By Mehr F Husain
Apr 19 2013
ELECTION fever is slowly catching on, but campaigning is tainted by tragic terror attacks on political party leaders.
Rumours of a military takeover still hold as military officials will supervise ballot boxes. And both, the PML- N and PTI are fumbling with the distribution of tickets to eligible candidates.
But, change can only be gradual in Pakistan and its foundations are being laid by positive amendments.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has made it an offence for any candidate to seek votes on the basis of religion. This will change the voting patterns, traditionally cast on a Piri- Muridi or sect- based basis. Other offences include restraining people from voting, voting on someone else’s behalf and providing transport to voters.
T HE most pleasing aspect of the democratic transition, save that the people can finally enjoy voting rights, is the level of communication — the backbone of democracy — between party leaders and a weary nation. The message to the youth is clear: if you want improvement, vote for a party with a good manifesto (MQM Chief Altaf Hussain has asked for comments on the MQM Manifesto). If you want change, change the apathetic attitude and vote. If you have something to say, speak with your vote.
The PML- N campaign, the strongest yet, is trying to reach out to a wide spectrum of the electorate. Its advertisements illustrate its expensive but effective. Effective projects; the Arfa Technology Park (it nods the importance of the technological sector); the Metro Bus and yet to be completed, Transit Rail System (the bus system, successful amongst the underprivileged, is gaining approval by the middle class).
Both projects are being promoted to prevent the urban youth vote from swinging to Imran Khan, with his rhetoric of change and anti- drone based campaign.
The Green Tractor, aimed at rural constituencies, involves former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif distributing subsidised tractors to farmers. And, the official campaign song, sung by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, tugs on the heart string. The campaign also features a jingle by the One Pound Fish man, Muhammad Shahid Nazir, who rose to fame by singing this song while selling fish in Britain. Both are strategic choices; Khan is popular amongst the youth, and Nazir represents the common man, from a family of PML- N supporters.
On the other hand, Imran Khanled PTI’s campaign rouses the nation’s emotions; it consists of him hoisting the 1992 World Cup, in an attempt to capitalise on cricket. Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital features life- altering stories from cancer sufferers and their families. While both are commendable achievements by Imran, they do not illustrate the PTI’s work.
Perhaps, the campaign should have stressed the PTI’s constructive efforts during the natural disasters that plagued Pakistan.
B UT, its social media campaign is impressive. The Facebook app sends text messages informing people that it isn’t too late to join the PTI. It has brought a new dimension to Pakistan’s political fray and is proof that the PTI can produce positive results if it sorts out its internal issues, because of which it recently suffered a dip in popularity.
The PPP, however, seems to be suffering. Their rally in Larkana was cancelled, Bilawal Bhutto and Asif Zardari are unable to keep their differences aside, ex- Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf is banned from contesting and no party wants to strike a seat adjustment deal with them. The PPP has lost much of its internal support due to crucial mistakes such as no party leader addressing supporters on April 4, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s death anniversary. By completing a full term, the PPP reinforced the possibilities of democracy, and all political parties are keen on making their own mark. This has given a blow to the PPP’s popularity and speculation is that the competition will be between the PML- N and the PTI, leaving a collapsed PPP lagging behind.
Election campaigning has significantly evolved. Gone are the Land Cruisers and the litter of posters plastered on every available flat surface.
Gone are the lights that could’ve put Vegas to shame. Due to security threats, and law enforcement by the ECP, politicians are sensitive to the electorate, and willing to not only assert their policies but also listen to the voter. Nawaz Sharif illustrated this at his Hafizabad Rally, where he addressed the two main issues that the electorate is grappling with — electricity load shedding and corruption.
Imran Khan has also addressed these concerns, but while he promises change and a stand on the war on terror, Sharif promises jobs and business opportunities. It is imperative that Pakistanis vote in this election, for if they don’t, the future may not bring the change that is so desperately wanted.
Mehr F Husain is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore
Source: Mail Today