Middle class bolsters Pakistan’s fragile democracy


Pakistan, often in the headlines for terrorism, coups and poverty, has developed something else in recent years: a burgeoning middle class that is fueling economic growth and bolstering a fragile democracy, The Wall Street Journal reports:

The 2013 election marked the first democratic transition from one elected government to another. The big winners were two parties of the middle class: the Pakistan Muslim League-N of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Mr. Sharif formed the government, appealing to a business constituency with his focus on private sector-led economic growth. Mr. Khan’s previously marginal party, which has the biggest proportion of college graduate voters, campaigned on improving public services and fighting graft.

Ijaz Gilani, chairman of pollster Gallup Pakistan, said that the salaried middle class will pressure the government to improve poor public services.

“You cannot move forward with weak governance, and bypassing the state, by relying on individual empowerment alone,” Mr. Gilani said.

But the case of five missing bloggers highlights the fragility of civil liberties and rule of law, notes Raza Rumi (right), a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Throughout Pakistan’s history, dissent and free speech have been muzzled by a state that inherited a repressive legal framework from the British colonizers who ruled the Indian subcontinent until 1947. Journalists, poets, intellectuals and many politicians who questioned the state were labeled traitors, sometimes jailed or exiled, and on occasion killed. Almost every Pakistani government — military or civilian — has tried to control and manipulate the news media, he writes for The New York Times:

That kind of control has become more difficult as print and electronic media have expanded in the past decade and a half. Since the deregulation of electronic media in 2002, Pakistan has gone from three to 89 television channels. The state’s monopoly of the airwaves is over. Noisy talk shows regularly challenge the elected governments and their policies. But when it comes to the military, journalists and commentators are cautious, often indulging in self-censorship. Laws governing freedom of speech and the news media are vague, and their enforcement is arbitrary; critics are often accused of endangering national security.


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