.. by Lt Gen Raza Muhammad Khan (R)
VOTING is your civic duty. This is a pretty common sentiment, whenever the election days approach in the country. On that occasion, we usually see the masses routinely voting for those political parties, which they earnestly hope and vaguely believe, may best represent their wishes or favourably affect their pockets. Often the pattern of our voting is also significantly influenced by varied factors like religious beliefs, sectarian preferences, family or clan affiliations and pressures etc. But what does our right to vote really means for us and for Pakistan? Briefly, it gives us a say in shaping the future of our country, as well as our own futures. Besides, if we don’t vote, other people get to choose who represent us-an outcome that is often regretted by many.
This brings the crucial question about how best can we exercise our right to vote- a thought that is lurking in many minds these days. However, lamentably, there is very little informed debate on the matter in the country. The first and foremost requirement to get this act right is to realize that voting is the raison d’etre of democracy, an onerous responsibility and an obligation that may affect everyone and everything thing; positively or adversely; depending on how many of us go to vote and who do we vote for. Voting is equally imperative because of what was astutely observed by Allama Iqbal ‘Jumhooriat Ek Tarz-e-Hukumat Hai Ke Jis Mein; Bandon Ko Gina Karte Hain, Tola Nahin Karte! (Democracy is a form of government wherein the people are counted, not weighed).Having said that, the following general guiding principles may prove helpful in most elections at many levels. To start with, we must be able to make rational choices by not letting our emotions or social media posts, get in the way of our selection and election of political parties or candidates. It is also essential to develop a mature sense and comprehension of our own political beliefs about the role of government in security matters, economy, job creation, education, health care, public safety and infrastructure, etc.
It’s also vital to acquaint ourselves with and to evaluate the positions of the various parties, through their current and previous manifestoes, implementation of the latter and their past performance, whether as part of the government or opposition. Concomitantly, individual candidates nominated by the parties or those who are non-partisan or independent must be appraised to ascertain which one of them match most closely to our beliefs and desires. In both cases, we must ensure not to vote for someone whom we know may be deceiving us through manifestoes, media campaigns, mere rhetoric, empty promises, catchy slogans or meaningless claims. Finding balanced, objective and credible sources for such information and understanding their biases is necessary too, to create a more real picture of what is actually going on.
We mustn’t pigeonhole ourselves as a blind, binary supporters or opponent of this or that party or their candidates and prefer those who not only resonate our beliefs but those who also have a track record of being honest, stable, transparent, patriotic and diligent. The promises made by politicians must be thoroughly and carefully gauged to find which are more achievable and important for the collective good of our country and the people and not just for the politicians own benefits. We must remember the analogies that we don’t vote on choices of our health, preferring to consult a physician with experience and certification; or on money matters, often trusting a professional with our finances; or even the captaincy of sports teams, trying to pick one on merit alone. Consequently, let’s not vote merely for popular, or famous entities since running a country is certainly not a popularity contest and reward only the best and deserving parties and contenders to serve us and the country.
Let’s also look carefully at each party and candidate, for what they are offering for the long term good of the nation and reject all those who harbour short-term ambitions, merely to win elections. When in doubt about the choice of political parties, it might be beneficial to remember that in ancient Athens, (the birth place of democracy) and the Roman Republic, (that preserved democracy over the centuries), the concept of voting was non-partisan. Even in the US, the founding fathers favoured non-partisan democracy since they were skeptical about political parties which could cause ‘…extreme polarization, in- fighting among political interests — creating crippling dissensions within political systems …rendering the government tempestuous, perpetually dividing the nation…and endangering the rights of the minority. (Thus, the administration of George Washington and the first few sessions of the US Congress were non-partisan). Unfortunately, we have commonly witnessed and suffered from such chaos and discord in Pakistan since our creation. But political parties will continue to play a major role in elections in Pakistan, regardless of whether, they have strengthened or weakened our democracy.
Further, though the party system seems firmly entrenched in our political system, however, a closer look may reveal that there is no real difference between the ideals, philosophies and stances of today’s major parties. This highlights the need for formulation of a broad-based new government and allocation of greater share of important portfolios, in the post-election period, on non-partisan basis and merit, rather than party affiliations alone. This is what all Pakistani voters want, in the hope that it will usher in the much-needed stability of regime and improvement of governance; when such appointees are able to perform their duties freely and fairly, without the shackles of partisan political considerations. Our votes give us a chance to speak out for us in elections. So, let’s use our best judgment’s to formally express our will in this and all other elections. Let’s also avail this opportunity actively, wisely, constructively and altruistically, with emphasis on ‘Performance, Not Politics’, as our motto. .. Islamabad, 04 Feb 2024
—The writer is the former President of the NDU. Email: [email protected]