Two-and-a-half cheers for Pakistan, South Asia’s democratic early adopter
The new year is young and there are lots of elections around the world on the calendar, but there is reason to wonder: will Pakistan be the biggest surprise of 2024?
Consider what just happened.
The Pakistani army’s allegedly preferred candidate for prime minister didn’t win the February 8 election. Instead, Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N party are reduced to rooting around to cobble together a coalition government.
The politician thrown out of office in 2022 and into jail – multiple charge sheets and convictions a secure ball and chain – remains enormously popular in the country. Though Imran Khan and his PTI party have been in bad odour with the army and PTI was not allowed to run as a political entity, nor to use its cricket bat symbol on ballots, Mr Khan’s candidates won.
PTI candidates are now the largest bloc. The PML-N is at number two. The Pakistan People’s Party of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal is at number three.
How did this come to pass in Pakistan, about which ‘tis said, most countries have an army, but Pakistan’s army has a country?
Ahead of the election, analysts said Mr Sharif, who has had his run-ins with the army and done jail time too, had secured the military’s backing. Though Mr Sharif denied it, a stitch-up seemed to be in the offing.
And yet, and yet, candidates affiliated with Mr Khan won. Street protests in favour of Mr Khan’s PTI have been loud and proud in the days after the election.
Is the army losing ground in Pakistan?
Or is the Pakistani voter feeling empowered?
More bizarre yet, a third question: might Pakistan have been an early adopter of positive AI in politics? After all, PTI made innovative use of social media platforms, producing AI-generated campaign video speeches that made it seem as if Mr Khan was addressing voters rather than incarcerated.
Whatever happened, an election everyone dismissed as predictable has been a riotous dance of democracy.
There is much to celebrate.