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Religious Populism in a Theo-democracy: Reconciling the Electoral Performance and Political Influence of Islamic Parties in Pakistan
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
Johann C. Chacko
SOAS, University of London, United States
Despite generally unimpressive electoral results, Pakistan’s self-identified Islamic parties have played a consistently outsized role in national political life. However, accounting for this mismatch has been a challenging task for scholars. This paper’s first contribution is to propose using indirectly elected and appointed positions to federal bodies, such as the Senate, cabinet and Council for Islamic Ideology to examine the political influence of Islamic parties, individually and collectively, over time. By comparing these indicators with the parties’ performance in general elections so far (1969-2018), we can identify when influence is substantially out of alignment with electoral performance. The data collected so far suggests that Islamic parties (a) perform best in elections when major mainstream opposition parties are suppressed and (b) enjoy the most disproportionate influence when governments suffer from weak mandates. How do we explain these results, given that Islamic parties have often withdrawn support from governments they benefited from legitimating? This paper argues that the institutionalisation of religious populism in the form of the Islamic Republic makes it difficult for the authorities to suppress or co-opt the Islamic parties, giving the latter considerable leverage with the incumbent government, mainstream opposition and state institutions alike. However, the collective influence of Islamic parties is constrained by their difficulty in maintaining consensus, given high levels of competition between the denominations they represent and weak party cohesion. This framework of religious populism and denominational politics offer a useful framework to analyse and explain religious politics elsewhere in Asia.