ISLAMABAD: “Give politics a chance” was the consensus among leading representatives of civil society and political parties at a forum held in Islamabad on Wednesday where they agreed that the task ahead is to restore democratic politics as a legitimate way for Pakistan to govern itself after years of vilification and attacks on political parties by successive military dictatorships. The Forum “New Democratic Possibilities: What Next?” was arranged by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in partnership with the Centre for Civic Education (CCE).
HRCP Chairperson Asma Jahangir said at the forum that the recent elections proved peoples’ confidence in democracy adding that the lawyers struggle was for democratic institutions, not just individuals. “We don’t have big expectations for overnight change in this country but at least we can set the right direction towards a real transition to civilian democracy that ensures an independent judiciary, a free media, respect for the peoples’ mandate and civil rights” she said. “The electorate wants a bridge to democracy,” and politicians need to be given a chance in light of the challenges awaiting the incoming government.”
The well-known human rights activist called for an early convening of parliament and emphasized that judges should have nothing to do with the election commission and politicians should not be on the PEMRA board.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Senator Mian Raza Rabbani asked for patience and cooperation from all sectors of society so the new government can live up to the expectations of the mandate they have been given. “We will try to adhere to the spirit of the Charter of Democracy and build on it through constitutional and institutional reforms” he said. “We will ensure transparency of our government through free media, independent judiciary and a sovereign parliament despite the many problems left by the outgoing regime,” he added. He committed to the revival of trade unions, student unions and economic uplift in addition to addressing the threat of terrorism and grievances of the smaller provinces like Balochistan.
SCBA representative Athar Minallah said that for the first time in the history of the country we are getting encouraging signals from the political parties to change the mindset of the ruling establishment. “On 18th February the people of Pakistan proved that they know how to rule themselves and it’s time now to give politicians a chance as they seem determined to fight strengthen institutions” he insisted.
Secretary General of PFUJ Mazhar Abbas said that at the behest of the previous government PEMRA violated its own laws by putting undue bars on media freedom. He demanded the repeal of PEMRA Ordinances and insisted on the formation of a regulatory body by the parliament in consultation with all stakeholders. He said that the Prime Minister should have the power to appoint the PEMRA chief, not the President. Mazhar said that all representative bodies of working journalists and media owners should also develop their own code of conduct to make the media more responsible. “Our expectation from the new government is respect for media freedom, independence of judiciary and supremacy of the parliament” he declared. Mazhar sadly noted that 26 journalists and their family members have been killed in Pakistan over the past 7 years, there have been 102 incidents of violence and 78 journalists are facing anti-terrorism charges in Sindh alone.
Representative of Quaid-i- Azam University Student Action Committee Alya Ameer Ali said that the students came out in large numbers through out the country during the struggle for the restoration of judiciary and rejected the impression being imposed by some quarters that politics was a dirty thing. “Now the realities have changed and we have to trust the politicians” she said. Alya demanded total extermination of the army’s role in politics and insisted on building the institutions, creating job opportunities and lifting of ban on student unions.
NDI Country Director Sheila Fruman in her opening remarks said she hoped the forum would provide an opportunity for an exchange between civil society and political parties with the aim of strengthening democracy and democratic institutions in the country after the elections. CCE Director Zafarullah Khan moderated the forum. Jamila Gillani of ANP and Senator Tahir Mashhadi of MQM also spoke on the occasion.-SANA