Nowadays, every other person who is in power is championing the cause of democracy demanding that it should be saved at all cost. However, the question is what sort of political system are these persons championing? Mature western democratic political systems exhibit certain underlying characteristics which despite the passage of more than sixty years, have failed to appear in our political parties.

First, although democracy has not been around much, various political parties have existed for a long time and the big questions are: are these political parties democratic at their own level? Have they been holding intra-party elections regularly? Do they hold open discussions on various issues before going public? Do they have mechanisms to stay in contact with the ordinary citizen after coming to power? Ironically, after assuming the reins of power, the very humble, approachable public representatives develop a serious public phobia manifested through a 24/ 7 security cordon.

Second, democracy is strengthened by strengthening institutions. The question is which political party after coming to power drafted laws to strengthen institutions such as the judiciary and police. Instead, these very institutions are exploited to weaken democratic norms and traditions. Numerous commissions have been commissioned and have given recommendations for making various institutions independent. However, every democratic political government has dragged its foot on implementing reforms in various government institutions to free them from political interference and make their functioning more transparent.

Further, transparency in government functioning includes but is not limited to how budgets are allocated and spent. How are development projects selected? Are qualified people serving in the right place? In the present age of information technology, all required information could be put on respective government websites. However, transparency and its requisites still remain a distant dream in Pakistan.

Third, in the West, there is intra-party accountability. When a person commits an act unbecoming of his position, they are forced to resign with minimum chances of making a political comeback. In our democracy, a commission is formed to investigate an improper act. However, generally, commission findings are either doctored or they never see the light of day.

Fourth, in the West, generally, all political parties have shadow cabinets with various ministers such as finance, education, technology, foreign. These ministers critique the incumbent government policies and give their own party manifestos. Having a shadow cabinet also trains the ministers for future responsibilities, if their party was to come to power. But here, do we see any such shadow cabinet in any political party which presents the party’s manifesto and explains how they would tackle the challenges facing Pakistan? Every party has slogans but for how to translate those slogans into action, no roadmap is given.

Ministerial portfolios in any ruling party are exchanged as culinary dishes on a dinner table, with everybody eying meaty ministries. It still remains to been seen when the portfolios will be awarded on the basis of expertise as is the norm in mature western democracies, and is again a part of good governance and transparency. To ape is one thing, to understand the essence is another. Further, ministries and other prized slots are used for buying loyalties. Since things flow top down, ministers and advisors select bureaucrats, who have to translate the ruling party’s manifesto-if any, into action, on personal likings thus further obfuscating the capability of the government to deliver at any front.

Our legislature is still stuck with the job of building roads, schools and sewage systems, while debating and thrashing out various national level policies. Again, this issue also begs the question: do our legislators have the capacity and capability to do the job they are elected to do? Do our political parties train their cadres for the public responsibilities which they might one day hold? Although recently there have been initiatives from some Western countries to train legislators, hopefully this training will not end up as mere junkets.

Finally, the electronic media is awash with programmes in which few political faces keep rotating. The media is interested in ratings, thus these programmes are more of cock fights to keep the public interested. The taxpayers of Pakistan bear the expenses of legislatures and huge provincial and federal cabinets and thus have a right to question their representatives. Various ministers should be invited infront of the proactive public to detail their ministries workings and achievements, just as it happens in mature western democracies.

Thus, for a true democratic political system to take root, political parties should be more democratic in their own ranks, should have an internal system of accountability in place and should develop the capacity and capability of their cadres. Only with these qualities can we develop a political system which can deliver and benefit ordinary citizens.

The writer is an engineer and research scholar.