Imran Khan’s Populist Politics and the Dangers of Political Demagoguery: Lessons from History and Questions for Western Democracies

Political DiscourseImran Khan's Populist Politics and the Dangers of Political Demagoguery: Lessons from...

By Shazia Anwer Cheema

A series of interviews of Imran Khan with foreign media has been arranged by his lobbyists in North America and Europe and this is a very appropriate, politically sensible, and clever move. However, it can get risky if the interviewer is competent and impartial and that is exactly what happened in a recent interview of Imran Khan with DW Television which exposed a longstanding fact about Imran Khan that he is a populous political figure and he is intentionally abusing his popularity to threaten the state.


Related Link: Deutsche Welle further exposes lies of Imran Khan

This lead to the question of whether this is a unique phenomenon only exercised by Imran Khan, in fact by looking into recent history we can see many politicians who took the same road using their fame and popularity to bully the state.

Imran Khan is not the first and will not be the last who has threatened state law by saying that if any legal action will be taken against him he will instigate civil riots. There are examples available in history and the recent ones can be cited from Italy, Kenya, and the United States.

Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, faced numerous allegations of corruption and bribery during his political career. On many occasions, he hinted that his removal from power or legal actions against him could lead to civil unrest or destabilize the country. Former US President Trump is the most recent example and the May 9 incident was the most recent replica of what happened at Capitol Hills.

Another example can be taken from Kenya where Raila Odinga, former Prime Minister directed his supporters to attack state institutions in the aftermath of the 2007 elections and his supporters engaged in violent protests and riots, alleging electoral fraud and demanding his recognition as the rightful winner.

Illustration by Eva Bee and published in Guardian in article titled "Demagogues thrive by whipping up our fury. Here’s how to thwart them" written by George Monbiot
Illustration by Eva Bee and published in Guardian in the article titled “Demagogues thrive by whipping up our fury. Here’s how to thwart them” written by George Monbiot

Plato argues that when politicians prioritize their own popularity, they tend to make decisions that cater to the desires of the masses, even if those decisions are not in the best long-term interest of the state

These examples demonstrate instances where politicians have used the threat of civil unrest or mobilized their supporters to intimidate the legal system or deter investigations into their alleged misconduct. Therefore, whatever Imran Khan is doing, is neither new nor out of the box. PTI followers may keep believing that public reaction against the “corrupted” and “autocratic” states is a normal reaction. If we accept their point for some minutes and ask them about the Capitol Hills incident and the Italian example, they would start abusing us and calling our names because the PTI slur brigade has standing orders that whenever they confront logical discussion, they must engage the slur brigade immediately attacking the “enemies”.

West enjoys the fruits of true democracy and the Western manifesto of true democracy is guided by the Republica written by the famous philosopher Plato. According to my understanding Imran Khan is ruthlessly using his popularity to maneuver the legal system of Pakistan by threatening that any case of legal action against him will have an automatic reaction of riots and civil unrest, this prompts the question that are politicians like Imran Khan has any place in western democracy?

Will Western democracies accept such a populous political figure like Imran Khan who has been spreading baseless propaganda against state institutions and attacking them in practice and theory?

In Plato’s “Republic,” there is a discussion about the nature of political leadership and the dangers posed by politicians who prioritize their own popularity and influence over the well-being of the state. Plato presents a critique of such politicians and explores the negative consequences that can arise when power is misused. Plato argues that an operative and just society should be ruled by individuals who possess wisdom and knowledge, and who prioritize the common good over personal gains because the State should be able to govern with wisdom and virtue, rather than being swayed by the urges of popularity or personal ambition. Plato also expresses skepticism about politicians who rely on popularity and influence to gain power. He suggests that such politicians may be more concerned with their own interests and maintaining their position of authority than with the genuine welfare of the state. Plato argues that when politicians prioritize their own popularity, they tend to make decisions that cater to the desires of the masses, even if those decisions are not in the best long-term interest of the state and this is what we saw during 40 months’ rules of PTI and decision of supporting Afghan Taliban who brought anti-state TTP back to Pakistan to make PTI followers happy in KPK province.

PTI always injected fears among the public that the state of Pakistan (God forbids me) will crumble if Khan would not in power

Plato consistently warns of the potential for demagoguery, where politicians manipulate public opinion through rhetoric and appeals to emotions rather than rational discourse. He suggests that demagogues can easily manipulate the desires and fears of the people, exploiting their emotions for personal gain rather than seeking the truth or promoting justice and this was the design of PTI’s politics that always injected fears among the public that the state of Pakistan (God forbids me) will crumble if Khan would not be in power.

During his almost four years in office, Imran Khan flattened democratic norms by using presidential ordinances instead of using Parliament for legislation, made a mockery of political norms, attacked democratic institutions, sought to discredit government agencies, blamed others for his failures, and peddled baseless conspiracy theories.

