ISLAMABAD: Poor governance, corruption, social injustices as well as the selective implementation of law have hampered democracy from thriving in the country.
This was the crux of the speeches made by parliamentarians, academics, media and development experts at a seminar on “Challenges of democracy in Pakistan” organised by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA) and the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) at a local hotel on Thursday.
They called for immediate steps to improve governance, eradicate corruption, reduce income inequalities and introduce political reforms for strengthening democracy.
The Trust’s project ‘Deepening Democracy and Election Support in Pakistan’ team leader Rashid Chaudhry presented the findings of a nation-wide socio-political survey of National Assembly constituencies in February this year conducted by Fafen.
According to the survey 46 per cent of the people said they wanted democracy as their form of the government. As many as 18 per cent said they wanted the military to take control over the government. The rest named other forms of governments.
“There is a lack of trust in public institutions and elected officials,” says the survey findings.
Veteran journalist and TDEA chairperson M. Ziauddin said constitutional supremacy, equal distribution of resources, and writ of the government are vital to combat challenges.
He termed personalization of matters instead of institutionalisation as the main reason for the crisis of governance. He regretted that even after two general elections, the country does not have a sustainable local governance system.
He stressed the need for a free media and a strong judiciary to ensure good governance.
Former Finance Minister Dr Salman Shah, while talking on corruption, said Pakistan ranked 150th in terms of per capita income and 147th on the Human Development Index. He blamed the bureaucracy for favouritism in all spheres of public affairs.
He said the country needed three million new jobs every year and asserted the real cause of corruption was that nobody cared for laws of conflict of interest, which are yet to be defined.
He implored the Chief Justice of Pakistan to approach the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), an international organisation which supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds, to recover all public funds stashed in foreign banks.
Dr Mohammad Waseem, a professor of political science at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), while talking about democracy said the middle class was a stable constituency for military rule, as it thinks that the political class is ineffective.
He said political parties are ‘Leader Parties’. People look for a charismatic leader, not an ideology. He said corruption is not a religious or a moral issue rather a structural issue. “We need to understand it as such in order to curb it,” he said.
Pattan’s National Coordina-tor Sarwar Bari, while talking on growing inequalities in society, in the last decade, the tax burden on the poor has increased by 35 per cent while the rich pay virtually no income tax.
Eighty percent of the candidates on peasant and labour seats of local government elections have declared themselves as businessmen on their nomination papers and yet their nominations were not rejected by the respective returning officers, he said.
TDEA Chief Executive Officer Shahid Fiaz said that governance crises had a direct impact on the life and well-being of citizens especially those living on margins.
He stressed the need for structured societal dialogue to promote a pro-democracy, inclusion and tolerance narrative.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2016.
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