Liberal democracy, the one that is yoked to capitalism, already in hopeless disrepair worldwide, received another drubbing next door in Pakistan. With innovative audacity, the establishment attempted to play ‘Hamlet’ without the Prince of Denmark. The Prince, in this case, has been locked up in jail.

It happened like this.

The Pakistan Cricket Control Board produced a video clip on the history of Pakistan cricket. This was in preparation for the World Cup, being played by 10 teams across 48 matches in every available cricket stadium in India from October 5 to November 19.

The existence of the video was brought to popular notice by the legendary Pakistani fast bowler, Wasim Akram in a tweet. Soon upon landing in Sri Lanka to cover one of the warm up matches for the World Cup, Akram received what he described as the “greatest shock of my life”: he found the “great Imran Khan’s” name missing from the video.

And, Imran it was who, as captain, won the 1992 World Cup for Pakistan. How obviously malicious.

Whatever the political differences in Pakistan, said Akram, no one disputes the fact that Imran Khan is “an icon of world cricket and it was he who developed Pakistan into a strong unit in his time and gave us a pathway: PCB should delete the video and apologise to Imran Khan.”

Such spontaneous outburst from Wasim Akram, himself one of the all time greats of world cricket, could not have remained a solo reaction. Thousands of Akram’s followers who woke up to the scandal because of his tweet, have obviously saturated Twitter with protests. How long does it take for such anger to spill onto the street or simmer in the basement?

The strength of popular mobilisation behind the Tehreek e Insaf supremo must have hit the Pakistani establishment between the eyes. The PCB, in a state of funk, decided to take corrective action by resurrecting Imran – giving him his rightful place in the world cup 2023 promotional video.

The shoddy effort to deny Imran Khan a place in the cricketing universe is not dissimilar to the establishment hounding him out of the political turf on which Imran Khan happens to be the most popular politician in Pakistan’s history. Apparently the Board of Control for Cricket in India has measured up to their Pakistani counterpart. In their promotional video they have left out Babar Azam, world’s number one ODI batsman.

A bright 11th grade schoolboy, a cricket freak, stumped me with his question: “If Imran Khan is the most popular politician in Pakistan, why is he in jail?”

Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Establishments have increasingly replaced the people as arbiters of electoral outcome. If people had been the arbiters, Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom would have defeated their rivals by wide margins.

A ‘Fox News’ poll published in 2016 showed that Bernie Sanders had a +28 rating, above all US politicians on both sides of the political spectrum.

This prompted Trevor Timm of ‘The Guardian’ to do some plain speaking: “one would have thought with numbers like that Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering that the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans including Donald Trump. Yet instead of embracing his message, the Establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn.”

Let me give you just one tiny example of how establishments assert themselves in determining electoral politics. During the primaries for the democratic nomination in 2020, as in 2016, Sanders was galloping ahead of others in the field.

To arrest his advance, Michael Bloomberg, billionaire and former Mayor of New York, entered the race. His entry had to be played up. Appeared two full-fledged op-ed columns by the ‘NYT’s’ Thomas Friedman, who began one of his columns with, “I like Mike because……..etc.”

Similar manoeuvring in 2016 had the effect of bringing Donald Trump to power. John Kerry, Secretary of State, could not bring himself to consider Trump a serious happening.

He met statesmen across the globe who, he said, were bewildered at the prospect of Trump entering the White House. Columnist Surjit Bhalla went one better: he lamented with all the amplifiers on, “Trump’s victory will be the end of western civilisation.”

My stand had been straightforward. “If you make Sanders impossible you will make Trump inevitable.”

In the context of Pakistan, a variant of the same formulation applies. “If you make Imran Khan impossible, you make Army rule inevitable.” India qualifies for a critical appraisal too. It requires a separate column in greater detail.

Acquiescence in this general hollowing out of democracies will deliver us to a destination which the 11th grader of this narrative will find deceptively attractive. The headline in a recent issue of the ‘Economist’ is scary, and not only for Latin Americans. “Young Latin Americans are unusually open to autocrats.” The infection is spreading.

In a recent international poll in Latin America, respondents were asked to rate their approval of 17 world leaders on a scale of one to ten. On a list which included Pope Francis and Volodymyr Zelensky, guess which world politician has the highest approval rating among people across Latin America? This approval is even stronger among the young.

This extraordinarily popular leader surfaced in 2019 as 37-year-old Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador wearing on his sleeves the promise of eliminating gangsterism, which is endemic in his country.

With such impunity did he embark on “gang crackdown” in March 2022, that 87 people were murdered in a single weekend. More than 70,000 young men are in prison.

Bukele, who calls himself “The World’s Coolest Dictator”, is readying himself for 2024 general elections. With an approval rating of over 80 percent, the backwards baseball wearing dictator prepares himself to drive a nice, long nail in the coffin of liberal democracy, even as a peace of the graveyard descends on El Salvador. Remember, the President is only 41.