Democracy is a system of government in which the people of a country or province choose their own rulers who govern according to their wishes. Elections are only one part of democracy. The culture of democracy allows that every individual within a society must have every right to think or do what is allowed by the laws and moral code of that country.
The greater the freedom of thought and action, the stronger is the culture of democracy. Here, it is important to note that the existing laws of the state and norms of a society may not be beneficial to a majority of the citizens of that country. But with the freedom of thought, expression and action, they would debate these laws and moral standards which would create and sustain the pressure on the government, the community leaders and social elite to change and modify the laws and transform the moral standards. This would lead to an increasingly congenial environment for mental growth.
Elections play an important role in any democracy. In a true democracy, people would choose only those persons as their rulers, who they think are the most competent, efficient and honest. People would only choose their rulers when they have information about their rights and responsibilities; the backgrounds of the candidates; the major issues facing the country and locality and how to evaluate the performance of the rulers. All of the above shape public opinion. In Pakistan however, most of the people do not have sufficient information regarding the issues they face in order to make the correct democratic decisions about electing their political leadership.
We must first understand why democracy is the best system of governance. Over centuries of experiments with personal and dynastic rules, civilised nations in the last two and half centuries have come to firmly believe that democracy is the best form of government. In monarchies and dictatorial regimes, the interests of the rulers and not the public are the main focus of attention.
Over centuries, scholars in the West started thinking of a system of government in which the people’s interest, welfare and development are considered supreme and in which the rulers function only to achieve these key objectives. It was agreed that a government whose sole purpose was to serve the people and look after their welfare and development, was the only kind of system in which the people’s interests would be safeguarded. As any modern state has a population of millions, elections were considered to be a mechanism to determine what constituted the interest of the majority.
One of the key features of democracy that make it appear to be the best form of government is that each democratic dispensation remains in power for a stipulated period of time or as long as the people want it to be in power. In most democratic states, every government is given power for four or five years. After completion of this tenure, new elections are held. If the people are satisfied with the performance of a government it is re-elected. Otherwise, people vote for a different set of leaders. This has never been institutionally possible in any other kind of a rule.
As governments deal with funds that are raised from the public through taxes, there is a need to spend this money carefully and with utmost transparency, so that there is no wastage. Democracy is such a system in which even the government, its ministers and officials are subject to accountability for the money they spend and policies they make. Moreover, democracy is a system of government in which even the state could not violate the rights of an individual.
In order to have a true democracy in Pakistan and to enjoy the benefits of having such a system of governance, we must promote a culture of democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2016.