On July 25, Pakistan votes again. But what is the purpose of this exercise? Are we selecting representatives to govern on our behalf for a better future? Are those who are on offer, as candidates, up for this task? These are not rhetorical questions, these are fundamental questions which all Pakistanis must answer for themselves. Voting without achieving the purpose of the democratic process has no meaning — this is something we have been taught by the past three cycles of charades that have been played with the people of this country.There are many who argue that if the system is allowed to continue, it will correct itself and give us something closer actual democracy. A system where elected representatives are people’s emissaries and not the praetorian leeches they currently are. Einstein statement is quite the cliché now, but is appropriate still, expecting an alternative result doing exactly the same thing over and over again is foolish and stupid. Imran khan’s Naya Pakistan was predicated to go about things differently with a new kind of political class who would represent the people’s interests not their own. Very quickly, instead of staying the course he chose, for power, to join the existing system. Imran picked the very same ‘representatives’ to represent the people in his Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). The other political parties — PPP and PML-N — do not claim to want to change their existing strategy. They rely on the people to ‘see’ the progress they have ‘gifted’ to the millions of Pakistanis. There is always an explanation for why the people continue to live in inhumane conditions while their representatives grow wealthier and more entitled. This cycle will not break through them. That much is clear. It is in your hands Pakistanis, no one else’s. Pakistan has not been blessed with decent leaders since it was first founded. Each one betrayed the people for power or lacked the capacity to lead. This is common in a pre-modern society struggling with modern ideasPakistan has not been blessed with decent leaders since it was first founded. Each one betrayed the people for power or lacked the capacity to lead. This is common in a pre-modern society struggling with modern ideas. But we can’t just moan and groan about history and anthropology can we? We the people of Pakistan need to cease the day and rise to the occasion.To achieve equality of opportunity for all, the people will now have to rely on themselves. No messiah, no monarch, no khadim of any sort is going to ‘save’ Pakistan. No army chief, no chief justice and certainly no Khan. Only self-help can be our salvation! It is time you look within and act. We must not choose the lowest denominator but the highest option. Despondency benefits the status quo powers. On July 25,the same ‘representatives’ are on offer on the ballot. I would not choose any of them — it is as simple as that. If there are independents (not jeep), or smaller progressive parties like Awami Workers Parties fielding candidates such as in Islamabad and fourteen other constituencies, choose them — choose a better Pakistan. It is not ‘practical’ or ‘impractical’ to choose good strong ethical pro-people candidates who are struggling in spite of the massive hurdles put in front of them on a daily basis to prevent them from representing our genuine interests. Listen to what they are saying, while also questioning what they represent. Make the effort to find your representatives! The billboards, paid adverts on television and radio by the status quo powers are trying to overpower your senses. Be smart! Be selfish! And think before you give your vote to those who have no interest in your welfare.Jibran Nasir, who is running as an independent in Karachi’s NA-247 constituency has refused to compromise on religious bigotry. Meanwhile, the PML-N, PTI and PPP are all too happy to sacrifice the principles of justice, equality and civic responsibility. What are the consequences of this sacrifice? Is compromising with those who hate Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hazaras and god knows who else in our interest? The media has shunned, censored or ignored these independent candidates. As a result, too few Pakistanis are aware of their campaign messaging. This ‘challenge’ is not unplanned. The powers that be want Pakistanis to keep wearing horse blinders and force them to choose from the same old representatives.We talk about marginal voices and majority voices. Let’s take the federal capital as an example. Islamabad’s population is estimated to be 1.5 million, with three National Assembly seats, NA-52, 53 and 54 on offer. Who lives in Islamabad? Did you know Islamabad was 72 villages before it was carved into what it is today? 60 percent of the federal area is still a collection of villages. Amongst these, there are 10recognised katchi abadis in the federal capital, and 30 unrecognised settlements. On average 20,000 people live in each settlement, that’s approximately 800,000 souls — which is 23 percent of Islamabad’s population! Who is representing them in our policy making decisions? No one. Is anyone concerned with where they live? How do they live without electricity water or any of the basic amenities human settlements should have in a modern state? Because they can do nothing to influence the powers that be, who are interested only in amassing wealth, privilege and power. No society can progress if it does not look it’s most vulnerable members. The irony is the wealthy rely on these very sections of society. Skilled and unskilled labourers, carpenters, electricians, street cleaners, maids, restaurant personnel are all fundamental service providers to any city.As I mentioned, some of the independent candidates like Jibran Nasir and Mohsin Dawar — young, educated Pakistanis who have a track record of serving the people and hold principle positions — are those who should be making policies for Pakistanis in Parliament. We must be able to trust our representatives; we need representatives who do not have crimes against humanity on their hands or in their rhetoric. This election should not be about respecting the vote, but respecting your vote. It does matter, you matter and your vote should matter, do not compromise at the altar of despair. Do not vote if your candidates on the ballot do not respect your interests and have not worked in the interests of a peaceful equitable fair prosperous Pakistan.It’s in your hands not anyone else’s. It’s your responsibility and on your conscience alone.The writer is a human rights activist with a public policy backgroundPublished in Daily Times, July 11th 2018.