In any democratic country, the ruling party and the opposition are considered to be the two sides of the same coin. While the government runs the show on the basis of the given mandate, the opposition ensures that it remains within the parameters prescribed by the Constitution, established democratic norms and popular franchise. Their purpose is to promote the well being of the masses by strengthening the state institutions.

All over the world, governments have the disadvantage of incumbency and their conduct and style of governance is under scrutiny. But in civilised nations, the opprobrium directed at it has a constructive purpose and is based only on valid reasons, rather than being merely an impulsive and essentially hostile exercise by the opposition to justify its existence, as is the case in Pakistan. In this backdrop, the rumpus created by the opposition in the joint session of Parliament addressed by President Asif Zardari, has certainly lowered the country’s prestige as a democratic polity among the comity of nations.

Nobody can deny the opposition’s right to grill the government and its policies on merit, and trigger a debate on the issues of national concern, but prejudging something and trying to obstruct the proceedings of the house through despicable behaviour unbecoming of a democratic opposition can hardly be condoned. The cause of democracy would have been better served had the opposition given a patient hearing to what the President had to say and reacted at an appropriate time, either in the Assembly or through the media.

Our politicians have failed to learn from history. They are seen crying hoarse to espouse the cause of democracy, but their conduct has been just the opposite. Their reckless behaviour has mostly led to military takeovers in the country. Regrettably, this civil-military imbalance yet continues to vitiate democracy, the rule of law, across-the-board accountability and security of the citizens. There is an urgent need to correct it that is only possible through the strengthening of state institutions and protecting the nascent democracy through an impregnable unity among the political entities. For this, the politicians will have to rely on the people’s judgment and respect their mandate. Destabilising the government has and will hurt the country badly. Until and unless the politicians shun this archaic mode of politics, Pakistan cannot be winched out of the morass it has been pushed into through the criminal indiscretions of the politicians and the khakis.

As far as the President's address to Parliament is concerned, it is very hard to disagree with his assertion that democracy is flourishing in Pakistan. Seen in the backdrop of the machinations of anti-democratic forces to destabilise the country, provides a ranting testimony to his claim. Since the 1990s, none of the elected governments were allowed to complete their tenure; the politicians axed their own feet, besides damaging democracy. Now it is for the first time that a government is going to complete its tenure and a smooth transition of power through the ballot is on the cards. That in itself is a great achievement! People can have different views about its performance on several national issues, but as far as democracy is concerned, no political party can match the contribution made by the PPP for it; the party leaders nurtured the sapling of democracy with their blood. The PPP gave the country a Constitution and has restored its true spirit by removing the aberrations introduced by the dictators. It has resolved a festering issue of the distribution of resources through the NFC Award, besides strengthening provincial autonomy that had remained an elusive dream for a long time. Its efforts for women empowerment are remarkable. Indeed, these contributions must be acknowledged.

It is said that the worst form of democracy is better than dictatorship. Our future is inextricably linked to the continuation democracy and allowing it to correct the maladies afflicting the body politic. The politicians must prove their democratic credentials not by paying lip service to democracy, but practically demonstrating their faith in it. That is only possible when they earnestly acknowledge the ascendancy of the masses and learn to respect their mandate given to a party of their own choice.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.