Abraham Lincoln best defined the notion of democracy as: “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. This represents the inclusiveness of democracy that is reflective of the wishes of the masses i.e. the general public or Awam. In today’s blog we will try to analyze the role of general public in fostering democracy at the grass root level.
It is ultimately the public, who is in the position to hold their representatives accountable. However, for this accountability the active participation of the citizens is imperative. Unfortunately in developing countries such as Pakistan the electoral candidates are chosen often on the pretext of how much development work would he/she carry out in the constituency. This constituency-focused approach makes perfect sense with regard to Local Government Elections (LGE) because the very purpose of the local government is to work for the development of the concerned village, tehsil or district at the grassroots level. However, when choosing a candidate for the National or Provincial assemblies, it is imperative to keep an eye on the “bigger picture”, i.e. to see the impact that the candidate or political party of our choice will have on the national or provincial fronts. As citizens, while a enjoying a better standard of living is our right, we must also be mindful of our responsibility to vote for the candidate or political party that (to the best of our understanding) will play an instrumental role in uplifting the plight of the country at the macro level. This is especially important because while local government representatives are entrusted with working for the betterment of the specific village, tehsil or district for which they have been chosen, parliamentarians on the other hand are also responsible for legislation, i.e. laws that govern the working of the state at the national or the provincial level. Accordingly, our choice of candidate while voting for the national or provincial assemblies is likely to have a much greater impact on the welfare of millions of fellow citizens across the country or the province and hence, it is necessary that we think beyond the welfare of our constituency.
The political parties do come up with electoral manifestos but these are seldom put into implementation and are rather showcased for media. Once the elections are over, the citizens, much like most political parties forget about the promises made during the electoral campaign. However, with the new age of technology, citizens in many countries are finding innovative ways to ensure that pledges made by political parties and their leaders during election campaigns are not forgotten. An interesting example here can be of “Morsi meter” an online portal set-up by a group of citizens in Egypt to monitor the pledges made by President Morsi during his election campaigns. This digital initiative has successfully been documenting and monitoring the performance of Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, providing the citizens with a platform to have their voices heard, to hold the government accountable and most importantly to collectively exert pressure on the sitting government to deliver on its election promises.
Moreover, lack of voter registration is the missing link when it comes to grass-root democracy or local bodies elections. As citizens we need to understand that our voting right is not a privilege but rather a duty and we must register as voters in our respective communities and furthermore we must cast our votes during elections be it for national, provincial or local bodies. Citizens also play a pivotal role in strengthening the local bodies as they elect representatives such as councilors and Nazims. The local bodies’ representatives are the ones who are responsible to ensure provision of municipal services in the area. Through meaningful participation the citizens can ensure that their voices are heard and public officials take the necessary measures. Holding corner meetings in our local communities or during Friday prayers can carry out such participation.
Lastly, democracy cannot take its roots at the grass-root level without proactive engagement of females and marginalized communities such as the religious and ethnic minorities, transgender people and of course the youth. It is important to point out here that females make well over half of Pakistan’s population. This fact alone makes them a key stakeholder in the democratic process and for this reason it is essential that we take into account their needs and perspectives and effectively use their skills in trickling down the benefits of democracy to the masses. Similarly, more than 60% of Pakistan’s population comprises of youth. It is therefore imperative that young people are involved and empowered to make informed decisions about choosing the government of their choice. Finally, minorities – be they religious, ethnic or gender-based – have to be included in the fold as equal citizens. While most political parties speak about protecting the rights of the marginalized segments of the society, we as citizens have a huge responsibility to ensure that the minority segments are involved in the decision making process (at local, provincial or national level) and accorded their right as equal and empowered citizens of the state.