Democracy in a box

Sana Aliby Sana Ali

Democracy: (noun) Pakistan’s unattainable state of social, political and economic utopia

Many in Pakistan want a stable democracy with strong institutions, and I support that goal wholeheartedly. It is a noble endeavor, and the only way to move Pakistan forward. The problem is that many people who demand democracy seem to think it can happen overnight. They want it instantly. And that is where the problem lies.

Democracy cannot appear at the wave of a Presidential wand, nor can the National Assembly (talented bunch though they are!) conjure up a self-sustaining system. In order for a true democracy to take root, we must stay true to its principles and give it a real chance to develop. Most importantly, we must understand that democracies evolve.

Let’s compare ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, and the United States, the nation that leads the free world today. Greece, divided into smaller city-states, gave rise to the early democracy of Athens. Ancient Athenian men gathered in town meetings and voted directly on the laws people would follow. Women were not permitted to participate. Modern-day United States has a population exceeding 300 million; clearly, people cannot vote directly on legislation. Americans vote for Representatives, Senators, even for the members of the Electoral College, who in turn vote for the President. The direct democracy of Athens hardly exists in today’s America.

Like Greece, the only people allowed to vote in the early days of US history were men – specifically, white, landowning, Protestant men. The Declaration of Independence reads “We the People,” but who the “people” were exactly would be debated and modified for years. In time, owning property was dropped as a requirement. Voting was extended to all white males. Then, to males, to women, and in the 1960s, guaranteed for all American citizens. When people demand equality and the system delivers, that is truly a beautiful accomplishment. American democracy is not perfect. Challenges exist, but the government allows for complaints to be heard, for the Constitution to be modified if warranted. Democracy is allowed to breathe.

Pakistan’s multiple attempts at democracy show a determined will of its people. Interrupted by military dictatorships, destroyed by martial law, and forgotten as the nation was mired in wars, democracy has a real chance now. The importance of this moment cannot be stressed enough. Imagine holding a rare gem in your hands. You cannot become distracted and carelessly lose it. You absolutely cannot run so fast to keep it safe that you drop it. No, you must hold it carefully, set it in a proper frame, and one day show it to the world.

That is how we must treat the political situation today. Understanding that we should push steadily in a progressive direction is the only way we can become s progressive nation. Allowing the Pakistani people to actively participate in an increasingly-solid democratic system is the key to our future. The people have never had a chance. A democratically-elected government has never finished a term. We must change that. We must set the precedent, we must allow democracy to flourish. We must prove cynics and naysayers wrong, and we must allow a democracy to take root.

It will not be perfect. But the beauty is, a democratic country must always be in the pursuit of perfection, and therefore, it is never complete nor perfect.

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