Emad's Blog (Under Renovation)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tubbling Down the Dark Rabbit Hole

I started this evening, having been under the weather and in bed all day, with some TV time that resulted in an intense feeling of confusion for me. I then proceeded to get on Facebook and immediately leave all groups that had anything to do with Pakistani politics for one simply reason: I don't understand.

A lot of people have been asking me lately about the state of politics in Pakistan - both the political culture as well as to shed light on some current events. In what I hope to be a series of small, manageable posts, I hope to try and dig deeper into this topic. Again, while there is insane amounts of literature available on the complexities of matters, I will try and keep it simple since the objective really is that - to achieve some simpler understanding of things, for both you and I.

So, this post will mainly focus on some aspects of political culture of the general population in the country since it might serve to put some basic things in perspective later on.

The general population, or public - those not affiliated directly with any political activity, is divided broadly into two categories for this analysis - the rural and the urban. A lot of literature around democracies talks about the connection of education with the ability to vote effectively. Now, one might think that what happens in Pakistan is quite contrary to this theory, since it is the mass of the rural population in the country that votes indulgently, while the urban voting turnout is usually less that 20%. Unfortunately, if anything, the theory is strengthened.. The rural dwellers do vote - just not effectively. Allow me to elaborate.

Pakistan, through its history, has been bound in a series of Patron-Client relationships that stem from the feudal system that still marks a large number of villages in the country. From some primary research I have been able to do over the years, it's quite simple the way it works: every village has an influential. The candidate for the Public Office comes to this candidate, gives him a certain incentive, usually in the form of political favors, and the influential ensures that the villagers vote for that candidate. What's interesting to see, is that - in most cases - little or no coercion is used by the influential. All he does is gives these people 'a valid reason' to vote for the party, so the villager thinks that he/she is making an independent or family or clan based decision on their vote, all the while serving the interest of his local elite, who will, in turn give him/her access to the government, should a need arise.

Now, the urban people. Most of them are semi-educated at least and belong to the middle class of society. These people, more often than not, do not vote. There reason is quite simple: There is no suitable candidate. In other words, these individuals are exercising their right to not vote i.e. to abstain. Most of them have a valid point since they barely any parties seem to represent their interests. At the same time politics is simply concerned an arena for 'dirty people' hence excluding any 'good' candidates entirely. Political apathy is not the cause, but the result in this situation.

Perhaps what could be a useful exercise is similar to a system being used in some Western countries wherein the ballots have an 'Abstain' option and at the end of elections, the stats on percentage of abstentions is reported publicly to show the strength or weakness of the mandate of the winner. For now, our date systems are not robust enough to show this with any level of accuracy.

So that, in a nutshell, are the very basic dynamics of the political culture in the country. Of course there are numerous other issues that add complexity - devolution system to local governments, the importance of foreign interests (mainly linked to the US), the involvement of the military and so on. Some of these I would write about as I continue.



  • brilliant stuff, keep it up! i feel completely lost in translation here, the longer i am in pakistan, the more i feel like i am have no opinion at all. at times it seems all so simple, and then again there is so much complexity... for all i know, this may be the single most fascinating country, politically. looking forward to your next political rant :)

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