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All about democracy

Democracy Inside

With the hype of the elections in the air, banners fluttering everywhere and TV channels airing discussions and talk shows related to elections 24/7, you couldn’t have avoided the constant harping about restoring or preserving democracy. Some may know the meaning of democracy and some who are still young may be wondering what this is all about. At your age you can’t be blamed for ignorance. Without going into the complicated details, let’s just try to understand what is meant by democracy which we so tirelessly are trying to preserve. In simple words, democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. The most common definition of democracy is ‘Government of the people, for the people and by the people’ as defined by Abraham Lincoln. There are many forms of democracy but two are most common — direct and representative. Direct democracy is one where the power to govern lies directly in the hands of the people rather than being exercised through their representatives, i.e. it is a form of government in which people vote to make their own rules and laws; whereas in representative democracy, while remaining the sovereign power, people elect their leaders or representatives who have the power to make rules and laws that govern the people and themselves. A democratic government is in contrast with other forms of governments such as ‘monarchy’, where power is either held by one person, i.e. the king or the queen, who is actually or nominally the head of the state; or ‘oligarchy’ where power is held by a small number of individuals; such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next. A basic feature of democracy is that it allows all voters to participate freely and fully in their society. Though majority rule is a characteristic of democracy, the parties that are in the minority act as the opposition and are supposed to keep a check on government’s functioning. By its Constitution, Pakistan is a democratic parliamentary republic and its political system is based on the elected form of governance. The Constitution provides that the Parliament of Pakistan shall consist of president and two houses, known as the Senate and the national assembly — the upper house and the lower house respectively. The national assembly is the lower house of the Parliament and is elected for a five-year term; all adult citizens of Pakistan are eligible to vote on one-man one-vote basis. The national assembly has 342 seats, 272 of which are directly elected, 60 are reserved for women and a further 10 for religious minorities. Members of the assembly are elected for the entire period of the assembly but if a member dies or resigns due to some reason, his/her seat is declared vacant and elections are again held for that seat in his/her constituency only. This is known as by-election, a term you must have often heard. The tenure of the assembly can end earlier than five years if it is dissolved on the advice of the prime minister. The president, who is the head of the state, is elected by members of both houses of the parliament and the provincial assemblies. The prime minister, who is the head of the government is elected by the national assembly. He enjoys the confidence of the majority of the members of the national assembly. Members of the cabinet are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. The majority of the members of the cabinet are from the national assembly (75 per cent), while the rest (25 per cent) are taken from the Senate. The national assembly makes laws and ensures that the government functions within the parameters set out in the Constitution and does not violate the fundamental rights of the citizens. Both the houses work together to carry out the basic work of the parliament, i.e. law making. If the lower house passes a bill through majority vote, it is passed on to the Senate for voting, from where, after discussion, it is presented to the president who has to give his assent within 10 days. While the members of gents in the national assembly is based on the population of each province, the Senate gives equal representation to all the federating units as each province has equal members in the Senate. The role of the Senate is to promote national cohesion and harmony, and to alleviate fears of the smaller provinces regarding domination by any one province because of its majority, in the national assembly. The Senate consists of 104 members, who are chosen by the elected provincial legislators — 14 members are elected by each Provincial Assembly, eight members from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by the members of national assembly from these areas, and two members from the federal capital by the members of national assembly for the general seats, and four women and four technocrats by the members of each provincial assembly and one woman and one technocrat from the federal capital, plus one non-Muslim from each province. Members of the Senate are elected for a term of six years, and elections are held every three years for half of the seats. If the office of the President of Pakistan becomes vacant, or the president is unable to perform his functions, the Chairman of the Senate acts as president until a new president is elected. Each of the four provinces has its own assembly, the members of which are elected by the voters of an electoral district for a period of five years. The Punjab Assembly has a total of 371 seats, with 66 seats reserved for women and eight reserved for non-Muslims. The Sindh Assembly has 168 seats, of which 30 seats are reserved for women and eight seats for non-Muslims; the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly has 124 seats of which 22 are reserved for women and three for non-Muslims; and the Balochistan Assembly has 65 seats of which 11 are for women and three for non-Muslims. The Election Commission of Pakistan has the responsibility to conduct elections in the country. With a multi-party system, there are numerous parties in the country. Most often no single party is able to win a majority and a few parties form alliances during or after elections, and ultimately a coalition government is formed. The coming elections, on May 11, 2013, will elect the 14th parliament of the country. In order to obtain a majority, a political party must secure 172 seats. While you are too young to cast your vote, you can encourage your elders to participate fully and cast their vote for the most eligible candidate to lead our nation. May the results be for the best of Pakistan. Ameen.