Democracy Plus Formula 

by Javed Malik 

A lot is being written and said about the various minus and plus formulas, mostly aimed at the president. However, I don’t think that any of these formulas offer a democratic outcome. All they seem to be doing is adding further confusion to an already perplexing political scenario by suggesting a reversal of the democratic process.


Those, who float such formulas, must not forget that the present system has been achieved through a collective struggle against dictatorship. The political parties were not alone in this struggle, it also included the civil society, the lawyers and the media. We were all united in a historic movement that paved the way for democracy in Pakistan and made the restoration of deposed judges possible. Therefore, we all have a stake in the continuity of the present system.


It may not be perfect, but at the very least it is democratic. However, it can also be said that despite this change many of the expectations from system are yet to be fulfilled. The 17th Amendment still lingers as an ugly reminder of the Musharraf era and we are yet to implement the Charter of Democracy. There is also growing frustration over the law and order situation, the erratic load shedding, and a catalogue of crises both internal and external. Some might say that better governance could have resulted in more ‘visible’ changes that democracy can bring to a common man’s life.


But does that mean we should start floating formulas and conspiracy theories that seek to destabilize the system? Would it not be better if we focus our energies on exerting pressure on the political leadership to do more in delivering on their commitments? We can criticize. We can disagree. We can even point out their mistakes. We can urge them to improve their governance. We can propose alternatives that offer better solutions to the problems that face the common man. We can do all that and more because we have democracy. We also have a vibrant and fearless media. Our judiciary is independent. These are positive outcomes of a successful and historic movement.


In other words, the present system is the result of our “collective efforts” and therefore should be protected. It would not be wise to allow ourselves to be pulled into the vicious circle of conspiracies and intrigues that are being floated through these minus and plus formulas.


As a television journalist I often speak to various political leaders. A few days ago I spoke to Nawaz Sharif, and he seemed very clear that those floating such conspiracies do not mean well for democracy. “I do not believe in the minus one formula,” he told me. This may have surprised many political observers who expect him to take a more radical stand against Zardari. They argue that his stance is not only hurting his popularity, but also giving his party labels like ‘friendly opposition’. Maybe they have a point, but as a visionary leader Nawaz Sharif can see beyond this short-term view. He realizes this is not the time to play popular politics, and today Pakistan needs stability more than anything else.


Our brave armed forces are engaged in a battle against extremism and we cannot afford further political instability. In my view, Nawaz Sharif’s stance represents the sort of positive politics that Pakistan needs at this time when leaders have to look beyond their own political gain and put national interest before their own. However, as he continued to speak I could also sense some disappointment in his voice too, particularly when he spoke about the Charter of Democracy that he had signed with Benazir Bhutto. He still maintains that implementations of CoD is the correct way forward.


I also had the opportunity of speaking with President Zardari a few days back, although our conversation was brief, but having known him before and after he became president, I know that he has also expressed his commitment to the Charter of Democracy more than once. As a leader of Pakistan’s largest political party he also understands that expectations from his government are at an all time high and people expect this democratic government to deliver not just for its own sake but also for the sake of democracy.


Destiny has placed this responsibility on both these leaders to ensure that democracy delivers for Pakistan. They lead Pakistan’s biggest political parties, and owe to the nation to make it happen. I am confident that they understand this reality, and that’s why despite the hiccups, they have maintained some form of contact. They are expected to meet again in the coming days, and this meeting can determine the future of democracy in Pakistan. But this time they both know that just a meeting would not be enough, and people would expect a break through. They can seize this opportunity to resume their journey towards a building a national agenda that is aimed at addressing the challenges facing Pakistan.


The Charter of Democracy provides an ideal starting point for this journey to begin but more would have to be done to show the people that democracy can really improve the quality of their lives. It should be seen to be resolving the challenges that face them on a daily basis. We all know what these challenges are and I will not repeat them here. But I will talk about opportunities. People also expect democracy to create opportunities for better education, employment and healthcare.


A recent survey by British Council suggests that our youngsters feel despondent. Such feelings should not be allowed to simmer. Despondency must be replaced with hope. This hope can come from a culture of positive politics. The PPP and PML-N, as the two largest parties can lead the way for this positive political culture. That is the only way in which the “formula mongers” can be silenced.


Javed Malik is a television journalist and Executive Director of The World Forum. He can be reached on