Constrained by Establishment, Pakistan Politicians Have Little to Offer Voters


In most democracies, elections are akin to sports – a competition where the best player wins. In Pakistan, all players are competing for the support and blessings of the all-powerful establishment. This means there is no effort on their part to try and convince voters to vote for them as that is not the audience.

In a recent column, author and analyst, Zahid Hussain notes “listening to the speeches at the hustings, one wonders whether the political leaders vying for power have anything new to offer the electorate.”

Former PM Nawaz Sharif and his party PMLN, Hussain prefer with a “victimhood narrative.” Hence, “there seems to be no need for the PML-N leadership to present an election manifesto or a concrete plan of action for the future. Populist rhetoric and personalised polemics continue to mark a listless election campaign. It’s all about wheeling and dealing under the shadow of the powers that be, rendering the entire electoral exercise a virtual selection process. There is not even a semblance of fair play, with the odds heavily in favour of the chosen ones.”

Hussain worries “this is certainly not a very reassuring prospect for a troubled nation looking for a change in status quo and the strengthening of the democratic process. It marks a great leap backward. The hope of a democratic transition has been all but dashed. What we are witnessing is the new season of the game of thrones, with the roles reversed.”

Hussain points out, “It is the third time that Nawaz Sharif has been lifted out of disgrace to become the main contender for the coveted office. Meanwhile, it is the former blue-eyed boy of the security establishment who now finds himself behind bars, implicated in multiple cases on a range of charges. Not only him but many other top leaders of his party, too, are barred from contesting the elections.”

Hussain argues, “it will still be hard for the security establishment to fully manipulate the outcome. Imran Khan, with his undiminished popularity, has proved to be a most formidable challenge for the powerful security establishment. Notwithstanding his idiosyncrasies and convoluted political views, he has become a symbol of resistance. His popularity may be much higher among the youth who comprise the majority of voters, but he also commands strong support among the elite.”

Further, “the PML-N and other mainstream political parties have failed to alter their ways in a fast-changing sociopolitical environment. In fact, dynastic politics have strengthened in the PML-N, with the party leadership being fully dominated by members of the Sharif family. There is no induction of outside or young blood in the ranks of the party leadership. What has been most damaging for the party is the growing perception of it being backed by the military establishment. This view has gained further currency, with the swift dropping of Nawaz Sharif’s conviction and his eligibility to stand in the elections. His tenor has also softened against the generals whom he had earlier blamed for his ouster.”

In conclusion, Hussain warns “returning to power through tainted elections and with the backing of the establishment can never confer political stability. And who should know this better than Nawaz Sharif himself?”


Author: Nadia Khalid