The danger Pakistan faces today is of democratic backsliding

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Maleeha Lodhi in Dawn: Polarization today characterizes the country. There are few if any precedents of this even though divisive politics is not new. This polarization has divided people, society and families as never before along intensely partisan lines. The brand of populist politics practised by PTI, with its either-with-us-or-against-us stance, has drawn rigid political battle lines especially with its leaders now casting all its opponents as venal, unpatriotic and pawns of foreign powers. Its narrative of being ousted from office by a foreign conspiracy finds ready believers among its base of angry urban youth who are willing to discard facts. This narrative also helps to delegitimize opponents in the eyes of its followers. The xenophobic nationalism purveyed by its leaders is sowing further division in the country.

Polarization and the narrative defining its contours has meant that politics has assumed the form of ferocious political warfare in which opponents have to be eliminated from the political scene in a terminal conflict and not competed with, much less accommodated. This take-no-prisoners approach has erased any middle or meeting ground and ruled out any possibility of bridging the divide. Extreme partisanship is making the working of the political system near impossible.

True that democracies elsewhere are also floundering in the face of intolerant populist forces polarizing their societies. But that only testifies to how democratic systems are being challenged because of weak commitment to democratic norms by demagogues, rising intolerance and lack of restraint in politics. In fact, democracy is rendered dysfunctional when denuded of the essential ingredients to make it work — tolerance, consensus and accommodating the interests and views of ‘others’. The danger Pakistan faces today is of democratic backsliding.

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