Understanding the essence of democracy

Published: February 26, 2016
The writer holds a PhD in International Relations, specialising in security and governance issues, including terrorism, counterterrorism and regional politics

The writer holds a PhD in International Relations, specialising in security and governance issues, including terrorism, counterterrorism and regional politics

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.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Feroz
    Feb 26, 2016 - 9:04AM

    It will take decades for Pakistani citizens to really understand the workings and benefits of democracy. The spectacle of celebrations on the streets whenever democracy is overthrown by a Military Dictatorship, gives no reason for cheer. Faith in Gunpowder seems much stronger than the desire to invest in human capital and resources. People need to lead and direct where they want the country to go, rather than wait for some savior or Messiah to lead them to Paradise. Accountability and responsibility need to be fixed, without doing so the nation will continue with the same failed policies that took it nowhere.Recommend

  • Toti calling
    Feb 26, 2016 - 11:19AM

    Democracy is like a child who learns to walk and falls many a time before his or her feet and legs function properly. Until then,Interference of establishment should be reduced to a very minimum. In due course the leaders will realize that in order to win the votes, they have to initiate reforms which help the majority economically. It also helps that the voters let only those win who improve job situation, help educate all children and the rights of women are given priority. Religion should remain a private affair and those who want to divert the attention from economic improvement to religion are shunned.
    It will take time, but a starting point should be land reforms. And the mentality of hating the opponents should stop. Those who differ in approach are not evil and must be respected.Recommend

  • jay
    Feb 26, 2016 - 11:50AM

    If the writers understand 1 simple point he will understand why Pak can never be Democracy .


    Its people who choose how they want to be governed . Govt dont decide how they can govern people.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Feb 26, 2016 - 4:29PM

    Not all the world democracies are identical though more or less have some common features. The author has ommitted the key features of developing a working democracy being the transparency of the Government, the freedom of expression in town hall assemblies and the independent media providing unimpeded information to the people. The shortcomings in the current democtatic order in the region can only be attributed to the countries colonial past and their cultural conflicts within the societies as well as the regressive policies which both Indian and Pakstan Governments are currently pursuing.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Dong
    Feb 26, 2016 - 5:43PM

    Awesome article, given the penetration of media and internet. We can educate our populace on democracy very easily. Similarly Ulema can use friday sermons to push people to choose wisely. It just requires commitment from government.

    But the million dollar question is that why would PPP, PML (N) or status quo want to educate people on democracy when they and their coming generations are guaranteed to rule over this country due to this system.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Feb 27, 2016 - 12:02AM

    Awesome article, given the penetration of media and internet. We can educate our populace on democracy very easily. Similarly Ulema can use friday sermons to push people to choose wisely. It just requires commitment from government.

    Not so fast Sir in your judgement, the term ‘democracy’ originates from the greek word ‘demokratia’ in 5th century BC meaning the system of Governance in Athene, giving power to the people to rule. This power rested initialy with the elites of the society and did not include slaves and women. The system evolved ever since now include both adult men and women, rich and poor regardless of their ancestoral background. This power today rests with political parties who are elected by the people and those having the majority, rule in the land. One cannot educate the people on the rights that each of us have, being born as free people or as slaves, the latter requiring a revolution and not a simple devolution process. we must not ignore the fact that the indo pak region today has the largest illetrate population on this planet while their elected leaders are struggling to implement democracy without having first undertaken comprehensive education reforms in their countries..

    Rex MinorRecommend

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