Pakistan's Rough Road to Democracy

Pakistan National Assembly has recently completed its 5-year term for the second time since 2008. A neutral interim government has assumed control to hold the general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018 to elect a new parliament. Media headlines about Pakistan are not good but the key trend-lines are definitely positive as the country continues its journey slowly but surely toward better democracy. While the party nomination processes for electoral candidates continue to be arbitrary, the protests erupting over party tickets are an indication of the rank and file members' yearning for internal democracy.  These complaints and protests will hopefully lead to internal reform in these parties and break the strangle-hold of their undemocratic, self-serving leaders and the "electables" who represent the status quo.

Who are the Electables?

Electioneering in Pakistan is rarely about debating issues and offering solutions; it's more about personalities, families and identities. Political parties and politicians are rarely judged based on their capabilities, ideas and performance. The focus is on recruiting "electable" candidates with a known vote bank of their ethnicity and "biradri" (clan).  

Pakistan's mainstream political parties continue to rely on the "electables" to win general elections. "Electables" are powerful, resourceful and wealthy, often land-owning individuals from certain families who have a greater chance of winning enough votes to get elected regardless of the party. Major political parties recruit them to run on their "tickets" as their nominees.  Winning more seats in the parliament helps parties form governments to gain control of the state's resources for the benefit of their leaders and their cronies. It is a good investment for the electables to be aligned with the party in power.

The preference for "electables" perpetuates the status quo and preserves the power of the privileged few. It denies the opportunity for new aspiring entrants to bring about any positive change.  It depresses new voter turnout and discourages wider participation in the political process.

Accountability and Transparency:

Pakistan Elections Act 2017 passed by the National Assembly removed the requirements for key disclosures relating to the ownership of assets, income taxes paid or owed, bank loan defaults, foreign residency (iqama) and  educational qualifications of the candidates for national and provincial legislatures in the upcoming elections. This came in October 2017 after several members of the national parliament were caught lying and subsequently disqualified by the courts under Articles 62 and 63 of Pakistan's constitution. Those disqualified include top politicians like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PMLN party and PTI leader and parliamentarian Jahangir Tareen. 

The changes reducing disclosures were challenged in the courts and the Supreme Court ruled that all candidates have to file sworn financial declarations along with their nomination papers for the general elections in 2018. 

Headlines vs Trend-lines:

The worst 1% of the Pakistan story gets 99% of the media coverage, says Lahore-based Pakistani entrepreneur Monis Rahman. In the same vein, former US President Bill Clinton has said this about the media coverage of the continent of Africa: "Follow the trend lines, not the headlines".

As the Pakistani and the global mainstream media continue to headline Pakistan's multiple challenges and dire forecasts, the trend-lines in the country continue to be positive. 

Pakistan's difficult march toward better democracy is making steady progress. The country's National Assembly has recently completed its 5-year term for the second time since 2008. A neutral interim government has assumed control to hold the general elections scheduled for July 25 2018 to elect a new parliament.

Resilient people of Pakistan are overcoming multiple challenges stemming from the continuing war in Afghanistan and India's abiding hostility. Pakistanis are defying all the prophecies of doom and gloom and thriving against all odds. Pakistan's trillion dollar economy is among the top 25 largest in the world. Rising disposable incomes are reflected in Pakistan being the world's fastest growing retail market. The increasing share of income of the bottom 20% of households puts Pakistan among the less unequal countries in the world. Pakistan is indeed rising. 

Undemocratic Parties:

Major political parties in Pakistan are controlled by individuals and families at the helm. These individuals and families make all important decisions in an arbitrary manner.  The way these parties nominate their candidates for national and provincial assembly elections is symptomatic of the lack of democracy within these parties. 

In more developed democracies like the United States, the party candidates for elections are chosen by rank and file voters belonging to each party, not the party leaders. Hillary Clinton had to win the votes of the Democratic Party's registered voters to become her party candidate for the senate seat in New York and later to become a presidential candidate in general elections. Similarly George W. Bush in Year 2000 and his brother Jeb Bush in Year 2016 had to contest primary elections for their nomination as Republican candidates. George W. Bush succeeded in 2000 primaries and general elections while his brother Jeb failed to win the party nomination in 2016. 

Loud protests within Pakistan's political parties show lack of satisfaction of the rank and file members with the way the parties are being run by their leaders.  These complaints and protests will hopefully lead to reform within these parties and break the strangle-hold of the "electables" who represent the status quo. 


Pakistani parliament has recently completed its 5-year term for the second time since 2008. A caretaker government has assumed control to hold the general elections scheduled for July 25 2018 to elect a new parliament. Headlines are not always good but the key trend-lines are definitely positive as the country continues its journey slowly but surely toward a better democracy. While the party nomination processes for electoral candidates continue to be arbitrary, the protests erupting within parties are an indication of their rank and file members' yearning for democracy within the political parties.  These complaints and protests will hopefully lead to internal reform in these parties and break the strangle-hold of the self-serving leaders and "electables" who represent the status quo.

