No matter what happens on May 11 this year, let it be clear as to why this date is important. On this day last year, we formally became a democracy as the first civilian-to-civilian peaceful transition materialised through the ballot box. Honestly, it is a surreal experience to be the citizen of a democracy. For a change, one can now look in the eyes of foreign friends who, only a few years ago, used to lecture us on the virtues of democracy and say with great pleasure that they were citizens of one.
Of course, in this imperfect world, nothing is as it should be. The electoral process this time had its flaws. But the parties that were wronged were not Messrs Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan’s, but the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The non-state actors that we have fought for over a decade had declared these two parties their clear targets. It was owing to this threat that the ANP lost many of its workers during the election campaign and the PPP simply did not really reach out and campaign. Granted, there was a strong anti-incumbency wave and this threat might even have unwittingly offered these parties a welcome face-saving break from the exigencies of politics. But make no mistake, these are the two parties that were wronged and not the biggest beneficiaries who are planning to come out and protest. Curious as it seems, the parties that actually had everything to lose on this day are not agitating and want to ensure that the democratic tradition is strengthened.
Of course, even before this date, our polity had accomplished some key characteristics of a democracy — a vibrant media, a thriving civil society and a judiciary that guarded its independence jealously. What we achieved on this day, however, formalised our democratic status for the first time in history. We were given a chance to unseat lawmakers upon the completion of their term and elect new governments; it was a watershed moment.
You have mostly seen our destructive side — it’s time for you to see how constructive we can be when we apply our minds to it. We have repeatedly witnessed an abysmal lack of ownership on the part of our masses for their voice was never actually heard. This too, however, is changing as citizens realise their voice now matters.
One tragic flaw during the last five-year term was the communication gap between our institutions — old, new and revitalised. The media and the judiciary, with the latter led by former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, were seriously failing to identify the limits of their activism and ended up offending the sensibilities of many in power and the institutions that had just disentangled themselves from the direct rule. This communication gap was exploited by those who lost as a direct consequence of the strengthening of democracy especially the coterie that once surrounded Musharraf. As a result, a lot of heat and anger was generated that still poses a clear and present danger to the democratisation process.
If there was another serious miracle, it was Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf. Unlike other politicians who had spent time in the company of the beleaguered General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Mr Khan stepped out of the generalissimo’s shadow and found his own voice. He was duly rewarded by the voters and his party, with a single assembly member earlier on, has emerged as a force to reckon with in the federal parliament and has managed to form government in a province. Sadly, by then, Mr Khan had inhaled enough of his own party members’ propaganda and thought that his becoming a PM was a foregone conclusion. This misperception has seriously impacted his political judgment which in any case was not commendable and left him prone to exploitation by other groups.
The readymade exploiter of this weakness has arrived in the shape of Tahirul Qadri. Repeatedly rejected by the voters, Mr Qadri has now practically no stake in the system and keeps acting as agent provocateur. Interestingly, what he doesn’t realise is that despite occasional misunderstandings all stakeholders recognise the true value of democracy. Rejection again, sir!
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2014.