Emad's Blog (Under Renovation)

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Campaign Trail

Despite the forecast by many to the contrary, the infamous elections are finally here. Over the last couple of days, I must be honest I've been rather distracted on the road by all the different banners and posters with electoral symbols flashing in my face. Cutting through the tigers and the arrows and the bicycles and the kites and of course the odd hukka (village sheesha), I made the grave mistake of trying to locate some form of manifesto.. anything that would entice me to vote for a certain individual or a party. It appears, though, that none of that really matters and the candidates are of the firm belief that their faces are reason enough for them to be voted in.

Competition is stiff. Even for poles to stick your banners! Many have multiple party banners.

You have to pay no one if you're using your vehicle as advertising space!

With the onslaught of violence, both actual and perceived, political rallies have been non-existent. Given the lack of content available in political speeches I don't think we missed much. All opposition politicians are continuing to ensorcell their followers with one common message - Anti-establishment. Unfortunately, this has been the only message that has forever characterized the politics of Pakistan. That, and lack of memory of the constituents. Combined, these two factors have resulted in a very simple pattern in Parliament: No party gets re-elected for a second term, and the same people will come back to form government with a gap of one term.

'We spread love before, We'll Spread Love Still' - Reason enough for a vote?

I've been going around trying to also figure out how people are voting. While there are a number of people that are showing the positive traits of saying that they'll vote on basis of the candidate's performance and character, rather than his party (unless he's from the incumbent Q-league - Biker Boys - refer to reason above), most individuals are trying to find the party that is relatively the least worse. It's really a race to the bottom in that sense.

Major players worth a mention:

PPP: Largest party in the country. Has the sympathy vote. Negative element is the leadership of Zardari, who is hated widely and across the board. Is benefited by the division of Punjabi Vote between the two PMLs and the lessening popularity of religious parties in the NWFP. No outlook on who is going to be their Prime Minister candidate (a position that drives a lot of emotion in Pakistan's voter). Chance of an internal rift in the party post elections. Not likely to have enough majority to form government on its own. Trying to join hands with PML-N. Not hardline anti-Musharraf.

Election's striking a note for all ages. This kid did freak out after I took his pic and removed the poster!

PML-N: Trying to capitalize on it's anti-Musharraf stand. Has the moral high with promoting the judiciary. But most people feel that's a false promise and that they don't really want to form government for two main reasons: 1. If they really were in line for govt, they wouldn't be rooting for a free judiciary that would hamper their functioning. 2. Both the Sharif brothers have been barred from running for Parliament. There is no third person in the party that they will trust with the PM position. Taking fire on their coalition attempts with the PPP as they would be losing their political identity. Has the traditional Punjab vote which is instrumental in any bid for the govt (as it's the largest province in population).

PML-Q: Incumbent government and despised by many. Has had some good initiatives to back them but on the whole has a negative rating. It's leadership is seen as malicious and subservient to Musharraf. A text message I got today sums up the feeling of many rather aptly: 'PML(Q) has changed its symbol from 'cycle' to 'condom', because it reflects its political stance. A condom allows inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects pricks & gives you a sense of security while you're actually being screwed!' I find that quite hilarious actually! Anyway, despite that they have some strongholds in Punjab as well as a grip on the intelligencia, who would be instrumental in any form of rigging that may occur. They do have lots of (taxpayer) money at their disposal for the campaigning.

Giant 'Cycles' all over Lahore. Who's paying, you ask?

Other parties - ANP, MQM, ...: They rely on a traditional vote as well as some performance based vote. They will come into play during the formation of any coalition government.

Empowerment for All, he says. 'All' don't even know what the word means! He's been in Exile since 1992.

Some parties such as the JUI (Religious party) and the PTI (Imran Khan's party) have opted to boycott the elections, but are now being widely criticized as would have been the case unless other major parties had boycotted too. They feel that upon allegations of rigging coming true, many losing parties will join them in the fight against the state.

A couple of important trends to note:
  1. Musharraf's approval rating has suffered recently. This could make it more difficult to get away with rigging for any pro-establishment party.
  2. Osama bin Ladin's approval rating (yes, there is one!) has also diminished drastically in the last year as many of those empathetic to 'the cause' have been sickened by the violence seemingly emitting from the extremist gang. While people remain confused on a stance on The War, they're getting inclined to vote away from the religious rightist elements.
  3. Anti-Americanism, while prevalent in the society, is not overtly visible in the speeches by the leadership of any party. They've somehow made peace with that influence on Pakistan.
  4. Active military personnel have virtually been pulled out of all civilian institutions by the new COAS. This is either a move to build confidence about the Army's return to the barracks or an attempt to renew an oath to the New General, should drastic measures need to be taken in the near future.
  5. A strong media, and Civil Society Organizations such as the Students Action Committee as well as international observers (not all independent!) are going to be keeping close watch at these polls and it should be interesting if that affects the dynamics and the outcomes.
Most political analysts (which is practically the majority of the voting and non-voting populace of the country!) see a hung parliament coming into place that will be ineffective leaving big man Mush on top without a threat and there will be a call for premature re-elections. The big question mark is how much violence will accompany and follow these elections as the positions of all major players will be shaped by that.

On a more personal note, despite the obvious feeling of uncertainty and terror, I find myself a little bit excited about these elections. If done right, this could be the first step towards building the foundation of something extraordinary. Conversely, this could also be the last blow to a wall separating us from complete anarchy and an impending revolution.

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1 Comments:

  • This is a very interesting post, Emad! Thank you for keeping us informed and updated with the political situation in the country!
    And i'm impressed with your optimism! :)

    To a better future!

    Delia

    By Anonymous Delia, At 18/2/08 21:53  

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