Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and members of his government routinely remind people that they have been democratically elected. Therefore, they argue, they should be allowed to work uninterrupted and those protesting on the streets should instead wait patiently till the next elections. For a government which relies on democratic principles for legitimacy, it appears to have a poor understanding of what a democratic process entails. Firstly, people have a right to protest. One can disagree with their views, or even question the agendas of those who lead rallies – which would be Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in today’s context – but they cannot be asked to halt protests simply because an elected government is in power for the next five years. Such an approach is anything but democratic or even reasonable. There is a better way to go about it.

A democratic system must enable a dynamic and consistent engagement between all stakeholders, and we can observe that this is missing on all levels. Criticism and protests have to be dealt with in a more comprehensive manner. An elected government doesn’t simply cease to be answerable as soon as it is in power. It’s policies impact people on a daily basis, and they must be scrutinised every single day. That is how errors are corrected, consensus is built and a direction is defined as a result of the collective, national feedback and engagement. Perhaps the most suitable avenue for meaningful engagement is the Parliament, and the Prime Minister has only himself to blame for undermining the institution’s fundamental role by not showing up. Moreover, not a single law has been passed during this tenure. If legislators, seated in the legislature, are not legislating, then what else is keeping them busy?

Lastly, the government considers its economic policy to be the only area that is deserving of attention and discussion. Again, the government doesn’t get to decide the focus of criticism. And it is ill-advised to put all its horses on the economic front when its performance isn’t exactly stellar. It hasn’t introduced necessary structural reforms, tax reforms or switched to professionals from political appointees. The list goes on. The government must answer questions with policies and performance, rather than asking everyone to not ask.