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August 2018 - Populism or Status-Quo in Pakistan's Election?

The Brief

August 13, 2018

Populism or Status-Quo in Pakistan's Election?

Strong turnout overshadowed signs of strife and possible election irregularities as voters in Pakistan elected former cricket star Imran Khan the next prime minister. Experts debated the implications of Khan's victory for Pakistan's political future and foreign policy in the region.

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Global Policy Madiha Afzal wrote for Brookings the outcome was driven by dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians as the people chose "a populist who says that he will deliver social services—education and health—for all." Read more

Others questioned the legitimacy of the outcome, citing widespread voter intimidation. Associate Professor of the Practice of South Asia Studies Joshua White said in the Wall Street Journal he sees the weaponization of the judiciary and the manipulation of the media as evidence that the military cleared the way for Khan's ascendance. Read more

Drawing comparisons to U.S. President Donald Trump, observers asked if Khan's outsider status will make him an effective agent of change. Academic Director of Global Policy Daniel Markey said on BBC, "He doesn't really have any governing experience and his political party has been cobbled together from a lot of people who have been, frankly, corrupt in the past." View video

As for its ties with the U.S., the relationship hinges on Pakistan's support for the war in Afghanistan. Foreign Policy Institute Fellow Shamila Chaudhary told the New York Times "Khan and the Pakistani military will want Pakistan to have a very strong role in shaping Afghanistan’s future. I don’t think the U.S. is angling for Pakistan to have a strong role." Read more

The Brief highlights Johns Hopkins SAIS expertise on current events and is produced monthly by the Office of Marketing and Communications.