Imran Khan, Pakistan, Democracy
Pakistan is celebrating its 2nd ever peaceful transfer of power through an election – or it will be, if everything stays on track after Imran Khan’s general election victory. The dweller’s guide certainly doesn’t want to cast any shadow over this achievement, but we have to be very careful before we call it democracy – or anything like it. There are at least three key components of a properly functioning parliamentary democracy:
- Peaceful transfers of power, based on the outcomes of…
- Free and fair elections, leading to governments which run to …
- Full terms in parliament, without being derailed by military force or legal action, at the end of which the cycle is repeated.
Pakistan achieved the first and third of these in 2013 when Asif Ali Zardari completed his five year term in office and was rewarded by being soundly beaten in a general election regarded as relatively free and fair – except by Imran Khan who claimed that it was rigged and demanded the immediate resignation of Sharif.
He didn’t get that resignation immediately but in 2017, with Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification as Prime Minister by the country’s Supreme Court and his consequent resignation, Khan got his wish and Sharif joined the not very illustrious ranks of his predecessors who had failed to see their tenure till the end of its term.
Nawaz Sharif was replaced by his brother (never a good sign) Shehbaz Sharif and now, having been beaten, it is his party, the PML-N who are claiming vote rigging and threatening to create a ‘movement’ for new elections. How does this election rate on the three key components?
- Peaceful? The transfer of power may turn out to be peaceful but the election certainly wasn’t -a suicide bomb blast killed at least 31 people in the southwestern city of Quetta, as voters took to the polls. There were a number of firings and grenade attacks on polling stations, killing around 200 people.
- Free and fair? The EU monitors said the campaign was skewed by a ‘lack of equality and opportunity’ – which is a diplomatic euphemism for the vote may have been fair but the lead up was definitely not. It is widely believed that Pakistan’s military tilted the electoral playing field in favour of Khan’s PTI. In July the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), decried “blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming elections”. It also commented on widespread censorship of the media, and allegations that the military had intimidated journalists when reporting on politics.
- Full term? Imran Khan has campaigned against corruption (don’t they all?) and has benefitted from the support of Pakistan’s ubiquitous military, but it will be interesting to see how long he retains that support and whether he himself manages to serve a full term without legal challenge. Pakistan’s economy is spinning out of control. Its foreign currency reserves dwindling faster than a bodyline. The rupee is devalued more often than an Aussie tampers with the ball, and he is going to need an IMF bail out before teatime.
Until Pakistan fulfils these three basic requirements of democracy it won’t really matter who wins the elections – it will always just get the government it deserves – usually the military.
Just as it is said that the first casualty of war is truth, so, in Pakistan, the first casualty of elections is democracy itself.
If you think that one day, the fountain pen may yet be mightier than the sword, and want to support the freedom of press in Pakistan, then this is where to start: The Pakistan Press Foundation