Pakistani media—after a brief foray into unnecessary sensationalism over the Feb. 8 general elections—has rightly reverted to an “advisory” stance, urging all political parties to adopt reconciliation and avoid any steps that lead to further instability. This is essential to reversing the intolerance damaging Pakistan’s democracy, as well as polarization, which rejects any political opposition, often ending in violence. Abusive language, an increasing hallmark of Pakistani politics, also points to intolerance that negates the democracy Pakistan seeks to avoid past despotism. Adding to the country’s woes is all this occurring in the backdrop of resurgent terrorism; a weak economy; rampant inflation; and growing concerns from climate change. A weak state cannot possibly fend against all these factors to highlight the state’s decline.
The only solution is a return to normal democratic conduct, which appears unlikely as the contested results of the Feb. 8 elections point to further intolerance and polarization. This is all-the-more tragic in light of pre-election indications of senior politicians pledging to reverse course. PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif said he had “forgiven his opponents and left the matter to Allah”; PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had promised to end the “politics based on division and hatred”; even PTI leader Gohar Ali Khan had claimed his party had “no fight” with anyone. Unfortunately, seems to have been dashed after Feb. 8, with the PTI returning to the spirit of intolerance espoused by its founder, Imran Khan, and refusing to seek any coalition that would enable it to form government with the number of MNA-elects it has secured.
This entire process has placed a big question mark over the public’s trust in the credibility of its leadership and the political process. Resolution requires legislation in the form of major electoral reforms, which might not be possible in the hung parliament emerging after the polls. A key point to remember is that the sovereignty of states is determined by the high moral stance of their institutions over their subjects, with the electoral process assuring the circularity of smooth transfer of power as per the will of the people. Free and fair elections are essential to achieving this and establishing the legitimacy of any government. For Pakistan, it does not appear these conditions will be met at any point in the near future.