The Supreme Court last week ordered both the civilian government and the military to refrain from any steps that could cause a delay in the elections. At last the dark forebodings of another constitutional deviation have been put at rest. It appears that all the principal state organizations in Pakistan are now united in the objective of holding the elections strictly according to the rules and timelines stipulated in the Constitution: the Military, the Judiciary, the Parliament and the Executive. This is the first time in Pakistan’s history that an elected government has completed its full term and is being replaced through the democratic process. While taking comfort in this collective achievement, it is time to reflect on how to consolidate democracy and initiate a development process that is meaningful for the people.
Any political system which is associated with an economic structure in which the injustice of mass poverty is endemic, which is incapable of providing the basic services required for a dignified existence to the majority of the people, where governments combine rapacity with incompetence and where widespread violence prevails unchecked, will be essentially unstable. How can democracy be deepened and the economy restructured to make the functioning of both meaningful for the people?
Deepening democracy will mean making political institutions inclusive whereby power that is currently restricted to an elite coalition is broadened to include the middle classes and the poor. This will involve changes through which presently excluded classes can find a voice in the provincial and national legislatures. Beyond this devolution reforms need to be undertaken whereby elected representatives of the people are empowered to govern at the local level. To prevent elite takeover of local governments, there should be an institutionalized linkage between organizations of the poor and every tier of local government at the district, tehsil and union council levels. The underlying principle here is that there should not merely be a decentralization of administrative function but the devolution of power. The poor should be enabled to systematically participate in governance decisions that affect their economic social and environmental conditions: this means institutionalized participation in decisions regarding local resource allocation, project selection and implementation and monitoring. Such political reforms will make democracy not only representative but will involve the participation of the people in the actual functioning of governance. It will be government by the people.
At the level of the economy there are urgent problems of declining investment, low domestic savings, inadequate export earnings and slow growth with the consequent difficulty of low government revenues. These problems are rooted in an institutional framework that restricts investment and high wage employment to the elite and generates directly unproductive rents for them by restraining competition. Consequently there is low efficiency, low productivity lack of innovation with a consequent inability to generate adequate exports and sustain GDP growth. To achieve sustained economic growth and rapid poverty reduction, it is necessary to shift from rent based exclusive institutions to inclusive economic institutions. This requires broadening the base of competition, innovation, savings and investment whereby the middle classes and the poor can get access over quality education, skills, access over credit and productive assets. The inclusion of the middle classes and the poor into the process of investment, innovation and productivity increase, will generate a higher and more sustained GDP growth that is based on equity. It will be growth for the people, by the people. Such an economic democracy could become a vital underpinning for the endeavour of sustaining democracy.
Apart from the politics and economics, you cannot have a democracy without a democratic culture. The sensibility of tolerance and the use of logical argument rather than violence to make a point is an essential feature of democracy. The necessary condition for this is a dramatic improvement in both the budgetary allocation for education and the organizational mechanisms for converting finance into outcomes.
Finally what gives life to democracy and dynamism to the economy is creating the social, economic and political conditions through which all citizens can exercise their freedom to develop their talent and bring this talent to bear for building a better future for themselves.