Saturday, July 28, 2018

#ElectionIrregularities - Pakistan’s hardline religious right helped elect a world cricket champion to office

By Angad Singh and Meher Ahmad 
Imran Khan, the world champion cricketer, claimed victory in the Pakistani elections on Thursday. He wants to turn Pakistan into an “Islamic welfare state” — something like Scandinavian socialism with an Islamic twist. But his Islamic support also has a twist.
Khan’s past lends him some credibility to making Pakistan a “welfare state.” He’s gathered funding to build a charitable cancer hospital, and successfully framed himself as a trustworthy candidate after nailing the last Prime Minister on corruption charges.
Still, the “Islamic” aspect of his vision comes more from political necessity than any deeply held religious conviction.
Khan was educated in the West, married multiple times, and had made a reputation for himself in London’s nightclubs during his youth. But since then, he’s spent 22 years in politics learning that the religious right is a powerful voting bloc in Pakistan that can’t be ignored.
Before the election, Khan’s party had 34 seats against the ruling party’s 178, and they needed to pull off a major upset to win. Khan cobbled together a winning coalition largely by on-boarding “electable” politicians, who command large and loyal bases.
In Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous state, many of these “electables” represented voters who felt the old government failed to represent their religious values. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, for example, built his political career on the defense of Islam. On election night, he delivered a win for Khan’s coalition from Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s fourth largest city.
“Influential people, in the end, come with me, when they know the poor people have gone with Sheikh Rasheed. They have no option” he told VICE News.
In this case, Khan was the one with no option. Now he’s answerable to Sheikh Rasheed’s constituents, like Maulana Hafiz Iqbal Rizvi, the Imam of Rawalpindi’s largest mosque. Rizvi and his followers back candidates like Sheikh Rasheed because they prioritize defending Islam as a matter of politics.
They felt the previous government made decisions that were anti-Islamic, like the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, an assassin who had murdered the governor of Punjab in the name of Islam.
Shahbaz Taseer, the son of the assassinated governor, believes Khan’s strategy of pandering to religious conservatism is dangerous, because it mainstreams religious fundamentalism. “My father died fighting against this mentality,” Taseer told VICE News. “If a mainstream political party wants the votes of a killer, it will come back to haunt every single Pakistani.”
He thinks Khan might not fully understand the people to whom he’ll now be held accountable.
“It's this intolerant atmosphere that PTI has created for this election. It's basically to win. But what they don't understand is this hate will consume them.“

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