International Democracy Day: Politicians agree on need to let democracy develop, thrive

Civil society organisation urges inclusion of democratic civic education in curricula.

Qamar Zaman September 15, 2014


Leaders from across the political spectrum reiterated their resolve to support uninterrupted democratic processes and strengthen democratic institutions.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Sunday cautioned that there was a new form of threat to democracy --- an assault on it in the name of democracy itself.

In a message on the eve of International Democracy Day, former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said that the enemies of democracy keep changing their guise and tactics.

“Today, democracy is threatened by intolerance on one hand and assault on it in the name of democracy on the other. There is also a great threat to democracy from the militant mindset seeking to impose their extremist agenda through force,” he said.

“Democracy also calls for state institutions to work strictly within their constitutional domain. No state organ is allowed to trespass the jurisdiction of another state organ. Not long ago, there was a perception that some state organs actually trespass the domain of the parliament,” he said, adding, “Such perceptions must not be allowed to gain strength.”

“Democracy is much more than merely holding elections periodically to distribute political power among parties and individuals. Constitutionalism, rule of law and tolerance to dissent and disagreement are essential ingredients of a democratic culture,”

Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed from the PML-Q said, “Democracy is not just about casting votes and electing members of parliament to form a government. Our political class uses the ballot to acquire power, but the mindset is not democratic since there is intolerance for dissent and difference of opinion.”

Responding to a question, he said 65% of Pakistanis are under-35 and there is an assertive middle class which is dissatisfied with the status quo since they feel their hopes and aspirations are not being voiced by parliament. So there is resonance of the sit-ins, reflected in power public opinion not just in Pakistan but also witnessed elsewhere such as the Arab Spring, the ‘Anna Hazare Movement’ in India and the ‘Occupy’ [Wall Street] protests in the US.

“These peaceful protests, with participate of youth and women, should strengthen democracy in letter and spirit by promoting accountability of government and focusing on issues like electoral reforms and good governance,” he added.

It shows a dynamic society since there is an absence of apathy and people are willing to express their views through political activism and peaceful protest within the framework of law and the constitution, he said.

Senator Zahid Khan from the Awami National Party (ANP) said that democracy is the only system which received acceptance all across the world while others were rejected “because it ensures rights of all the people”.

Responding to a question about the ongoing PTI and PAT protests, he said, “They do not strengthen democracy,” explaining, “The way these people were pushed and brought here for protest says everything.” He further elaborated that holding protest demonstrations was good, but it should not go to the extent of derailing the entire system.

Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N said, “The spirit of democracy is tolerance and respect for rule of law. Pakistan was founded through the ballot box, therefore, democracy is in the DNA of Pakistan. Disruption of democratic processes led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and weakening of the federation.”

He added that democracy is strengthened through continuity and responding to the needs of people in a transparent manner, and said the sit-ins are helping undemocratic forces by creating chaotic conditions and promoting cynicism and intolerant discourse.

Teaching democracy

Meanwhile, the Centre for Civic Education Pakistan (CCEP) also launched a nationwide advocacy campaign for the inclusion of democratic civic education in textbooks taught in nations’ classrooms, public service media messages and training of political party workers.

“Owing to low civic literacy our vibrant political culture has not been able to graduate in to a delivering democratic culture,” says Zafarullah Khan, executive director of CCEP.

The campaign intends to emphasise that historically, fascism gained grounds through reliance on mere electoral rituals. “It will be prudent for the country’s democratic future that every institution practically supports civic education,” he said.

The campaign has urged parliament to establish a National Commission on Democracy to fulfill the promise made in the Charter of Democracy, besides creating “civic education units” at the National Assembly and the Senate.

In a press release, CCEP also suggested that the Law and Justice Commission of the Supreme Court along with the network of bar associations should contribute to expand literacy about the constitution and fundamental rights. It also calls for political parties to start study circles through their think-tanks or training bodies to deepen understanding of their members and workers about democracy and its institutions.

At formal education level, it suggests that textbooks include core concepts like the framework value of the constitution, citizens’ rights, due process, playing by rules and other imperatives of democratic citizenship.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2014.


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