I am typing this on Sunday, February 17, 2008. The much
awaited (by some) elections are all set to take place tomorrow; and the media
and all political parties are set to scream foul as the results start coming

Every political party claims to be the most popular one and
claim to have anywhere between 60-100% of the total vote bank in a particular constituency.
An interesting yet disturbing facet is that the nation and election commission
is in a weird fix. “Heads I win, tails you lose” seems to be the stance of all
political parties. Some are warning of “consequences” which keeping in view the
recent unfortunate events, means strings of violent days. Thankfully most areas
will be well guarded, but miscreants will still look for chances to create
trouble. We can only wait to see what happens; and by the time you read this,
it will all hopefully be over.

Taking a step back, what surprises me is how political
parties and the media have projected democracy in the first place. Democracy
indeed means a system of government that is set up through the wishes of the
people. But people need to be empowered to make the decisions in the first
place. Contrary to how some human rights groups and TV channels tend to define
democracy, empowerment of the people does not mean taking them to a polling
station and making them go “eenie meenie minie mo” to place a rubber stamp on
an obscure picture which will result in a particular candidate gaining a vote.

The problem starts with the person deciding to vote. Many
things influence how a vote is cast. In our country, approximately 65% or more
of our country’s population lives in rural areas, which means they are in some
manner or the other, their lives are affected by the decision of some feudal
lord. So much for independence of opinion.

Coming back to opinions, assuming these people are free to
make their decisions completely, how would they go about doing it? What gives
democracy its power by definition is not the fact that we put up a leader of
our own choice, but also the fact that the leader is, at the end of it all,
accountable to their supporters. Democracy is a system in which people are
aware of their rights and powers and take liberty of that awareness to elect
leaders, live their lives and tackle injustice.

We are a nation with a literacy rate of something
optimistically in the 50% range at most. Literacy by the UN’s definition is the
ability to interpret alphabets and write one’s own name. Assuming a 25% rate of
completing basic schooling; we are still left with a very small number of
people who even understand their own rights (or even know what the word
constitution means).

Those that are capable are based mostly in the urban parts
of the country, which account for less than 30% of the seats in the national
assembly. What is weird about our electoral system is that despite voting for a
particular candidate, we as voters have no control over who we give power to.
We enable certain people who make deals and put someone else in power.

People living in rural areas have very simple sentiments.
They live in those areas; they deal with the landlords on a daily basis. They
toil their farms. Their lives are dependent on many of those feudal landlords.
How much independence and freedom of choice do these peasants have?

Another area that does cause concern, is that the
“registered voters” mostly constitute males. Why are voters not registered the
moment the NIC is issued? If being 18 makes a person eligible to vote, why is
voter registration essential on a secondary level?

It is surprising that many of these human rights groups,
media and international observers do not consider these facts before they rant
endlessly about how elections should be conducted in our country. I agree that
power should belong to the people, but with power comes responsibility, and the
a massive responsibility that is. We as a nation will never be able to shoulder
the burden of this immense power unless we start learning to accept our
mistakes and be accountable for it. Every politician blames his predecessors
for what went wrong and clearly sweep all responsibility to others.

Our leaders should learn how to lead, instead of taking
advanced courses of mudslinging.

People who aspire for power should not be “professional politicians”.
Countries should not be run by people who seek power and engage in a chess-like
game to make others look bad. Rather they should be people well versed with the
affairs of the state, the people, the laws, and our internal and external
obligations. Parties themselves should be democratic to start off with.

On another random note, in some rural areas, many people do
not even recognize the face of the Shaukat Aziz, Gen. Musharraf, Nawaz Shariff
or Benazir Bhutto. They only reason they actually recognize Quaid e Azam is
because his picture is prominent on our currency.