Pakistan’s Electoral Déjà Vu: Unfree, Unfair, Undemocratic and Undeniably Predictable

by Dr. Jasneet Bedi

As Pakistan approaches its general elections, the prevailing conditions signal a departure from the democratic ideals that underpin a free society, veering the nation toward a troublingly familiar cycle of military influence and political manipulation.

So we will go to the polls this week with a sense of frustration and futility. Pakistanis, especially young adults eligible to vote for the first time, are asking themselves: Why vote for politicians who seem to have no goal other than to take power and use it against their opponents?

Bina Shah in the New York Times

The conviction of Imran Khan on various charges, culminating in a sentence that effectively sidelines him from the political arena, is not merely an individual’s fall from grace but a reflection of the deeper tussle between civilian leadership and military might. Khan, once heralded as a beacon of change, now finds himself ensnared in a web of legal battles, his party disintegrated, a testament to the precarious nature of political dissent in Pakistan.

Parallel to Khan’s downfall is the orchestrated revival of Nawaz Sharif, whose political fortunes seem inversely related to Khan’s miseries. Sharif’s return, facilitated by a seemingly lenient military and judicial establishment, underscores a cyclical pattern of political rehabilitations that often serve the interests of the powers that be, rather than the principles of justice or democracy.

Pakistan’s turbulent history with democracy dates back decades. The military coup in 1977, which ousted Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and led to his execution two years later, is still a vivid memory for many Pakistanis. The country oscillated between military rule and democratic governance, with each phase of democracy marred by corruption and power struggles. Military dictatorship ended in 1988, but the subsequent years of democratic rule were politically chaotic. Another period of military dictatorship followed, with a return to democratic experiments in 2008. However, these transitions have left the Pakistani populace wary and disillusioned.

The upcoming elections, set against this backdrop, are marred by allegations of unfairness and pre-poll rigging, casting a long shadow over their credibility. The disenfranchisement of Khan’s party, the PTI, by depriving it of its election symbol and the suppression of its campaign efforts, illustrate a deliberate attempt to reshape the political landscape in favor of the military-endorsed status quo. This manipulation not only undermines the essence of democratic competition but also disenfranchises millions of Pakistanis who seek to voice their preferences through the ballot.

Moreover, the situation in Balochistan and the treatment of its people expose another facet of the state’s authoritarian tendencies. The repression of political dissent, the disregard for the grave issue of enforced disappearances, and the electoral engineering to marginalize nationalist voices reveal a disturbing pattern of governance that prioritizes control over genuine representation.

As Pakistan teeters on the edge of what could be another episode of military-dominated rule, the facade of democratic exercises fails to mask the autocratic undercurrents shaping its political destiny. The repetitive cycles of political upheaval and reconciliation with the military establishment do not herald a new era of development or democracy but signal a continuation of a hybrid civilian-military regime where democratic norms are superficial at best.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Dr. Jasneet Bedi

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