The Stark Contrast Between Elections in India and Pakistan: A Tale of Two Democracies

by Harleen Kaur

As the world’s largest democratic exercise concludes in India, the stark contrast with Pakistan’s recent National Assembly elections held on February 8 this year could not be more evident. While India’s electoral process showcases the vibrancy and resilience of its democracy, Pakistan’s elections are marred by accusations of manipulation and military interference, casting a long shadow over the country’s political landscape.

In India, elections symbolize the will of the people, with their choices remaining inviolable both before and during the polls. The Indian electorate engages in a genuine democratic process, free from undue influence or coercion. In stark contrast, Pakistan’s elections are often criticized for being orchestrated by the military, which manipulates the outcome from behind the scenes, undermining the very essence of democratic choice.

The February elections in Pakistan were a glaring example of this manipulation, though this wasn’t an isolated incident. The military’s interference in politics is a persistent issue, not confined to national elections but permeating all levels of governance. To comprehend the extent of the military’s influence, one must examine the evolution of Pakistan’s political situation over the past decade, which underscores the power the military wields, even when not overtly in control.

The Pakistan Army’s discontent with the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML(N)) winning the 2013 election and Nawaz Sharif becoming prime minister was a turning point. The military decided to boost the fortunes of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Khan, a charismatic figure who led Pakistan to a cricket World Cup victory in 1992, had struggled politically since establishing PTI in 1996. The military saw potential in him and began using him as a counterweight to Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif’s involvement in the Panama Papers scandal in 2016 provided the military an opportunity to oust him. Found guilty of constitutional violations and later in a criminal case, Sharif was removed from office and imprisoned. His successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, served until the 2018 elections, which saw the military, under General Qamar Bajwa, engineer Khan’s rise to power. Despite falling short of a majority, PTI formed a government with the military’s backing, creating a “hybrid government” where the army influenced policymaking.

By 2021, tensions between Khan and Bajwa surfaced, leading to the military supporting a coalition to oust Khan in April 2022. A new government led by Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s brother, took over, but Khan’s popularity endured, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. The military ensured this government lasted until Bajwa’s extended term ended in November 2022, with Asim Munir, who held a grudge against Khan, succeeding him as army chief.

As the term of the 15th National Assembly neared its end in August 2023, it became apparent that elections would be delayed unless the military was sure Khan wouldn’t win. The situation escalated after PTI supporters attacked army installations on May 9, leading to Khan’s imprisonment on multiple charges. The Election Commission’s actions, driven by the military’s influence, barred PTI from contesting as a party, further tilting the scales.

In the end, PTI’s independent candidates emerged as the largest group, but without official party status, their influence was curtailed. The PML(N) and PPP formed an understanding to govern, with the military retaining ultimate control.

In contrast, India’s election campaign highlights the country’s democratic credentials. Here, the people freely choose their representatives, and institutions cannot obstruct the political process. The Modi government and opposition parties presented competing visions for India’s future, engaging in a robust democratic debate. Over the past decade, while Pakistan grappled with military meddling, India progressed economically, with its elections reflecting genuine public discourse on development and governance.

The Indian election campaign underscores the strength of India’s democracy, where the people’s voice reigns supreme. In Pakistan, however, the enduring power of military generals overshadows democratic processes, revealing a fundamental flaw in the country’s political life. As India continues to thrive as a beacon of democracy, Pakistan must confront its military’s pervasive influence to truly embrace democratic principles.

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.

Harleen Kaur

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