Although Imran Khan has now called off protests because of the terrorist attack in Peshawar, he has said he will continue the protests later on.
The protest movement led by Pakistani Tehreeki Insaf (PTI) chair Imran Khan has led to a partial shutdown of Lahore, a strike in Karachi, and protests in Islamabad. Khan has threatened to paralyze the country on December 18 if his demands for an electoral inquiry into alleged vote rigging in the May 2013 election are not met. Although demands for electoral transparency are important and legitimate protest can help to bring about change, Khan’s current ultimatum only serves to subvert Pakistani democracy.
Khan’s central argument is that the May 2013 elections had massive vote rigging. While some issues existed with the elections, the European Union Election Observation noted that:
“Despite escalating militant attacks, and procedural shortcomings, the electoral process progressed with high levels of competition, a marked increase in voter participation, and overall acceptance of the outcome. The electoral reform undertaken in the last few years, particularly in regards to the leadership of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the electoral roll, provided for a significantly improved process.”
This report goes on to highlight both the strengths and failures of the election, but ultimately concludes that the election was generally free and fair.
This report contradicts Khan’s assertions and demonstrates that Pakistan is continuing to improve its electoral process. This commitment to developing a transparent electoral process will develop over time. Demanding immediate revolutionary change will not bring about complete transparency and will instead weaken nascent political structures.
Pakistani democracy is fragile and continued protests only serve to weaken the political system and country as a whole. The political system has only just begun to recover from the Musharraf dictatorship and the May 2013 elections were a positive step forward towards democratic consolidation. However, Khan continues to divide the country, waste precious political capital, and hurt Pakistan’s economic recovery through continued protests.
The biggest problem with Khan’s current gambit is that he is subverting Pakistani democracy through an increasingly unconstrained protest movement. These protests are hurting the average Pakistani and disrupting their way of life. His actions delegitimize the electoral process by encouraging democracy through mob rule. Democracy is about compromise and justice, not perpetual protest and subversion. Khan should remember this before following through on his threat to shut down the country.
This is the third part of a series of articles I've written on the fall 2014 democracy protests in Pakistan. The other pieces can be found here and here.