“Democracy is based upon

the conviction that there

are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”

- Harry Emerson

For those who believe that the will of people should prevail, the fact that a democratically-elected government is about to complete its term is enough of a reason to celebrate!

Despite this, unfortunately, the prophets of doom are trying to cast a shadow over the election and the democratic process. While the PPP-led government is determined to hold the upcoming general election as stipulated in the constitution, they predict that it might be postponed on one pretext or the other. It seems that they are working overtime to create an illusion that some state organs are heading towards a collision, which will result in the collapse of democracy.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that democracy has not been able to live up to the expectations of the poor people whose life remains as difficult as ever. Yet, it is also true that since the coalition government inherited the enormous challenges, i.e. security and economic, facing Pakistan after the 2008 elections, it has not been able to solely concentrate on the issues that affect the lives of  masses. This has, in turn, resulted in creating frustration and despondency among a large section of the population, who have become indifferent to certain critical issues that exist in our society.

It is, however, important to mention that no political party seems to be in a position to win the 2013 general elections with a comfortable majority, thus allowing it to implement its political agenda without much hassle.

Also, the present experience of establishing a coalition government has not been entirely successful because every party demanded a share that was bigger than its representation in the National Assembly. That led to the abandonment of certain decisions, which could have helped improve people’s lives.

Anyway, the government has always remained mired in economic problems, as they were converted into political problems by the opposition parties, and thus could not be implemented to boost the country’s economy. The issue of Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) and effort to impose agricultural income tax, for instance, could not be implemented just because of this. So the economic planners always fell short of the goals and objectives that were prepared by them for the nation’s welfare. It is really amazing that the government has discovered about 3.8 million people, who have taxable resources at their disposal, but are contributing nothing to the national exchequer. While those who are paying their taxes, they are paying much less than that is due from them.

Another issue that needs to be addressed remains mismanagement and corrupt practices, which have stagnated Pakistan’s economy. Perhaps, due to the dynamics of the coalition government, it became all but impossible for it to proceed against the tax dodgers and other financial cheats. Hence, economic issues remain the biggest challenge to democracy and if the present leadership fails to overcome them, the expectation that Parliament will complete its tenure may be short-lived. Already people like General Aslam Beg have sounded an alarm, creating misgivings about the future of democratic institutions in this country.

The Chief Justice, however, has praised Parliament by saying: “The constitution was made a rolling stone, but now things are getting in order. Democracy would prevail by all means and that the system should be allowed to run smoothly and narrow-mindedness must be avoided.” In the same vein, Minister of Information Qamar Zaman Kaira declared that the elections would be conducted within 45 days after March 18, 2013. All this augers well for the democratic process. And if free and fair elections are conducted in time and if they are regarded as the only method to bring the much needed change, then after three or four elections the state institutions would become so strong that they would move on with their own momentum. It is, therefore, expected that in spite of the grave challenges that are being faced by the country, specifically those related to terrorism, the elections will not be postponed.

One hopes that all these challenges to democracy are realised and a comprehensive programme is initiated, which would not only lead to economic progress, but also safeguard democracy. Both economic recovery and democracy are interlinked with one another and neither can exist in isolation. The sooner it is understood, the better it will be for the people.

The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television. Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com