An electoral revolution that dethroned old political dynasties and the extremist fringe
Imran Khan has claimed victory for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) in an historic election for Pakistan. The PTI represents a populist swing away from the legacy mainstream parties PML-N and PPP that both fared poorly during the election. Additionally, religious extremist parties fared particularly poorly compared to the previous two elections and also when contrasted with the expectations that many theocratic parties set for themselves prior to polling day. Lastly, the deeply controversial MQM ended up losing both seats and electoral momentum in its Karachi heartland, surrendering its erstwhile momentum to PTI.
Likewise, the incumbent PML-N not only fared poorly in the national vote in their traditional Punjab stronghold but even in the Punjab assembly election, Imran Khan’s PTI has proved formidable. Finally in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which since 2013 has been governed by a PTI led provincial council, women were able to cast their votes for the first time. As was expected PTI heavily dominated throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Imran Khan’s promises to the nation
While the final votes are still being counted, PTI’s decisive victory across Pakistan’s regions and major cities is indicative of a wider moment for radical change that has been embraced throughout the nation. In this sense, Imran Khan’s victory is a genuine national victory for all of the regions of Pakistan.
Imran Khan began his victory speech by thanking voters throughout Pakistan for defying threats and turning up at polling stations throughout the 25th of July. In particular, Imran Khan paid tribute to the people of the province of Balochistan who came out to vote in spite of a Daesh claimed terrorist attack early in the day.
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister continued highlighting his goals for reform in Pakistan stating that resources will be more evenly distributed between and within Pakistan’s diverse provinces, while offering young people a better education and job opportunities represents the key to a better future for the country as a whole. Imran Khan promised that the perennially difficult matter of effectively collecting and distributing the proceeds of taxation will be dramatically improved under a PTI government. He also pledged to turn opulent government owned buildings into either public education facilities or tourist attractions that can become revenue generating sources for the wider nation.
Turning to Pakistan’s neighbours, Imran Khan said that under his government, relations with China will continue to strengthen and that it will be a fundamental goal to learn from China how to effectively alleviate poverty. He further stated that it is essential for Pakistan to seize upon the opportunities inherent in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) so that Chinese investment into Pakistan can work for the benefit of all citizens. Finally, he said that his government will learn from China how to control corruption – a persistent problem through Pakistan’s many branches of government and civil service.
Turning to Afghanistan, Imran Khan stated that “If there is peace in Afghanistan – there will be peace in Pakistan”. He pledged to work to develop good and open relations with a traditionally hostile neighbour in a spirit of peace and pan-Asian cooperation.
While a long time opponent of America’s strategy in Afghanistan and its violence prone border with Pakistan, Imran Khan stated that he seeks “mutually beneficial” relations with the United States, thus clarifying his position as a proponent of multipolarity and good relations with all major powers including those with a complex and lopsided relationship with Pakistan.
Turning to India, Imran Khan stated that he hopes for improved relations with a traditionally hostile neighbour and found it unfortunate that throughout the election campaign Indian media described him as a “Bollywood villain”. He further said, “If the Indian government is ready for improved relations with us then so are we. If they take one step towards us we will take two, but they need to take that one step“.
Imran Khan also pledged to improve relations with Iran while maintaining historically good ties to Saudi Arabia. In this sense, he offered to act as a neutral party to the disputes of the Middle East.
A long awaited victory
Imran Khan entered politics in 1996 when he formed his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (The Pakistan Movement of Justice). At the time, Imran Khan was already an international celebrity due to his career as a star cricketer, but in terms of politics he was seen widely as an outsider with some even calling PTI a “vanity project”.
Since 1996, Pakistan has faced a war with India in 1999 – the Kargil War, a military coup led by Pervez Musharraf that same year, the fomentation of new extremist terror groups since Musharraf joined George W. Bush’s so-called war on terror, a democratic transition in 2008 whose poll PTI boycotted and since then, the establishment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which looks to revitalise the long term sustainable economic development of every region of Pakistan as the country forms the south Asian epicentre of the One Belt–One Road initiative.
