You can revise the Constitution as many times as you want- but if you can’t get people to the ballot box, your system isn’t a democracy. Pakistan rang with cheers and applause when our President signed the 18th Amendment into law on April 19. As the country’s leadership congratulated itself on its ‘return to democracy’ that day, I couldn’t help but think the moment was anti-climactic.
Awash in praise pouring in from around the world, we fooled ourselves into thinking a piece of paper was actually the law and the wiggle of Mr Zardari’s pen signified action. We blinded ourselves to what democracy should really mean for us: it should mean we have the freedom, the will, and the desire to have our voices heard.
It should mean we have faith that change will follow. Unfortunately, that can’t happen until the general public is motivated enough to want to have a say in the government’s policies. Successive governments have failed spectacularly in their responsibility to make people, especially young adults, aware of the importance of voting. It’s a vicious cycle — people don’t vote because they feel their vote doesn’t count and the government that is elected off the back of mismanaged balloting doesn’t feel answerable to its constituency.
That said, all my life, ‘voting day’ has had negative associations. When I was younger, voting meant strikes, violence and protests. And, if an elder happened to brave the heat and go to the polls they soon discovered their vote had already been ‘cast’- by someone else. In other leading democratic states in the world, streets turn into carnivals in the days leading up to the polls.
Before an election in Pakistan, cities turn into bunkers. We need to reverse this trend and make voting something to look forward to. The government needs to make voting accessible.
The public needs to have a little more faith in its own power. And people, especially our disenchanted youth, need to be made aware that voting is a responsibility- not a privilege.