Here's a discussion on the subject of democracy in Pakistan:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan Elections Act 2017

US DoD 1999 Forecast: "Pakistan Disappears By 2015"

Democracy's Disappointing Report Card

Nawaz Sharif's Report Card 2013-18

CPEC Transforming Pakistan's Least Developed Regions

Pakistan: The Other 99% of the Pakistan Story

How Pakistan's Corrupt Elite Siphon Off Public Funds

Bumper Crops and Soaring Credit Drive Tractor Sales

Panama Leaks

How West Enables Corruption in Developing Countries

Declining Terror Toll in Pakistan

Riaz Haq's YouTube Channel


Riaz Haq said…
Despicable #American #Media Coverage of #PakistanElections2018. US mainstream media has a voracious appetite for caricaturing, simplifying, and neatly categorizing non-Western people and life, especially #Muslims. via @GVS_News

There is a massive difference between a white American Anglo-Saxon Protestant’s galvanizing of white nationalism by inciting hate against minorities and the appeal to popular sovereignty by a political figure in a post-colonial society like Pakistan buried under the rubbles of neo-imperial power.

Take for instance an instructive example from the NY Times. After the elections, the title of an article on its twitter feed read as follows: “Is Imran Khan, a legendary cricket player and international sex symbol, about to become the leader of Pakistan, an Islamic republic with nuclear weapons?” And the editorial title read: “Nuclear-Armed Islamic Republic Gets Unpredictable New Leader.” These headlines and the commentaries that followed them toxically combine Islamophobia, Orientalist stereotyping, and copious expenditure of plain ignorance, verging on the bizarre.

They also smack of classic Orientalism: the insidious stereotyping of the East, the Orient, to establish the civilizational superiority of the West. Notice how the first title juxtaposes the image of the licentious brown body, unable to control its carnal desires, with that of the fanatic brown body, always on the precipice of violence. “A sex symbol with nuclear weapons:” how eerily analogous to 19th century Orientalist depictions of Muslims that sutured images of the sensually overflowing harem with that of the barbaric militant. Exoticization and dehumanization often go hand in hand.

Turning to Imran Khan, the newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister; it is true that in his younger years, he was an iconic and attractive cricketer with a massive global following among members of all genders. Yes, he did date multiple women and was widely admired and sought after, much like many other celebrities. But his dating life three to four decades ago is hardly even peripheral let alone central to his politics today. Yet, almost every Western, and sadly even many Indian commentaries on the Pakistani elections, have begun predictably, in the most hackneyed fashion, with a mention of Imran’s so-called “playboy” image and status during his long over cricketing years.

A far more important, ongoing, and relevant aspect of his non-political biography is his role as a leading philanthropist in Pakistan who established the biggest Cancer Hospital in the country in 1994, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital named after Khan’s mother who died of cancer, where a remarkable 70% patients have received free treatment for almost twenty-five years. He also established a leading university in rural Punjab, Namal University, where underprivileged students receive Bradford University degrees. These philanthropic achievements, a lot more central to Khan’s popularity among the Pakistani masses than his “sex appeal,” receive passing if any mention in the Western media. And the descriptor “unpredictable leader” for Khan is essentially a code word for a brown leader who is not an American stooge, like most of his predecessors.

Returning to the NY Times title: pause also at the phrase “an Islamic republic with nuclear weapons.” NY Times must remind its readers that we are talking about an “Islamic republic” lest they forget that this conversation is about the “Muslim other;” all other possible features and descriptions of a complicated country like Pakistan stand colonized by and reduced to its “Islamic-ness.” I wonder how often the Times has described Israel as a “Jewish state with nuclear weapons”?
Riaz Haq said…
"This Is the Story of How #Lincoln Broke the (1787) #US #Constitution" by @NoahRFeldman . President Abraham Lincoln replaced it with the “moral” 1865 Constitution with 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, making a decisive break with #slavery.

First, he waged war on the Confederacy. He did this even though his predecessor, James Buchanan, and Buchanan’s attorney general, Jeremiah Black, had concluded that neither the president nor Congress had the lawful authority to coerce the citizens of seceding states to stay in the Union without their democratic consent. Coercive war, they had argued, repudiated the idea of consent of the governed on which the Constitution was based.

Second, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus unilaterally, without Congress, arresting thousands of political opponents and suppressing the free press and free speech to a degree unmatched in U.S. history before or since. When Chief Justice Roger Taney of the Supreme Court held that the suspension was unconstitutional, Lincoln ignored him.

Lincoln justified both of these constitutional violations by a doubtful theory of wartime necessity: that as chief executive and commander in chief, he possessed the inherent authority to use whatever means necessary to preserve the Union.

Third, and most fatefully, Lincoln came to believe that he also possessed the power to proclaim an end to slavery in the Southern states. When he finally did so, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, he eliminated any possibility of returning to the compromise Constitution as it had existed before the war.

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