While PTI came third at a national level in the 2013 general elections (albeit with in striking distance of the centre-left PPP), during Pakistan’s last major elections Imran Khan’s party won control of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – Pakistan’s most politically unstable region. While many felt that PTI did not have the tools to govern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa effectively, the party has largely succeeded in bringing largely good government to a place that had previously been classed as “ungovernable”.
In the run-up to this week’s election, Imran Khan consistently drew large crowds in all provinces of the country while in the all important Punjab province where 60% of Pakistanis live. As a result millions of Punjabi voters deserted PML-N for PTI. In particular, PTI has achieved a broad victory because the party has been able to highlight the dramatic disparity between the rich northern portion of Punjab and the economically neglected southern portions of the province, promising to rectify this intra-regional inequality if the party is victorious at a national level. This was a key factor behind PTI’s strong showing in PML-N’s Punjab heartland.
Likewise, many of Imran Khan’s personal predictions and policy proposals have in fact been vindicated at a national level. Imran Khan has always expressed scepticism regarding a lopsided relationship with the United States. Imran Khan has condemned Washington’s “war on terror” as an exercise in futility that has poured fuel on many regional fires that Pakistanis have suffered from disproportionately.
Iman Khan has instead proposed regional cooperation mechanisms for fighting extremism while also working to integrate wayward Pakistanis back into the fold of mainstream politics and society. Rather than viewing extremism as a Manichaean or unilateral struggle, he has urged for dangerous terror groups to be separated from those living in economically depressed regions where a lack of life options forces the young and under-educated into the arms of dangerous groups. Such a strategy has tended to work in helping to normalise life in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, thus setting an important precedent for the nation. For Imran Khan, economic and educational opportunities have been central to his proposals for ending the scourge of extremism.
As PTI have campaigned actively in all provinces of Pakistan more thoroughly than during any previous election, it is not difficult to see why PTI’s numbers have risen substantially in opinion polls in recent months. While the incumbent PML-N remains a formidable political machine, its scandal prone leaders have taken a toll on the party’s prestige.
Currently, the party’s putative leader Nawaz Sharif remains behind bars after a court found him guilty of financial wrongdoings regarding the purchase of a large property in central London with funds that could not be accounted for. Nawaz’s sister Maryam is also behind bars for the same matter while current PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif has blamed a conspiracy between the military and high court judges for holding back the electoral fortunes of the political juggernaut that is PML-N.
A populist wave vs. “rigging” allegations
From an international perspective, the PTI victory represents part of a wider international wave that has seen so-called third way or populist forces score dramatic election victories over old elite political machines and parties. In the early 2000s, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erodgan led a wave of populist political energy against old legacy parties, particularly the CH Party. Erdogan’s sustained success as a popular leader who is able to win election after election will prove to be highly instructive to Imran Khan as he makes his long awaited leap from opposition to government. This is especially true as Imran Khan seeks to transform Pakistan in many of the same ways in which Erdogan successfully transformed Turkey since 2003.
Other leaders to emerge as part of the wider contemporary populist wave against old established parties and leaders include President Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines, the new Malaysian governing coalition led by political veteran Mahathir Mohamad, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s recent presidential triumph in Mexico, Italy’s new left/right/populist coalition, the Brexit vote in the UK, Viktor Orban’s recent populist victories in Hungary and the changing political dynamics of the United States which were highlighted by Donald Trump’s unexpected victory against Hillary Clinton.
In this sense, Imran Khan and PTI’s victory follows international trends where by parties offering an alternative to old legacy parties continue to win favour with the electorates across national frontiers. In spite of this, the losing parties in this week’s vote, including the legacy PML-N and PPP parties continue to allege vote rigging in favour of PTI.
