The contemporary world is witnessing a tide of democratic recession at the hands of majoritarianism and populism. The latter, after helping Donald Trump win the US presidency, all the while questioning the validity of liberal democracy in Europe, has now knocked on Pakistan’s door. The unusual rise of Imran Khan in the country is being interpreted as the arrival of the world famous ‘make (insert country name) great again’ moment for Pakistan.On the eve of the 2018 general elections, there had been a heightened debate about the prevailing political practices. It led many to believe that Pakistan was defying the principles of liberal democracy, and heading towards a Turkish or Chinese model of a centralized system in which the 18th Amendment might be abolished, and provincial autonomy undermined. In fact, it is the failure of democracy to keep its promises and capitalist control of economy that give way to the rise of populism.Scholars of democracy like Larry Diamond and Samuel P. Huntington, while discussing the social origins of democracy, described three basic requisites for democracy in a society: A powerful state, rule of law, and democratic accountability. This piece analyses how Pakistan’s rudimentary democracy, instead of consolidating itself, succumbed to populism. First, for democracy to take roots, states must be strong enough to enforce its writ. The government must be held responsible for the provision of basic needs to its citizens, and should be accountable to the people. They should also be able to defend its interests domestically and externally.Unfortunately, today’s Pakistan is facing a rising and hostile India, an unwelcoming Afghanistan, as well as a deteriorating relationship with USA and the Middle East. On the domestic front, it is faced by the challenges of ethno-nationalism, religious militancy, sectarianism, political polarization, and above all social instability. Why? Democracy may have been an inclusive arrangement in other parts of Europe. In Pakistan, political parties are undemocratic in their composition, confined to region or province, and have sectarian and religious affiliations. They use divisive cards to retain their already held constituencies. Ethnic, Islamic, and secular cards produce best results under a conflictual political culture within national politics.Imran Khan, using his persona of an ‘outsider’, has been quite successful in making people believe that the traditional politicians have failed to address their issues and only he has the solutionsSecond, implementation of rule of Law is another imperative for democracy. Nobody should be above the law. However, Pakistani democracy is a mixture of elitists, feudals, bureaucrats and industrialists who ensure that the powerful stay in power, at the expense of the common man. They use state institutions to consolidate and legitimize their own economic and political gains with impunity that weakens our institutions and leads to inequality and unrest.Finally, democratic accountability for the spirit of self-rule. Unfortunately, in impoverished and illiterate Pakistan, the sanctity of the vote, sense of accountability among politicians, and objective transparency among institutions are non-existent. Rigging and other malpractices ranging from buying votes to the changing loyalties of the elected officials is rampant.The viability of democracy in the absence of a certain level of economic well-being and literacy is questionable. In the post-ideological era, the developing world is still ripe with security issues. In the age of hybrid warfare, threats like poverty, dissent, social instability, ethno-nationalism, and provincialism, do not emanate from the external world but, from within the country.In the digital age, societies are imploding from within. States use information warfare by igniting dissent and ethno-nationalism against the state. Social media revolutionaries cause unrest against the interests of the state. So-called Arab Spring and resultant violence in the Middle East is self-evident.Therefore, countries like Pakistan always prioritize social stability and security over democracy. Once that achieved, society can then move towards liberal democracy.Defining populism is difficult, but it drove the UK out of the European Union, and got Donald Trump elected as US president. From prosperous Sweden to bankrupt Greece; populism is rising everywhere. According to Robert O. Keohane, populism has two characteristics – left and right wing. Left wing populists want to squeeze the rich in the name of equality; whereas, right wing populists want to promote trade liberalization in the name of growth and globalization.Imran Khan does not completely fit into a single category but, shares some characteristics of right wing populists. Using his persona of an ‘outsider’, he has been quite successful in making people believe that the traditional politicians have failed to address their issues and only he has the solutions.He cannot afford to be a left-wing populist as Pakistan has never been a true socialist state, nor has Imran ever leaned left. But, bitterness towards the elite, traditional politics and existing institutions are the common features among American, European, and Pakistani populists. Imran’s disdain for Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and disregard for the parliament and election commission is self-evident.Imran’s ideology is built around Imran himself. He glorifies his personal virtues and victories, creating a personality cult that places him above state institutions. He supports and promotes conservative social and religious values because he pretends to act on behalf of the neglected people.Traditional political class must realize that crying foul over the election results will not benefit them, nor will it harm Imran. The latter will continue to enjoy legitimacy the way his predecessors enjoyed in the past through the electoral process.The latest generation of populists, comprising of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Imran Khan share a dangerous commonality. They all use the power of the people and their own personalities to undermine the rule of law and independence of judiciary, because in the populist case, these take precedence over rational politics.Pakistan is at a crossroads. It has to decide whether to emulate the political and economic models of states like China and Russia, who have models divergent to liberal democracy, or to go down the path of the US and enforce liberal democracy.The writer is a PhD candidate at NDU IslamabadPublished in Daily Times, August 17th 2018.