Since the restoration of democracy in Pakistan in 2008, the country is about to witness its third consecutive general election on July 25, 2018. There are still some challenges that need to be looked into if democracy is to be strengthened in Pakistan. The pre-election campaigns, unlike the previous two elections, are experiencing intense political energy. Political parties are fielding their candidates throughout the country; however, unlike in the past, major political parties are having a tough time awarding tickets to prospective candidates. Another near-distant but related development to democracy in Pakistan was the Senate elections held in March 2018 earlier this year. Moreover, another question which is significant to both democracy and governance in Pakistan is that of autonomy, devolution of power and resources to the local bodies. Democracy as a form of civil and political participation and governance is a viable and effective political system. However, it cannot thrive in the absence of a strong democratic culture. The tenets of democratic culture required evolution of power to people’s representatives, active public participation, ensuring accountability of representatives to public and institutions, and strengthening public institutions for improving the state of governance. Addressing these challenges in Pakistan is also true for allowing democracy to take root and develop in Pakistan. An introspection is required to look at these challenges in Pakistan’s case and suggest a way forward for strengthening democratic culture in Pakistan. Firstly, taking a look with a bottom-up approach, local bodies in Pakistan remain toothless with scant autonomy in financial and administrative matters. The revival of local bodies in 2013, after a lull since 2008, brought to fore ineffective and powerless local administrators across the country compared to the local bodies elected during the period of Pervez Musharraf in 2001-2004 and 2004-2008. Despite this, during the current term, local bodies’ representatives mostly constitute of members affiliated with political parties. Major political parties and mostly those in power in the provincial governments failed to delegate power to local bodies. The devolution from provincial governments requires allocation of funds and administrative powers along with capacity-building of institutions to improve public services. Additionally, a strong system of public account audits and accountability is required at grass-root level to ensure transparent utilisation of public exchequer. Unfortunately, most political parties in Pakistan claiming to be flag bearers of democracy in truth fail to delegate power and resources to local bodies. This, in consequence,has led to the abysmal performance of local bodies. Democracy cannot thrive in the absence of a strong democratic culture. This requires devolution of power to people’s representatives Secondly, political parties in the recent elections remained in a fix on awarding tickets to its nominees from different constituencies. Such complications can be overcome by augmenting the practice of holding primaries by political parties to award tickets to strong candidates from a given constituency. This practice will also encourage democratic participation from the public and also prepare a new set of political leadership in the country. Thirdly, during Senate elections, where nominees, who rely on indirect elections, usually remain unquestionable and unaccountable before the public for their performance in the legislature. In Senate, each province has 23 seats equally, comprising of 14 general seats, four reserved seats for technocrats, four reserved seats for women, and one reserved seat for a non-Muslim representative. Whereas, Islamabad Capital Territory consists of four seats, two general seats, and one reserved seat for technocrat and one reserved woman seat. A downside of indirect elections is that nominees and political parties often try to buy off votes from members of national and provincial assemblies and at times some elected members form independent factions to serve undemocratic practices by voting for rival candidates. By changing the very nature of the electoral process of Senate, Pakistan can realise an accountable and participatory form of elections for upper-house. Holding direct elections for Senate membership will enable public to hold candidates accountable, and fundamentally allow them to elect members of their choice through popular vote. This will also condition re-electability of senators to their performance in the upper house, and also enable political parties to field candidates that can gain vote bank in constituencies larger than a usual national assembly. This is so, because the provincial representation of Senate is based on equal representation, unlike national assembly where representation of province is determined by its population. As a result, a senate constituency will be larger than a national assembly constituency, and a candidate will need to engage a larger constituency. This practice will also elevate the status and role of Senate in legislation. Most notably, Pakistan’s political parties and leadership need to realise that democracy doesn’t evolve in a vacuum. For democracy to grow in Pakistan, it needs a democratic ecology. And the ecology requires the introduction of practices that are reflective of a participatory, empowered and practical democracy. And for this to happen, Pakistan’s public, and institutions deserve delegation of more power. Only then would the state of Pakistan’s democracy and governance take a turn for the better. The writer is a research consultant at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be reached at [email protected] Published in Daily Times, July 5th 2018.