One-Day National Conference on ‘Democracy, Media and Elections 2013’ was successfully organised by the Women Media Centre (WMC) in collaboration with CJA (Pakistan Chapter) and supported by National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Karachi on 18th April 2013.
Fauzia Shaheen, Executive Director of WMC inaugrated the conference with brief intorduction of WMC. Noor-ul-Huda Shah, Information Minister Sindh was the cheif guest whereas I.A. Rehman Diector of HRCP was the special guest of the event. Editor Daily Jang Nazir Leghari, Political Commentator Jami Chandio and Representatives of different political parties also spoke on the occasion.
Moral standards enshrined in articles 62 and 63 of the constitution should not have any space in democracy, said the director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). IA Rehman said the media had also become vulnerable to “populism” on this issue. Speaking at a conference he said that general elections were a period of political training of the masses.
“This is a time that the media should play an active role and initiate debate on issues of women’s rights, minorities’ rights, unabated killings in Karachi and enforced disappearances in Balochistan.” The senior rights activist said extremists were undermining the foundations of the country, and the menace should be fought.
Rehman did not subscribe to the views of another speaker about the performance of outgoing elected government.
“Last five years were bad, but the worst years were those when military dictators ruled the country,” he said, adding that civilian rulers were better than the military rulers.
He said the main reason why democracy did not strengthen in the country was that the people had not developed a “stake” in the democratic set-up. However, he added, now the people were developing a stake and willing to defend democracy, which was a positive development.
Another positive development during the last five years was the emergence of “participatory democracy” in the country, he said.
“We have taken two steps for participatory democracy and this should be strengthened.”
It was because of that reason that the head of the public accounts committee was the opposition leader, said the HRCP official.
Sindh caretaker Information Minister Noor-ul-Huda Shah said a particular narrative of urban areas such as Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore dominated politics and democracy.
She regretted that civil society in major urban cities had developed a dislike for democracy and supported dictatorship. “These [civil society activists in urban centres] consider themselves close to the dictator who wears a coat and speaks English fluently, but they dislike the politician who is close to the masses and wear Shalwar-Kameez,” said Huda, who is also a prominent drama writer.
“Civil society in urban areas feels…uncomfortable with democracy and people’s politics.”
Besides, she said, the urban civil society lived in a dream world and wanted cities like New York and Dubai without realising that there were areas in the country that were devoid of basic facilities like electricity.
“People in rural areas are suffering from various diseases as there is lack of drinking water, hospitals exist but doctors are not available and schools exist but teachers do not teach barefoot children.”
The minister said: “It is true that a political leader doesn’t care about workers and tends to become corrupt, but at least voters know in democracy that one day they would hold him accountable.
“Thus, a degree is not important but what is important is to know as to whether the politician is close to the masses or not.”
As far as corruption was concerned, Huda said, the whole society had become corrupt. “Corrupt people are being respected and the people want to socialise with them.”
“Our dreams are flying high and we all have become artificial,” she said and believed that it was not only the responsibility of politicians to reform society but all had to play their role to this effect.
“The media’s role is to raise questions, not to raise fingers about anyone’s character,” she said, adding that it was very difficult to find “Sadiq and Ameen” people.
She believed democracy would be “cleaned” from flaws when it would be allowed to continue and flourish.
“This [democracy] has become standing water. That’s why, you feel bad smell emanating from it,” said the minister, adding that if democracy was allowed to flourish uninterruptedly, it would not stink.
“Don’t embroil yourself in questions of who is bad as it would add to your confusion and you drift away from the path of democracy,” said Huda.
Editor Daily Jang Nazir Leghari said successive military regimes had undermined civilian rule, which was not in position to deliver as there were many flaws in it.
He said the last five years were the worst in terms of the delivery of goods to the masses. However, he added that like the media, democracy had also gained space in the country.
The senior journalist said that in politics, workers were the worst victims who served the party and its cause but their leaders were not even willing to shake hands with them.