Are elections worth having if there are voting irregularities, little to no change occurs for the average Pakistani, and it substitutes one kleptocratic ruler for another? This question is being debated in living rooms and on the streets across Pakistan today. Pakistanis are frustrated with the lackluster pace of political reform and change. Pakistanis endlessly complain about rampant corruption, unresponsive leaders, and the problems with democracy. But does this mean Pakistan cannot handle democracy?
The answer is a resounding no. Although there are merits to these critiques, the only way forward for Pakistan is with more democracy, not less.
Democracy, at its best, can bring about a tsunami of change to politics as usual. The 2013 elections demonstrated that not only can Pakistan peacefully transition between two-parties, but that new parties can get their seat at the table. Pakistani Tehreeki Insaf (PTI) went from no seats in the National Assembly to hold 28, the third most in parliament. Voter turnout shattered records, with 46.2 million people—55 percent of those eligible—casting ballots in the election according to the Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP). This election demonstrated that Pakistanis want a change and that change can be brought about through the ballot box.
But the demonstrations in Islamabad by PTI chief Imran Khan and supporters of Dr. Tahrir ul Qadri have shaken many people’s confidence in Pakistani democracy. While Mr. Khan’s vehement demands for electoral transparency are legitimate, his method of protest has undermined both his agenda and Pakistan’s democracy.
In spite of this setback, Pakistani democracy can be improved and reformed. What is needed now more than ever is to get all political parties in Pakistan to agree to resolve their problems through legitimate negotiations and political bargaining, not through illegitimate demands and bombastic threats. Only through sustained arbitration can Pakistan’s fragile democratic system continue to exist.
Pakistan’s democratic system needs to continue to exist in order to gradually deliver the change people want. Change does not happen overnight, but occurs through sustained commitment and strategic planning. An excellent example of the change that democracy can deliver is the Metrobus system in Lahore. The Metrobus system allows for a clean, affordable way to get around Lahore for the average Pakistani. While it would be ideal to create mass transit systems across all major cities in Pakistan, the Metrobus system is a positive step forward and an example of how democracy can improve the lives of the average Pakistani.
Pakistan needs to expand and enhance its democracy, not question its viability. Although the problems with the current democratic structure should be vigorously debated, faith in democracy must not be lost. Democracy will provide Pakistan with the best chance for economic growth and development. It will provide the average Pakistani with a voice in government. Most importantly, it will give Pakistan a hope for a better tomorrow. A peaceful and prosperous Pakistan can happen, but only if we do not lose our faith in democracy.