism of the youth, enhanced role of alternative journalism and boost in geo-political significance due to projects like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) all account for readiness of the situation- making it ripe for change. Hence, the true test of democracy in Pakistan is not dependent on the ability of the sitting Prime Minster to hold onto power in the empire that he has created for himself but on the collective muscle and strength of the institutes in the country to, if proven guilty, take that very power away from him.

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