Good governance key to maintaining democracy in Pakistan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 5:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 9:05am

Pakistan's turbulent politics is proof that democracy is not in itself a solution to a country's challenges. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif won a landslide election 15 months ago but that has not prevented a growing tide of dissatisfaction with his government. Unemployment is rising and the electricity shortages and corruption that plagued previous administrations persist. Charismatic politicians have mobilised thousands of supporters to oust the leader; some citizens are even asking for the army to seize control.

The military claims to be uninterested in staging a fourth coup since independence in 1947 and the army chief has called for the sides to talk, even opening the way for back-room negotiations. Supporters of opposition leaders Imran Khan, a famed former cricketer, and Tahir ul-Qadri, a Canada-based cleric, have brought weeks of mayhem to the capital, Islamabad, with protests that have turned violent, leading to deaths and injuries. Khan contends the election was won on the back of massive vote-rigging, while Qadri's campaign was prompted by inaction over the police killing of 14 supporters at his Lahore office. If the unrest escalates, there is every chance of the army taking control and imposing a curfew or martial law.

Another military takeover would be a disaster for Pakistan's democratic evolution. Sharif's win was the country's first handover from one elected government to another, offering hope of political stability. But he has shown a greater interest in acquiring power and influence than in good governance and providing basic necessities like security. Efforts to weaken the role of the army and intelligence services have failed to take into account their control of the country's nuclear arsenal, importance in foreign policy and links to the Taliban.

Democracy is about serving society's needs, not just meeting the demands of the elite. If Pakistan's leaders can put aside self-interest and focus on accountability, transparency, ensuring justice and governing effectively, the country's democratic system has a chance of succeeding.