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Saturday, November 3, 2012

On Elections And Democracy

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: November 01, 2012
Original link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012%5C11%5C01%5Cstory_1-11-2012_pg3_6


The election season is in full swing here. Radio, TV and social media is barraged with campaign ads. As much as some of my fellow brethren will ignore the outcome in their rage, the fact is many eyes are set on who gets to be in the White House. This clarifies what I was referring to in my last week’s ‘gibberish’. As much as we may disagree, the world watches where the US is headed. After all, whoever runs the show here has a significant impact on the entire world, which of course includes Pakistan.

Historically, the Republicans have been very beneficial for Pakistan, or let me rephrase, a certain institution of Pakistan. Their mutual agendas are often aligned and hence, it just happens to be an ideal fit. The Democrats including the incumbent democratic president, who has incidentally made a couple of trips in his student time to Pakistan, are not so keen. Again, that is the geopolitics and its reality for you, with some historical perspective.

The two-party system of the US, whether it is good or bad, is a debate in itself. But I can tell you this much, it discards all the riff raff for the most part. Ideologically, there are only two sides: conservatives or liberals. No wonder, you see a similar trend in the rest of the developed world where the voters have to decide between these two choices for the most part. Come to think of it, we are blessed with our own versions of these two opposite ends, a la the South Asian or better yet the Pakistani version.

There is no dearth of parties in Pakistan and those who dream of establishing a very ultraconservative and idealistic form of government are divided in multiple groups of all shapes and forms. Any single ideological dissent and there is either an expulsion or resignation from the party ranks. Those dejected idealists either find solace in the arms of the competitors or if they have the drive, go on their own and create another ‘jamaat’ (party), ‘tehreek’ (movement). In a country where democratic norms have been ignored and suppressed for decades, at least one thing is for sure: there is this much of democracy in ‘overdrive’ for sure. If and when the average voter sees the ballot paper and perhaps goes through the multiple choices, he or she is bound to get a rush of confusion.

Approximately 30 years ago, when I landed in this land, I was amazed at the way the elections were conducted here. My school was a polling station and there were no banners, no posters, no handbills or any graffiti. Heck it was not even a holiday. People very quietly came, got their ballots and quietly stood in a cubicle, voted and off they went back to their work or home. There were no ink markers on thumbs or fingers, no symbols, no nothing. Before the night turned to day, the late Ronald Reagan was declared victorious; it was announced on television and that was it. There were no rallies, processions, crowds going wild with jubilation, indiscriminate firing in the sky, riots, arson, fires and accusations of rigging. It was all so surreal and every two years we go through this exercise here. I am referring to both the general and the midterm polls of the US.

When I engage our folks about this, I get to hear the usual retort: do not compare the US to Pakistan. The US is over 200 years old and we are a very young and above all, a developing country. I agree on some levels, but rather than waiting for our 200th anniversary to implement some positive changes, can we not just look at things more objectively right now, I often ask. But those blank stares full of rebuke usually follow and one has to just opt for the ever golden silence.

In a country where democracy is still viewed with strange scepticism and considered an alien concept, it is a monumental task for those who promote it. Those who wish to bring an idealistic form of government, based on a revolution and want to change everything from top down, amuse me. Often in their minds, they envision a system of ‘cleansing’. This cleansing is a clever term used for violence and extrajudicial killing. To my dismay, a few of our revered columnists in their passion suggest it as the ideal recipe for our salvation.

Democracy is not a magical wand. It is not the be all and end all. It is not a perfect system. It is a system in constant evolution with certain basic parameters. The reason is plain and simple. It is a system designed for the people and by the people who are in an ever-changing state at all times. It is dynamic and gives the people the ability to adapt according to their environment and its needs. If we look at the developed world and want to emulate their recipes of success, then it is one of the most paramount elements on their menu. People tend to confuse the failures of elected representatives with failures of democracy. That is a fairly amateurish excuse to reject democracy.

Come November 6, I will exercise my right to vote. Yes, it is not going to rid the world of its miseries, but not exercising it at all will leave me perhaps equally miserable.

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