Each year, the International Day of Democracy is observed on September 15 throughout the globe to review the state of democracy and its impact over the individuals and societies. Democracy is considered a process as well as the end goal and only with the full participation and support by the people and civil society, the ideal sort of democracy can be enjoyed by everyone. The values of freedom, respect for human rights and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections are the essential elements of democracy. In turn, democracy provides a natural environment for protection and effective realisation of human rights and pro-people governments and the empowerment of people at grassroots level. The link between democracy and human rights is apprehended in article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
The subsequent human rights instruments covering group rights e.g. minorities and people with disabilities are equally essential for democracy. An equitable distribution of wealth, equality and equity in respect of access to civil and political rights are also important pillars of an effective democratic system.
The theme of the International Day of Democracy for the year 2016 is “Democracy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. In September 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan for achieving a better future for all, laying out a path over 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice. The agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calls for mobilising efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. Now, the task of implementing and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals requires governments to work in close partnership with civil society. The elected public representatives, in particular, have a critical role in translating the new sustainable development agenda into concrete action through passing legislation, making budget allocations and holding governments accountable.
The Sustainable Development Goal number 16 addresses democracy by calling for inclusive and participatory societies and institutions. It aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The goal is both an end in itself and a crucial part of delivering sustainable development in all countries. It has been described by many experts as the transformational goal and key to ensuring that the agenda can be accomplished.
In Pakistan, ethnic diversity, cultures, languages, and the geographical make-up of Pakistan necessitated for institutional structure reflecting pluralism. The way, in which the 1973 Constitution was conceived, it was envisioned by the framers that with diverging interests of different ethnic groups, Pakistan requires a system of federal bicameralism which is also considered the easiest way to accommodate and represent popular national interests and regional interests at the same time.
It is high time to pay attention towards real empowerment of Senate as a chamber of the federation. Parliamentary Committees have a vital role in the parliamentary system and act as a vibrant link between the Parliament, the Executive and the general public. These committees need to play a more proactive active for executive accountability, pro people policies, effective implementation of constitutional provisions especially relating to protection of fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens of Pakistan from Articles 8 to 28 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
It is also a misfortunate that even after a lapse of 6 years since the historic 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, its effective implementation is still in limbo; the real fruits of decentralisation, devolution of power and empowerment of people at grassroots level could not be enjoyed by Pakistani citizens. In spite of a unanimous decision of the multi-party Constitutional Implementation Commission headed by Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, some of the critical issues still remained unresolved and it is matter of great concern that significant federal institutions and implementation mechanisms for the devolution at all levels of government are still under- developed and non-existent.
In spite of elections of local bodies in all the four provinces and Islamabad, the delay in transfer of powers to local bodies especially in two most populous provinces of Pakistan is another hindrance towards real empowerment of people at grassroots level.
In Pakistan, the real benefits of the democratic system need to be transferred through effective local bodies, good governance, free and fair elections, merit, rule of law, equality, justice, transparency, special attention to the social sector, accountability, pro-people polices, addressing regional disparities and strengthening federalism. These steps will also lead towards real empowerment of people. The political parties also need to introduce democracy within party ranks through regular elections. The ruling political parties should ensure fulfilment of their commitments promised through election manifestos.
It is high time to pay attention towards real empowerment of Senate as a chamber of the federation. Parliamentary Committees have a vital role in the parliamentary system and act as a vibrant link between the Parliament, the Executive and the general public.