The Opposition Should Use This Moment to Reform Not Polarise Pakistani Politics
Pakistani opposition parties have formed the Pakistani Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance to dismantle Imran Khan’s government. However, this will not be the first time that the opposition in Pakistani politics will mobilise to remove a prime minister. In the previous government, Imran Khan used the Panama-gate fiasco to delegitimize Nawaz Sharif’s premiership, which ultimately led to his ouster. In 2011, Nawaz Sharif raised the issue of memogate scandal to taint the validity of Yousaf Raza Gillani’s premiership. Ultimately Gillani was fired by the Supreme Court. No prime minister in Pakistan’s history has completed his/her term, and if the PDM’s goal is to remove PM Imran Khan from office before he completes his term, then the opposition will be doing a disservice to democratic norms.
As the opposition gears to take on Imran Khan’s government, it should surround its rhetoric around the shortcomings of the system, the failures of the PTI government, and work to ensure that the 2023 general elections are free and fair. The failure of Khan’s government in delivering the “naya Pakistan” he promised along with his government’s inclination to use their power for the purposes of political vendetta has enraged the electorate. It has also created a vacuum of leadership. The opposition has the option of to fill in this vacuum by exerting all their resources towards removing Khan from office, or use this moment to democratize Pakistan.
President Kennedy in his book, Why England Slept, explained how Hitler exploited the circumstances in post-world war I Germany to assert his power over the country. He wrote, “the subsequent inflation period of 1924 and the economic collapse of 1931 combined to make the German nation fertile ground for new ideas. Hitler, therefore, found it easy to convince the people that their way back to the top in Europe was through national regimentation… a policy of rearmament”. Unlike Hitler in post-world war I Germany, the Pakistani opposition should not use the angst of the Pakistani populace to grab power, and should not polarize the country over the elected versus selected debate. Instead, it should make their movement about pressuring the Imran Khan government to bring transparency in his accountability drive, and develop an electoral process with the level of transparency that ensures free and fair election in 2023.
The opposition is likely to argue that Imran Khan should not have the opportunity to complete his term by highlighting how he is a “selected” Prime Minister, who made his way to office with the help “unidentified forces”. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, in his first speech in the national assembly congratulated Imran Khan by referring to him as “Prime Minister-select”. Bilawal is not the only member of the opposition who has attached the label of Prime Minister-select to Imran Khan. Multiple members of the opposition have hurled the label of “selected” to Imran Khan. Whether or not Imran Khan made his way to the Prime Minister office’s by employing undemocratic means, if he completes his term, Pakistani politics break away from the bad precedent of not allowing its Prime Minister to complete his term.
The opposition should educate the electorate about the failure of Imran Khan’s campaign promises that aimed at uplifting the standard of living of the Pakistani citizenry. With rising inflation levels, and constrained economic opportunities, the opposition can easily make the case that Imran Khan’s “Naya Pakistan” has failed to combat the hardships being faced by Pakistanis. The opposition can then transform this awareness campaign into a community organizing activity, which can be used for their campaign activities in general elections 2023.
The opposition parties have also claimed that the 2018 general was a rigged election with numerous polling irregularities and fraudulent practices. The opposition should use this movement to demand election reforms that promise free and fair elections. They should highlight the irregularities in the electoral process that strip the value of a citizen’s vote. The opposition should suggest methods that can be employed to prevent any form of election day rigging.
One of many slogans made by the opposition is to protect people’s voting power. However, the onus now lies with the opposition, whether they want to educate the electorate about the power of the vote and work to develop a system that protects it sanctity, or to act like opportunists who want to rush to power.
The author is a graduate student of U.S. Foreign policy at The George Washington University.