NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 10

Shaping a new democratic era: The crucial role of upcoming elections in Pakistan’s future

While it is now evident that national elections are scheduled for February 8, 2024, uncertainties persist, reminding us that unforeseen obstacles may still arise. Nevertheless, the prospect of holding elections at this juncture is a positive step forward, even amidst the undeniable controversy surrounding these elections in the history of Pakistan.

The occurrence of national elections on February 8 holds significant promise for the country. It signifies the potential formation of a government comprising both seasoned politicians and those perceived as pseudo-politicians. Despite the dominance of personality and egos in Pakistani political culture, there remains optimism that these leaders could embark on a grand reconciliation dialogue. This initiative is crucial for the stability, social cohesion, and overall development of the state and society, given the current conditions in Pakistan.

Another vital aspect of these national elections is the revival of the policy-making process, which has been stagnant for months, if not years. The incoming government, whether in economic, security, foreign affairs, or social welfare, will need to reevaluate existing policies and propose new, dynamic, and achievable objectives. The current Caretaker Prime Minister, Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, despite efforts to portray himself as a statesman, lacks the legitimacy to rule beyond his constitutional mandate, as argued by many jurists.

Once an elected government assumes power post-February 8, there is an expectation of accountability for any wrongdoings in the country. In recent months, gross human rights violations have occurred, with the caretaker prime minister and his cabinet members either feigning ignorance or, more unfortunately, being held responsible for these acts of cruelty. The upcoming elections offer the prospect of a government directly responsible for addressing such issues and providing symbolic leadership to the nation.

Moreover, the elected prime minister would serve as a rallying point for state apparatus, government departments, and agencies to receive direction. The extent to which such direction is permitted by the powers-that-be remains uncertain.

The paramount outcome of these upcoming national elections lies in the potential to steer the ship of democracy in a country still grappling with a rudderless and turbulent situation. The argument that even the worst democracy is preferable to dictatorship becomes pertinent. While the recent political landscape in Pakistan may not entirely resemble a democratic process, there has been no declared derailment of democracy either. The elections and the subsequent assumption of power through the electoral process mark the initial steps toward the restoration of democracy, emphasizing that a bloody revolution is not necessary for this goal.

The upcoming elections hold the potential to be a significant stride in the ongoing process of restoring democracy, provided they are conducted in a genuinely free, fair, and transparent manner. However, the prevailing consensus is that these elections lack the essential qualities of fairness and transparency, dampening expectations for them to serve as a substantial leap forward in the restoration of democracy. Nevertheless, they can still play a role in this process.

The pivotal factor in this equation is the Election Day itself and the dynamics surrounding it. If citizens flock to the polling stations to exercise their voting rights, irrespective of party affiliations, it could not only contribute to the restoration of democracy but also mark the dawn of a new democratic era. The responsibility now rests with the people of Pakistan, determining whether they will actively participate in shaping the leadership of the country. A voter turnout of around 70 percent would signify a mature electorate, signaling that Pakistanis recognize the critical juncture to either shape or reshape the destiny of their nation.

Historically, Pakistan has witnessed voter turnouts below 40 percent, with exceptions in the 1970 and 2018 national elections when turnout exceeded 50 percent. Given the current political and economic crises, coupled with heightened politicization among the masses, it is reasonable to anticipate a turnout exceeding 60 percent in the upcoming elections. Such a turnout could herald the beginning of a new democratic chapter in the country.

The initiation of this new era of democracy is imperative for the survival of the state and the cohesion of society. With insurgency in Balochistan and religious extremist activities nationwide, social cohesion has nearly dissipated due to polarization and conflicts at various societal levels. Thus, a massive voter turnout on Election Day would signal that the populace is ready to take the necessary steps to address the profound crises facing the country.

To achieve this, voters must act with wisdom and maturity, recognizing that the upcoming elections will not only determine the fate of the government but, more importantly, the fate of citizens and society at large. History attests that active participation by the masses has been instrumental in pulling countries out of crises and steering them towards stability and development. The question that remains is whether we have gleaned insights from history and are prepared to take collective action.