Strengthening democracy

The International Day of Democracy is been observed with the purpose of promoting and upholding the principles of democracy and human rights. Today the world is facing major social, political and legal challenges for which democracy is essential to address the crises.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged governments to be transparent, responsive and accountable in their COVID-19 response and ensure that any emergency measures are legal, proportionate and non-discriminatory. Around the world civil society has raised serious concerns that several of the measures to deal with the crisis may impair democratic freedoms.

In Pakistan, the road to democracy has been a long and painful one as the nation has seen decades of military rule and authoritarianism. It has been a hard fought battle to restore democracy in the country although the development had been hampered by corruption politicians, bureaucratic red tapism and a clogged judicial system. The only solace is that the democratic system is being preserved.

Many of our democratic rights such as freedom of expression and press freedom are under threat and have been shrinking. The arrest, detention of political opponents, dissidents, journalists and activists has been rising on the pretext of spread fake news. There is aggressive cyber policing and increased online surveillance raising questions on how to counter hate speech without blatant censorship.

The current crisis is not an excuse to impede our democratic rights and efforts must be made to fight misinformation and hate speech which has grown exponentially. It is critical to develop media literacy and raise awareness as activism has been pushed online. It is also vital to act against gender-based violence which has surged possibly due to social and economic pressures.

Despite all challenges, we must realise that even a weak form of democracy if better than the biggest dictatorship. For all its shortcomings and disappointments, we still have an intact democratic system for the past twelve years. It is imperative that we work together to strengthen democratic norms and values in our society rather than suppressing them. This will help pave the way towards  a more prosperous nation.

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