That being said, allegations of electoral fraud by losing parties in Pakistani elections is commonplace. What has made this year’s predictable allegations all the more potent is the fact that a party constantly rejected by mainstream and fringe political parties alike has stormed to victory, thus proving a major upset among those who are often faced with allegations of political entitlement. In this sense, Iman Khan’s opponents are now engaged in a similar strategy to that which Donald Trump’s opponents were in the US – albeit under different ideological circumstances and in a wholly different political system. Nevertheless, comparisons are both inevitable and accurate from the perspective of understanding the psychological motivations of Imran Khan’s opponents to try and diminish his historic victory.
Imran Khan in his victory speech pledged full transparency in investigating any and all alleged irregularities at any polling place throughout the country.
While the losing parties are venting their frustration in the form of allegations against PTI with an implied mutual allegation against the Establishment (the Pakistani military), when examined from a wider perspective, PTI’s victory appears to be fully consistent with the aspirations of a Pakistani people who have been persistently let down by the main parties as well as fringe parties on both the secular and theocratic extremes.
Imran Khan’s pledge to clean up politics, to pursue foreign policy multilateralism in an age where Pakistan has been unilaterally victimised by terrorism and the states who fund this terrorism as well as a wider pledge to elevate the material condition of the people based on a Chinese model with Pakistani characteristics, helps explain why after decades in opposition, the time has come for Imran Khan and PTI.
The old political system in Pakistan has been dealt a populist blow from which it may never recover. Change in the truest sense has finally come to Pakistan.
The full victory speech
Below is the full transcript of Imran Khan’s victory speech:
“When I came into politics, I wanted Pakistan to become the kind of country that our leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted.
This election is a historic election in Pakistan. In this election, people have sacrificed a lot.
There was terrorism in this election. I want to especially praise the people of Balochistan, the kind of difficulties that they had to face. The way they came out to vote, I want to thank all those people.
I saw the scenes on TV, the way the elderly and disabled came out in the heat to vote, the way overseas Pakistanis came out to vote … I want to praise them because they strengthened our democracy.
In the run-up to the elections, Ikram Gandapur [candidate] was killed by a suicide bomber. Haroon Bilour [another candidate] was killed in a suicide attack. Despite all that, this election process was completed.
I want to thank the security forces … my party members, where we had suicide attacks in 10 locations, I want to commend all of them…
…Thank god we have been successful and got a mandate.
Briefly, I want to describe the kind of Pakistan I want to see … look, my inspiration is the Prophet Muhammad, the city of Medina that he founded, how it was based on humanity. For the first time, the state was formed based on humanitarianism.
That is my inspiration, that Pakistan should have that kind of humanitarian state, where we take responsiblity for our weaker classes.
The weak are dying of hunger. I will try my best – all of my policies will be made to raise our weaker classes, for our labourers … for our poor farmers, who work all year and get no money … 45 percent of children have stunted growth, they don’t reach the right height, or their brains don’t develop.
There are countries with less than 25 million people, and we have that many children out of school.
My effort will be that we try our best to raise these people up, that all of our policies be focused on human development. I want the whole country toi think like this.
No country can prosper when there is a small island of rich people, and a sea of poor.
I want all of Pakistan to unite. I want to make it clear that anyone who was against us, who voted against us, I think the kind of personal attacks that I have seen, no one has seen those, but I have forgotten all of those, they are behind me. … my cause is far bigger than just my person.
We will not do any kind of political victimising. We will establish supremacy of the law … whoever violates the law, we will act against them.
Our state institutions will be so strong that they will stop corruption. Accountability will start with me, then my ministers, and then it will go from there.
We will set an example of how the law is the same for everyone. If the West is ahead of us today, it is because their laws are not discriminatory …. this will be our biggest guiding princple.
The biggest challenge we are facing is the edconomic crisis … we have never had such a huge fiscal deficit. All of this is because our economy is going down because of dysfunctional iinstitutions.
We need to make an atmosphere for doing business.
