The Futility of Pakistan’s Elections As Long As The Army Rules


On February 8, 2024, Pakistan held its 12th General Elections. While who will form the government is yet to be decided, that many Pakistanis really saw themselves being offered no real choice was apparent.

In a column, leading nuclear scientist and columnist Pervez Hoodbhoy summed up the choice – ‘Yes I voted, here’s why.’ According to Hoodbhoy, “many millions stayed home, convinced that the national elections were rigged. They cannot be blamed because the signs were clear and obvious. But in 2018, when the boot was on the other foot, wasn’t that just as apparent? And how fair were elections before that? Rigging elections is a fact of life, one that will endure until Pakistan matures politically.”

Asking the question – “what should one vote for? Which actions can save a ship sailing head-on into the rocks?” Hoodbhoy lists three of the most urgent and frightening challenges facing Pakistan none of which will be resolved by these elections:

First, “Control the ferocious rate at which we reproduce. Every seven seconds brings a new Pakistani baby into the world. Every 18 months brings more new mouths to feed than in all of Israel. If Pakistan’s borders were infinitely expandable, and if it had limitless resources, that might not be a problem. Else, we face a fate as grim as Fibonacci’s endlessly breeding rabbits, multiplying uncontrollably until collapse happens.”

Second, “Create employment in an extremely difficult situation. Before us stands an ocean of unemployed youth, barely literate and hopelessly inarticulate but with high expectations. The vast majority have emerged from schools following Pakistan’s national curriculum. Heavy on national and religious content, and light on reasoning skills, it has enfeebled minds and reduced reasoning capacities.”

Third, “Accept that separatism comes from disenfranchisement, that this is largely of Pakistan’s own making, and so inimical foreign powers have a chance to play havoc. Let’s recall that the only genuine election in Pakistan’s entire history, preceded by 11 years of martial law, was in 1970. This firmly established Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as Pakistan’s most popular leader. But as subsequent developments proved, West Pakistan would not yield to the more populous East Pakistan. Democracy in a united Pakistan was never possible.”

In conclusion, Hoodbhoy laments, “I looked at the ballot paper with about 20 symbols awaiting my stamp. It was time to decide. Had any candidate, or their party leader, spoken or written anything remotely connected to Pakistan’s true problems? Else, was any individual known for community service in the NA-46 constituency? Had the answer been a ‘yes’, my vote would have been for him or her. But sadly, for this there was not even a shred of positive evidence. The option of ‘none of the above” being absent, with a heavy heart I stamped all the options and so deliberately destroyed my ballot. Still, one must be optimistic and hope that the next time around things will be different.”