Pakistan votes: Will democracy follow?

I returned from a polling station in the G8 sector of Islamabad. It seems as though Imran Khan is set to become the prime minister of Pakistan. This line sounds like an alarm bell; a shrieking of a car right before a bang; nails on a chalkboard and also sounds eerily familiar. Pakistan has had a military rule for almost as much time as it has had democratic governments, so if Imran Khan is in power, how democratic will it be? As democratic as a cat guarding the milk, if you look at how vehemently he has supported the excessive defense budget of Pakistan.

If democracy is a democracy, three things must take place: the open flow of information so voters can be educated on context; an environment without fear and harassment and lastly, the inclusion of all minority groups. Majoritarianism is not democracy. Yet you see that this election was based on three specific facts: a revolting media ban with controlled information flow. We saw that TV anchors were given a list of allowed words and forbidden words. Opinion editorials were taken off. Journalist’s homes were ransacked. To proliferate a culture of fear, many activists were temporarily abducted and returned without a story to tell. Others never returned.

Women and minorities have a story to tell though. The gender gap in registered voters went up, not down, since 2013, so women surely were left out deliberately on technical grounds like the need for a national ID card. The fact is that democracy pre-dates ID cards. Also, if you are considered non-Muslim while you disagree, you will have your right to disagree taken away. An entire community is not voting because separate voting lists have been made for them in a clear violation of the UN human rights charter which the country is a signatory to.

So three things as prerequisites to democracy are the exact three things that did not take place pre-election. So on Election Day, we do these three things: We grieve; we accept that democracy, though flawed, is better than blatant military coups and a three-time democratic transition is better than only a two-time transition and lastly we wake up tomorrow, pull up our moth-eaten socks and get to work.

There is much work to be done. We need to report on how free and fair the elections were and expose irregularities. There was a polling booth reported by GEO TV that was not functional even after voters showed up. When investigated, turned out the army had directed election officials to delay preparatory work.

We must also hold Imran Khan accountable if PM-select becomes PM-elect. We must ask him why he voted to block a pro-woman amendment in the Hudood Ordinance in 2006; why he is pro-blasphemy laws which no one contests have led to wrongful persecution of minorities; why he said real mothers stay home to raise kids and turn down empowering formal work and most importantly, why he cannot differentiate between corrupt people funding his campaign from the corruption he based his entire campaign on.

The one thing that gives me solace is that Imran Khan will come into power, or his party will, at a time #MeToo gains ground in Pakistan. In politics, women have always been told it doesn’t matter what a man does in his private life; who he hurt; who he abandoned; who he impregnated outside the law and who he battered. We are told to “separate the man from the greatness he pretends to have.”

#MeToo has unseparated it. It has asked, via a social media court, for men in power to stop hiding under the garb of popularity and to stop violating women and getting away with it.

Imran Khan can court the religious right; marry a woman of purdah and ask that minority groups are punished all he wants, everyone will still pay heed to the fact that he is untrustworthy to those he makes promises to. The private is now political because private lives of leaders are public domain and therefore cannot be hypocritical anymore. Private lives that reek of mistrust and exploitation and double-lives are going to reflect a double-speak in government. It will reflect intellectual corruption. The economic cost is huge.

In an interview to DW, Imran Khan said the problem of minority persecution is a “small issue.” He said the real issue is malnutrition and economy. It made for a good sound-bite to the media but it made for a terrible philosophy in a leader. No citizen of Pakistan, once persecuted by the state, is to be diminished. Not women, not transgenders, not religious minorities and not the poor.

Someone I respect as a political opinion maker said this to me: “Imran Khan is a tribe of trolls and the leader of a violent cult. He will be prime minister, but he will never be respected.”

On July 26, 2018 I hope, for the sake of Pakistan, this statement is wrong and that Imran Khan gains the respect of the weak marginalized classes of Pakistan. We are only as strong as our weakest link.




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