Election frenzy is in full swing, and that is a good thing. Being excited about the future, and the right to choose your leaders, is a right that many do not get to have. The arguments about the hidden hands and the election engineering aside, the fact that there is some continuity in the democratic process is overall a positive step.
A sign of maturity during election campaigns in countries that have robust structures is the institution of election debates. The idea is that leaders of the parties, on a platform that brings them together, would respond to a series of direct questions, that are on the minds of voters and are important to the future of the country. While there are plenty of rallies and even some interviews by leading politicians the institution of debate is non-existent. Further, the debate should have the leaders of the parties, not their loudest proxies.
The idea of a debate is two-fold. First, for leaders to respond to the same question so that the voters get to hear contrasting visions for the future, and two for the audience to hear from those who may not be their first choice. An interview with a pandering journalist, in the comfort of the lounge of your home, is just not the same thing. There are well-established protocols to have a lively, and civil debate, with journalists whose credentials are solid and impartiality is well-known.
So where do we start? In our current context, there are myriad questions, which our politicians continue to dodge, but on the minds of the voters. The leaders can prepare all they want – but they should be asked to respond to the questions.
Let me start off with 10 that are on my mind, and those of some of my friends whom I have spoken to – others may choose a different set of pointed and stubborn issues facing the nation.
- Should the CJP be involved in building dams? If not, then how would your government stop him, and ensure a separation between judiciary and the executive?
- What should be done with those who use blasphemy and the Khatam-e-Nubawat clause for political gains?
- Why does your party give only a small fraction of the total seats to women, when they make up 50% of the population?
- How would you ensure that the military does not, and never interfere in the political process?
- How would your government ensure that CPEC does not mean that Pakistani workers and industries get hit badly? And how would you ensure that we have the capacity to pay back loans?
- Are Ahmedis full citizens of Pakistan? Why is there such harassment of minorities and how would you curb harassment of any and all minorities?
- Should we be engaging more with India or less? Is the current budget on defence the right approach? Would you increase it or decrease it next year?
- How would you deal with Mr Trump?
- What, in your mind, is the single biggest problem in public health in the country?
- Education is a major issue – if you have to choose to invest, would you choose primary education or higher education?
The rules are simple. Answer the question in a limited time (90 seconds or two minutes) and the moderators ensure that the politicians do answer the question, and do so in a civil way. The point is not a shouting match or a blame game – but to answer the said question.
Leading the country of 210 million is a serious business, and the least we can do is to ask, hear and examine the vision of those who aspire for that office.