What the voters want

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For former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, voters want respect for their votes and elected representatives. So he has launched a movement for the sanctity of the vote. The PML-N will use ‘Vote Ko Izzat Do’ as the main slogan in its campaign for the upcoming general elections. The party will seek votes on development and respect the vote narrative.

For Imran Khan, voters want Pakistan to be a corruption-free country. Hence, he will seek votes on an anti-Nawaz Sharif, anti-elite and anti-corruption narrative. The PTI will focus on the ‘Imran Khan is going to fix everything’ slogan, instead of giving concrete plans and policies that would address people’s basic issues. The PPP will adopt an anti-Nawaz Sharif, anti-corruption and pro-democracy narrative. The party’s upcoming election campaign will focus on the issues and interests of political leaders and those of the ruling class.

This means that no mainstream political party so far seems to be interested in addressing the problems of the people, or adopt a pro-people and progressive agenda. As Pakistan inches closer to the next elections, and as the going gets tougher, it is pertinent to pause for a moment and ask: what do common voters in Pakistan want? An overwhelming majority of voters belong to the working class or the poor section of society. All they need is decent wages, education, health, housing, transport, jobs and a dignified and secure life. They want an end to poverty, repression, exploitation, hunger, corruption and inequality. These voters seek a fair share in the national wealth; they want peace, prosperity and a better future for their families and children. They want food, shelter and other basic needs to live a normal life.

The working class wants labour laws and laws of minimum wages, social security to be implemented and seek protection and decent working conditions. The workers want a welfare state that can provide them basic services and needs, a state apparatus that can protect them from the exploitation, repression and injustice of the powerful sections of society. They seek an economic model and structure that can meet the basic needs of the ordinary people. They yearn for an economy that can provide basic services and facilities to all citizens. We need to develop a democratic model of governance that can deliver and meet the expectations of the common people. A corruption-free, democratic, capable, accountable, efficient, effective and participatory model of governance needs to replace the existing repressive, corrupt, inefficient and bureaucratic model of governance.

We need to reform our economic, social, political and state structure to become a normal society. The present colonial system cannot cater to the aspirations, demands, needs and wishes of people. There have to be judicial, executive and economic reforms for governance to be better and efficient and economy to be strong and vibrant. But, unfortunately, no political party is willing or ready to introduce such reforms. No political party has so far come up with a concrete programme and strategy to reform the existing system.

Instead of improving governance, delivering on promises and reforming the system, to make it more accountable and democratic, our ruling classes and elite are engaged in a bitter and intense infighting. The executive is not performing its duties but when the judiciary intervenes to improve the situation, the executive blames the judiciary for disrupting its working. The problem is that the executive seems interested only in serving the ruling classes while ignoring the masses. The political parties are not organising their parties on the grassroots level, neither is the political leadership strengthening the parties or the democratic process. Instead, they are blaming other forces for weakening their organisations and the democratic process.

Participating in a democracy by voting is one part of the larger freedom that allows citizens of a community to bring about a change. A free press is another part of that larger freedom as it keeps citizens informed – a constitutional right of the people. But one part of the larger freedom that is often overlooked, or underappreciated, is participation – either by running for office or by taking advantage of laws that allow for a common man’s voice to be heard. If we don’t like a decision made by our elected officials, we should let them know and demand a public explanation for their decisions.

Public participation in decision-making is essential for a participatory democracy. State officials and elected representatives should be accountable to the public. Our democracy is an elitist democracy in which feudals, big land holders, capitalists and tribal chiefs dominate the election scene and political process. The ordinary people and poor masses cannot contest the elections – they are only to cast votes in the elections or raise slogans.

Democracy can only be strengthened with the direct participation and involvement of people. Pakistan needs a pro-people democracy to strengthen the democratic movement and political process in this country. Political parties should not be run as family businesses or companies. Instead, they should develop a democratic structure and culture within them – a democratic culture will not nurture, or take root, in society without the parties developing internal democracy.

The process of decision-making is limited to a close inner circle of the main political leaders. There is no institutionalised decision-making or accountability in the parties. Pakistan needs a participatory democracy in which people can directly participate in the political process and have their say.

All political parties need to come up with a concrete plan and devise policies that will address issues like corruption, unemployment, poverty, hunger and exploitation.