Pakistan Elections Bring Neither Democracy, Nor Stability


Pakistan’s 12th general elections have only exacerbated the country’s polycrises instead of helping resolve any of them. The ubiquitous military establishment may not be as strong as under Zia or Musharraf but it is still able to enforce some of its mandates – even if that results in more political and economic instability. The elections have not resulted in any clear mandate and the anger and resentment by many means that the electoral results will not be accepted by those who lost. And finally, no one appears to care that Pakistan’s economy remains in doldrums and its security situation is only worsening.

In a recent column, former editor of Dawn, Abbas Nasir states “hopes of clarity after the Feb 8 elections have evaporated and a country, perennially in the midst of a crisis, now appears gripped by chaos and in a tailspin, with the wildest of speculation suddenly acquiring an eminently plausible status. That is where we are.”

As Nasir notes, “Pakistan has had endless experiments with military rule or, more accurately, has had endless experiments conducted by military rulers: from Ayub Khan’s martial law to Basic Democracies to Ziaul Haq’s outright military rule and then an attempted civilianisation of that via a partyless election which produced a party-run parliament. And, more recently, the general-chief executive whose martial law was cloaked in civvies but he wielded absolute power from the centre of his empire in Rawalpindi. At some point or the other, each of these military rulers has suffered from a crisis of legitimacy and tried to hide behind a civilian façade. But, as a number of elections in different eras have demonstrated, the people have always had other ideas.”

Further, as Nasir adds, “rather than strengthen whatever little democracy we have had, the democrats, who are supposed to be its guardians, have turned for help to forces inimical to democracy. Inimical because it challenges and undermines their primacy in decision-making and, more importantly, in resource allocation exercises. Such endless political engineering experiments will always result in some undesirable mutations too. What makes one feel awful is that in a country of some 240 million people, an unacceptably large chunk of which lives below the poverty line, it is the shirtless who will end up bearing the brunt of the fallout.”

Further, Nasir warns that “the best likely outcome one can visualise is this rot lasting for another 12, possibly 18 months. What then? The power players don’t care. You and I don’t count.”

In conclusion, Nasir points out, “For those who truly believe in liberal, democratic values and norms, it may me be difficult to digest but, after the failure of both outright and brazen military rule and politically-engineered hybrid set-ups, the inevitability of civilian-led authoritarianism or our version of fascism stares us in the face.”


Author: Muhammad Butt