It is often said that all politics is local. Hence, in a democracy, national elections are just the beginning, or maybe rather, the second leg to walk on. We need two legs are needed for a steady walk.

We should all celebrate and rejoice that Pakistan now is under way to have a fully-fledged local government system in place – finally, after it was suspended after Gen. Musharraf’s rule.

Elections have already been held in KPK; last Monday, there were elections in Islamabad, for the first time, and on Friday, it is Rawalpindi’s turn, and major cities in the provinces. Peshawar has already completed it elections. The next step is to elect mayors and get the local councils up and working.

I hope all citizens, and also those who did not vote, will embrace the results and the new time, and certainly not just see it as another possibility for corruption, nepotism and misuse of power by the powerful few. People should realize that local government is a way of broadening democracy and engaging citizens in debating issues and reaching better decisions. It is a way of creating greater insight into the work of the administration, with laymen’s control of the bureaucrats. It should be added, though, that the civil service will still play the major role in planning and implementation.

The elected local government representatives will be more like a board in a private company; they rely on the employed staff for execution of day-to-day work. Let me add that often the local administration is better than its reputation; yes, civil servants generally are doing a good job; notwithstanding the need for elected members at all levels and sectors to keep an eye on them. That is a major role of the elected representatives. And sometimes, too, the administration will have to remind the elected members of rules and regulations, and other technical issues.

The importance of local government can be explained pragmatically, and from a result-oriented perspective. Furthermore, in any society, it is important that people in the community take part in the on-goings; discuss and engage in issues, yet, without polarizing or obstructing implementation. This applies to the neighborhood, workplace, school, and other communities where we have a stake.

It is our duty and right to have a say in what goes on, often through elected representatives. But we can also ask for information or voice our opinion as individuals and groups. In this way, planning, decision-making and implementation of work can become better. Complaints about issues are not negative, although we often see them that way. Genuine complaints are usually made in order to see improvements, not only for oneself but for a wider group. Then it is up to the elected representatives and administration to consider complaints and find the best solutions.

It is important that the results of local elections, as well as other elections in the country, are carried out in transparent ways, including at the levels of parties and independent candidates. How nominations are made are also essential, and how votes are counted. And then, when candidates have been elected, it is also important that the results are accepted, unless irregularities are obvious and massive.

To challenge results should not take up much time as it will create a negative and unproductive atmosphere in a democracy. Generally, one has to live with the results until the next elections. Parties and candidates may have to discuss and modify positions, and search for common grounds on issues where differences are big. After local level elections, that would usually be simpler than at national level since people live in the same localities and can reason practically about issues and projects, and find solutions that are as good as possible for everyone. The smaller a town, ward or city is, the easier it is to do this.

Yet, Pakistan is a big country and many cities, towns and wards are populous so that people don’t always know each other well, or have sufficient knowledge about issues. Hence, it may be necessary to establish sub groups and committees, in addition to what is already inbuilt in the local government system, so that issues can be discussed thoroughly. In our time and age, difficult issues may require studies to be carried out, usually by the administration, so that expert knowledge and ‘counter-expertise’ can be applied. Political parties, professional groups, interest groups, NGOs, labour unions, and so, should all contribute.

At local level, as well as at provincial and national levels, all these groups are part of a participatory society’s and community’s democracy. The more of such participation, the better; the more of media debate, the better – well, all within acceptable and fair play. Sometimes, the media, perhaps TV talk shows thrive in ‘troubled waters’. The restraint and maturity of the media and its constructive and education roles will be tested now when the local governments begin their work. Yes, the media are watchdogs of us all, yet to be exercised with less sensationalism than what sometimes is the case.

Let me emphasize that as members of a local community, we all have a duty and right to participate, everybody is included and it is the quality of the arguments that should win debates, not ones status or economic power, not at all any feudal position, gender, age or other such characteristics. It is important to note that in a democratic society, we are all equal – as we are in Islam, Christianity and other religions. Women don’t receive the right to participate from men; women have that right according to God’s law, and that law supersedes the man-made laws.

Again, it is time to rejoice Pakistan’s local government elections. It took some time to reach here. But we are there now and must now make the best out of it. We must realize that without local government there isn’t much democracy, and democracy is what we want – even when the politicians at national, provincial and local levels decide things we disagree with – yes, as long as the process is relatively fair and transparent.

True, Pakistan has some way to go to develop its democracy. The local government system is indeed a corner stone in the ‘New Pakistan House’. There will be time for political parties and groups to hold courses and training programmes, including for the government and non-governmental organizations to do what they can so that we all understand more about it all.

Local government and all kinds of grassroots organizations are required in a democracy. People must participate and have a stake in the society they live in. We must all contribute to our ability and receive to our needs. Well, we must be integrated in the cultures and communities. If we have a stake in the village, town and city where we live, we will not sell out anything to extremists, terrorists or others who take what we cherish. That is the only solution, the only way ahead for prosperity in inclusive and diverse societies.

In the introduction to my article today, I said that all politics is local. Yes, the foundation is local – even for the global issues, including the local and global climate change issues. If we understand our home, our village, our garden, then we can begin to understand the environment of the wider world. And I don’t only mean the trees, rivers, glaciers and more, I also mean universal values and people’s environments – which can only be built from the bottom up, yet, in exchange with others. A tree doesn’t grow from the top; it grows from the bottom, with its roots in the ground. Democracy also grows from the bottom to the top – and then, only the sky and the stars are the limit. Let us celebrate and rejoice the beginning of Pakistan’s local government system.