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Prince Karim Aga Khan speaks at the Stoa of Attalos in Athens on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy. PHOTO: PR

Source: Express Tribune

Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili community, has said that improving the quality of life is the most important component of a successful democracy.

“I believe that the progress of democracy in our world is fundamentally linked to improving the quality of human life,” he said on Tuesday in a keynote address at the Athens Democracy Forum, an international gathering of diplomats, business leaders and opinion makers hosted by the International New York Times and the United Nations Democracy Fund.

He cited the ability to understand constitutional systems, independent and pluralistic media, strong civil society and commitment to diversity and social dialogue as key elements in achieving the goal of improved quality of life, an official statement said.

“Democracy can only survive if it demonstrates, across the years and across the planet, that it is the best way to achieve that goal,” he said.

The founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network also said that political concepts and constitutional systems are often poorly understood to the detriment of democracy. “One problem is a poor understanding of comparative government systems. That subject is not part of most educational curricula, and, in the countries I know best, the media rarely explain the logic, or the options, of constitutional change.”

Prince Karim argued that at a time when many citizens are losing faith in all forms of government, finding common ground around the global aspiration for a better quality of life is essential in providing genuine hope for the future.

While emphasising the need for pluralistic and independent media, he cautioned that quantitative advances in communication technology have not necessarily produced qualitative progress in mutual understanding. “To be sure, each improvement in communications technology has triggered new waves of political optimism.”

But sadly, the Aga Khan went on to say, if information can be shared more easily as technology advances, so can misinformation and disinformation.

He called for a renewed emphasis on civil society organisations, a sector that he felt is deeply undervalued and yet essential to democracy.

The Ismaili community spiritual leader argued that key elements of civil society ranging from education, to healthcare, to environment cannot thrive and grow unless governments themselves support a healthy enabling environment.

Speaking at a time when society is witnessing increased polarisation, he underlined the importance of fostering a democratic ethic, at the heart of which is a commitment to genuine dialogue about the means of achieving a better quality of life.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th,  2015.

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