I think our greatest asset is our overseas Pakistanis … we will fix governance and invite them to invest here.
Our second problem is unemployment. We have the second youngest population in the world … they need jobs.
Where Pakistan is standing right now, I am telling you that we will run Pakistan like it has never been run before … and we will start with ourselves.
All rulers who have come so far, they spend money on themselves …. the way our ruling elite spends money, how will anyone pay tax?
People don’t pay taxes, because they see how our ruling elite spends that money [on themselves].
I promise that I will protect the people’s tax money. We will cut all of our expenses. I am telling you here that the PM House, this huge mansion … in a country where there are so many poor people, I would be embarassed to live there.
We will use as an educational institute … all governor houses will be used for the public. We might convert some of them into hotels, as we did in Nathia Gali.
My point is that what we have seen in Pakistan so far, the way the ruling elite has lived off the country’s taxes, I will end this.
We have to escape this economic crisis. No one is coming to save us.
We will strengthen the anti-corruption institutions … and hopefully, our farmers, the whole government will work to make sure the farmers make money somehow.
We will help small businesses. We will bring in new things to bring in employment for young people.
The next thing I want to talk about is that we face a very big foreign policy challenge … if any country needs peace right now, then it is Pakistan.
Our economic crisis is such that we want to have good relations with all our neighbours … China gives us a huge opportunity through CPEC, to use it and drive investment into Pakistan.
We want to learn from China how they brought 700 million people out of poverty … The other thing we can learn from China is … the measures they have taken against corruption, how they have arrested more than 400 ministers there.
Then there is Afghanistan, a country that has suffered the most in the war on terror. Afghanistan’s people need peace. We want peace there. If there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be peace in Pakistan. We will make every effort to achieve peace there.
We want to have open borders with Afghanistan one day.
With the US, we want to have a mutually beneficial relationship … up until now, that has been one way, the US thinks it gives us aid to fight their war … we want both countries to benefit, we want a balanced relationship.
We want to improve ties with Iran. Saudi Arabia is a friend who has always stood by us in difficult times. Our aim will be that whatever we can do for conciliation in the Middle East, we want to play that role. Those tensions, that fight, between neighbours, we will try to bring them together.
On India: I was saddened in the last few days, how the media in India portrayed me as a Bollywood film villain. It seemed like India feared every thing bad would happen if Imran Khan came into power. I am the Pakistani who has the most familiarity with India, I have been all over that country.
I think it will be very good for all of us if we have good relations with India. We need to have trade ties, and the more we will trade, both countries will benefit. The unfortunate truth is that Kashmir is a core issue, and the situation in Kashmir, and what the people of Kashmir have seen in the last 30 years …. they have really suffered.
Pakistan and India’s leadership should sit at a table and try to fix this problem. It’s not going anywhere.
We are at square one right now [with India]. If India’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you step forweard one step, we will take two steps forward.
I say this with conviction, this will be the most important thing for the subcontient, for both countries to have friendship.
To end, I pledge to my Pakistani nation that I will prove that we can fix our governance system in this country, we can also bring a governance system that can make the people’s lives easier.
I pledge this to you today, it will be my foremost aim to remain as simple as possible … in this poor country, these huge symbols, these mansions and protocols, on public’s money, I pledge that there will be a different kind of governance in Pakistan.
I am saying to you today, that for the first time, Pakistan’s policies won’t be for the few rich people, it will be for the poor, for our women, for our muinorities, whose rights are not respected. My whole aim will be to protect our lower classes and to bring them up.
Finally, on rigging. Today political parties claim there was rigging. The first thing I will say is that this election commission was formed by the two main political parties, the PPP and PML-N. This was not a PTI election commission. I say to you today, if you say there was rigging in any one constituenciy, we will stand with you and aid in its investigation.
Today I say, in any constituency you want to investigate, we are ready to stand with you and investigate it. This is the cleanest election in Pakistan’s history”.