By Ayesha Rafiq
Democracy: A Timeless Ideal. Democracy, in its literal sense, signifies the rule by the people. The word itself, originating from the Greek “demokratia,” is a fusion of “demos,” meaning “people,” and “kratos,” signifying “rule.” In the 5th century, this term was coined to define the political system in Greek city-states, most notably Athens.
Democracy is more than just a term; it is a system of governance where the people directly or indirectly influence laws, policies, leadership, and significant decisions of a state. In its simplest form, it allows the people to have the authority to deliberate and decide on legislation, known as direct democracy, or to elect representatives to do so, which is representative democracy. The interpretation of “the people” and the delegation of authority have evolved differently across countries and over time. Nonetheless, democracy’s core principles encompass freedom of association, assembly, property rights, religious and speech freedoms, inclusiveness, equality, citizenship, the consent and opinions of the governed, voting rights, freedom from unjust governmental deprivation of life and liberty, and protection of minority rights.
Democracy is a powerful force that mitigates conflict, primarily because it empowers individuals. When people are given the freedom to choose, it instills a sense of empowerment and reduces animosity, compared to authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, democracy brings forth equality, the rule of law, justice, and basic rights. When these fundamentals are upheld, there is a higher likelihood of a peaceful society with minimal potential for intrastate conflicts.
Regrettably, in Pakistan, despite having democratic institutions and being classified as a democracy, fundamental rights are often not safeguarded. Whether it’s voter rights (due to election rigging), minority rights (resulting in severe discrimination), or freedom of speech (suppressed by influential figures), the nation’s democracy appears incomplete and lacking. Consequently, society remains unsettled, with people fighting for their rights and basic protections that the system fails to provide.
One glaring example in Pakistan is the flawed justice system, which frequently denies individuals their rightful entitlements. The system is not only inefficient but also archaic, allowing influential individuals to escape punishment for their wrongdoings. The existence of numerous loopholes allows powerful perpetrators to evade consequences while those seeking justice are left without the assurance of basic rights. This fosters hostility and discord, leading to conflicts within the state and disrupting peace. Other issues such as corruption, election rigging, lack of human rights protection, and interference in political liberty further hinder democracy’s progress and its vital role in ensuring freedom and safeguarding human rights.
The democratic peace theory posits that democracies are hesitant to engage in armed conflicts with other democracies. Advocates of this theory emphasize several key elements in creating harmony among democratic states. According to this hypothesis, democratic citizens are more likely to advocate peace in their interactions with other democracies, and democratically elected governments are inclined to use peaceful means to resolve conflicts, both domestically and
internationally. Structural and institutional constraints, such as checks and balances, leadership accountability, and broader winning coalitions, make it challenging for democratic leaders to resort to war unless the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
Transparency in democratic political systems and open debates involving opposition parties, the media, specialists, and bureaucrats make it easier for states to effectively convey their intentions. Threats issued by democratic leaders carry weight because leaders who back down from threats are held accountable by their public, minimizing the likelihood of misinterpretation and miscalculation between nations.
In Conclusion, Democracy remains an enduring ideal that empowers people, fosters peace, and upholds fundamental rights. However, challenges persist, as exemplified by Pakistan’s struggle to fully realize democratic principles. Yet, the democratic peace theory reminds us of the potential for harmonious coexistence and conflict resolution within democratic systems. As we continue to strive for the ideals of democracy, we must address these challenges to ensure a brighter and more peaceful future for all.