Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Shandana Khan Mohmand — Crafty Oligarchs, Savvy Voters: Democracy Under Inequality in Rural Pakistan

Friday, November 15, 2019

2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer Street

Shandana Khan Mohmand is a social scientist and a Research Fellow in the Governance Cluster at IDS. She is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) in Pakistan. Her main area of research is democratisation, political participation, inequality, and the political economy of public policy and service delivery. She has contributed to both policy and social science research, using varied methodological strategies to investigate these issues in South Asia, the Western Balkans and sub-Saharan Africa.

Book blurb: Are poor voters condemned to be electoral cannon fodder and politically marginalised in contexts of extreme inequality? Much of the literature on democracy in lower-income countries says yes, but this book argues that even under the harshest political conditions, in this case in Pakistan’s volatile and often violent democracy, there are savvy voters among the poor, forcing entrenched oligarchies to resort to all of their skills to negotiate the terms of political engagement. These arguments contribute to the limited literature on why marginalised citizens vote as they do, or why they vote at all, when their political agency is severely limited by high socio-economic inequality. Using original data collected over many years of fieldwork in rural Pakistan, the author finds that while persistent inequality limits the ability of the poor to organize or compete in electoral politics, democracy enables even the most marginalized voters to strategically further their interests vis-à-vis powerful local elites.

Center for Contemporary South Asia
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