Since Khan is removed through a vote of no confidence against him in April-May 2022, impartial media and academicians have warned that his scorched-earth effort to invalidate the change amounts to a new level of danger: the first he attempted coup d’etat in Pakistan Army to illegally come back into power and then placed judiciary against Pakistan Army and put innocent followers in front of loaded guns of soldiers, who fortunately did not succumb to his plans for a civil war in the country.

Just before a vote of no-confidence against him, he planned an autogolpe, or coup from the top by dissolving the National Assembly and getting the approval of the President of Pakistan to remain in power till further orders. Autogolpe is a form of coup d’état in which a government head, having come to power through legal means, tries to stay in power through illegal means. The leader may dissolve or controls the powers of the national legislature and unlawfully assume extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances. This move could be innovative for Pakistani politicians or the public but this a popular move if we have knowledge of global political history. After his failure in staging autogolpe, he decided to ruin every institution of the country, and his aggressive tone even in interviews with foreign media surely indicates that he does not respect or accept a political or democratic move that does not favor him. In the DW interview, he failed to answer why he was not ready to sit on the opposition benches after the 2013 election and after losing the majority in parliament in 2022. The interviewer reminded Khan that he always boycotted Assembly whenever he was not in power.

Now Pakistan will sooner or later face pressure from Western democracies for an “all-inclusive democracy” and not take any action against populous Imran Khan because his lobbyists working in the Western world are effectively conveying a fabricated version of “revengeful actions” against him. Since Pakistan Army has a long history of meddling in domestic politics therefore it is a soft target to face the brunt of propaganda effectively spread by Imran Khan.

I have a series of simple questions for Western democracies:

  • Will Western democracies accept such a populous political figure like Imran Khan who has been spreading baseless propaganda against state institutions and attacking them in practice and theory? He has been telling foreign media that Pakistan Army wanted to kill him and he had proof for this planning. However, when he was asked to appear in front of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) for producing evidence about his allegation against Pakistan Army for hatching a plan for his murder, he informed Joint Investigation Team that he had no proof and that someone told him that he would be killed by Pakistan Army. When he was asked to share the name of this “someone”, he said that he had forgotten the name of this someone.
  • Can Western democracies let such personality spread such unfounded allegations and blames against state institutions?
  • If action has been taken against the vandalism of Capitol Hills, then why not such action can be taken against those who attacked state installations and state symbols of honor in Pakistan?
  • If former President Trump can be tried, then why not Imran Khan?
  • Western democracies are built on the philosophy of Republica of Plato which has no place for such personalities who abuse their popularity and become dangerous for the state. Is Imran Khan not one of such political personalities who has been pronounced by philosophers as a “political danger” for the state?
  • If Western democracies are not ready for keeping a demagogue in their system like former US president Trump, then why should Pakistan compromise with such a personality for so-called “all-inclusive democracy”?
  • I am against accusing Western democracy of having double-standard but such democracies should practically show they do not have double standards.

In the end for the ready reference, I am providing the summary of various Western political philosophies which offer perspectives on politicians who bully or exert undue influence over the state itself. Here are a few examples:


Liberal political philosophy emphasizes the importance of individual rights, limited government, and the rule of law. From a liberal perspective, politicians who bully the state by exerting excessive influence or engaging in authoritarian practices are seen as a threat to individual freedom and the principles of liberal democracy. Liberalism emphasizes the need for checks and balances, separation of powers, and accountability mechanisms to prevent abuses of power.


Republican political philosophy emphasizes the idea of the res publica, the common good, or public interest. According to republicanism, politicians who bully the state by prioritizing their own interests over the common good are seen as corrupting the republic. Republicanism emphasizes civic virtue, public service, and the importance of elected representatives acting in the best interest of the people they serve.


Marxist political philosophy focuses on the relationship between power and socioeconomic class. From a Marxist perspective, politicians who bully the state are often seen as representing the interests of the ruling capitalist class and perpetuating social inequalities. Marxism advocates for the empowerment of the working class and the establishment of a socialist or communist system that eliminates exploitative relationships and promotes equality.


Anarchist political philosophy rejects the existence of a centralized state altogether. Anarchists argue that politicians who bully the state reinforce hierarchical power structures and infringe upon individual autonomy and self-governance. Anarchism promotes decentralized forms of decision-making and direct participation in political processes to avoid the concentration of power and potential abuse by politicians.

In light of the above-mentioned political philosophies, now it is the reader to decide if is there any place for Imran Khan in these political philosophies.


Note: Writer Shazia Anwer Cheema is an author, columnist, and foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media. She is a doctoral student and researcher in semiotics and philosophy of communication at Charles University in Prague. She can be reached at her: Twitter @ShaziaAnwerCh Email:


The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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