The failure of democracy is proclaimed both vehemently and frequently in Pakistan. In the face of rampant corruption and seemingly insurmountable odds, democracy is identified as a Trojan horse at best, meant only to facilitate the backdoor manipulation of the political sphere and to suppress economic development. The public sphere is littered with personalities decrying the misfortunes resulting from democratic rule and promoting the need for a better system of government.

To the average Pakistani individual, such a conversation, such an exercise in political scientific understanding, does not matter, but it should. Where our leaders fail to understand the nature and essence of our democratic republic, we, as a people, also fail to believe in its virtues. Their failure is understandable; our failure is unforgivable. What is our democracy, if not a system of representation designed to enact measures to promote the public good while guarding against the tyranny of any group or individual. This explanation may seem idyllic and over-simplified, but conceptually representative government is simple.

In practice, if democracy does not succeed it is because, as in the case of Pakistan, ownership over the government is claimed by a small group of dangerously self-interested parties and not by the people themselves. Without the claim of ownership, the right to exercise influence over government does not exist. That claim does not begin as a societal outcry. It begins as an understanding within the individual. This understanding develops as a result of the rejection of other systems of government deemed unfit or oppressive. It requires the people of Pakistan to repudiate the continuous advances of systems like feudalism, still lurking and masquerading as democratically elected governments.

It is perhaps our culture’s instinct to accept the rule of others because we fear placing that burden upon our own shoulders. Thus, until we convince ourselves that we employ our public servants and they work at our behest, democratic governments in any form are doomed to a heinous fate in our country. Where we reject the policies and practices of our current leaders, we only exercise our political will long enough to pass remarks privately to one another, never extending that will to the public sphere.

Occasionally, we believe we are gifted with a leader that claims to be virtuous. We tell ourselves that their love of Pakistan and its people transcends their desire to act selfishly. Many of us vote for them and many of us assemble on numerous occasions to support them, as is our democratic right. In some circumstances, the leader will in fact contribute to the public good, through either executing public will, or protesting acts that oppose that will. However, it seems that in all cases, we again fail to exercise ownership over the initiative of the virtuous leader. We do not claim them to be a representative of a virtuous body public. Our society, again, seeks to follow rather than making the claim that this leader is the manifestation of our united desires.

Where does this leave us? We are in an endless downward spiral that culminates not in the destruction of our society, but in the continuous heartbreak of its people. Though we will claim to be steadfast patriots in the eyes of our friends and enemies alike, internally we seek to be released and removed to a nation that cares for us as we care for it. Those of us that will seek greener pastures elsewhere will abandon those who cannot, to suffer discontent at the hands of political profiteers. The abandoned, the disenchanted, will endure and still refrain from staking any claim over the operations of the government. However heinous the corruption, a democratic form of government shall be what they blame along with a whirl of conspiracy theories undermining that false democracy.

What must be realized is that abandoning government to the supervision of a few self-interested parties will never be the answer to a politically or economically strong Pakistan. Democratic governments, as they exist today, rely on the voices of the many to dictate the actions of their chosen public servants to enact policies and procedures aimed substantially at the public good. If this course of action is not requested, it will never come about because it fails to serve the interests of the status quo. We are capable of a great many things as a nation, but if we continue to cower and bow to perceived scions of power, all the while digesting their nonsense about working in our best interests, we will never witness more than the shadow of our potential.

The writer is a researcher based in Lahore.