– Compiled using evidence and reports provided by the Free and Fair Election Network, Ghulam Dastageer, Maqbool Ahmed, Moosa Kaleem, Abid Hussain, Faridullah Chaudhry and Shafiq Butt. Our readers can find details and scanned copies of cited evidence by visiting our website.
The May 11 election appears too close to call, with two main contenders enjoying almost the same voter approval ratings and the third one being not very far behind, the results of an exclusive public opinion poll conducted by the Herald magazine show.A very high 95.1 per cent of the 1285 poll respondents say they are registered to vote and 25.68 per cent of these registered respondents say they intend to vote for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), 24.98 per cent of them say their vote will go to Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and another 17.74 per cent want to vote for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).In Punjab, where more than half of all National Assembly contests will take place, PMLN seems to be the party of choice, with 38.66 per cent of the respondents indicating support for it, followed by PTI at 30.46 per cent. The outgoing ruling party in Islamabad, PPP, is trailing way behind at 14.33 per cent. In Sindh, PPP still enjoys the biggest share of support with 35.21 per cent respondents indicating it as their party of preference, followed by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 19.37 per cent support, PTI with 8.45 per cent support and PML-N with 8.1 per cent among the survey respondents.This is despite the fact that 50 per cent of the respondents in the province have rated the federal government’s performance as poor or very poor. In Khyber Pakthunkhwa, PTI is leading with 35.41 per cent support among the respondents while PML-N (with 12.92 per cent support) and Awami National Party (with 12.44 per cent support) are two distant runners-up. Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) has the highest backing among the poll respondents in Balochistan, at 19.18 per cent, with PPP a distant second at 8.22 per cent. The two parties leading nationally, PML-N and PTI, only have 2.74 per cent and 5.48 per cent support respectively among the respondents in Balochistan.
The poll, conducted by the Herald in March 2013 in 42 districts and two tribal agencies across Pakistan and being published in the magazine’s special pre-election issue scheduled to hit newsstands today (Wednesday), also shows high level of distrust among the respondents about the polling process. As many as 65.6 per cent of them feel that elections in Pakistan are neither free, nor fair nor transparent. Only 29 per cent respondents believe that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has the capacity to ensure free, fair and transparent elections; the number of those who are unsure about it (responding in “Maybe”) is much higher at 49 per cent. Those who say that it does not have that capacity are 22 per cent of the poll respondents.While the respondents show an eagerness to vote (over 66 per cent of them say they will vote no matter whether the polls are free, fair and impartial or not), a significant portion of them (40 per cent) says the biggest disincentive to vote comes from the feeling that the government policies will not change. Another 24.48 per cent identify political apathy as the biggest hindrance to casting the ballot and 19.14 per cent find corruption as the discouraging factor.
Expert survey indicates otherwise
Meanwhile, the results of an exclusive Herald survey, conducted among ten distinguished experts on Pakistan’s electoral politics, indicates that the May 11 election will result in a National Assembly in which none of the three leading parties will win a simple majority of the seats.The survey conducted in March and April 2013, and involving experts from academia, think-tanks and civil society organisations, shows PML-N getting the highest percentage of seats – at 34.89 percent, PPP getting the second highest percentage – at 24.89 percent, and PTI getting the third highest percentage of seats in the National Assembly – at 12.11 percent.
In seven experts’ opinion, PML-N will get 30 per cent or above seats – with one of them giving it as high as 44 per cent of seats. Only two experts predict that the party will get less than 30 per cent of seats and none give it below 25 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly.The highest percentage of seats that PPP may get, according to the experts on the panel, is 35 per cent and the lowest is 18 per cent. Two experts believe that PPP will get less than 20 per cent of the seats and three believe that it will get above 30 percent seats; the rest expect it to win anywhere between 22 per cent and 28 per cent of the seats.In PTI’s case, the highest percentage of seats it may win, according to two surveyed experts, is 16 per cent. The party’s lowest expected presence in the National Assembly could well be just seven per cent seats, according to one expert. Other experts believe that PTI will win anywhere from 9 per cent to 15 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly.
The results of the survey, being published in the magazine’s special pre-election issue scheduled to hit the newsstands today, also indicate that PML-N will get the highest percentage of votes from among the Hindko-speakers – at 49 per cent, followed by 48 per cent from among Punjabi-speaking voters. Similarly, PPP is likely to get the most percentage of votes from among Sindhi-speakers – at 52 per cent – and from among Seraiki speakers – at 46 per cent.A rather high percentage of Seraiki-speakers – at 43 per cent – may vote for PML-N, according to the experts.Among Pashto-speakers, ANP is likely to get the biggest share of votes at 38 per cent, followed by PTI at 35 per cent. For a large number of Baloch voters, the preferred party seems to be BNP-M, with 45 per cent of them likely to vote for that party, the panel predicted. The second highest vote-getter among the Baloch voters could be PML-N, at 32 per cent.PTI, which is either leading or is seen as being a runner-up in most public opinion surveys, is likely to get the highest percentage of votes only from among the speakers of ‘other’ languages, including the speakers of Kashmiri, Gojiri, and Pothohari languages. Among the Urdu speaking community, however, MQM may take a clear lead by polling 71 per cent of their votes, the survey says.
Dear Diary, the elections are less than a month away and there’s still so much to do. Candidates need manicures, pedicures, hair treatments, facials, we want them looking their best for the big day, salons have been booked all across the country and I have my own appointment today for smoothing out these wrinkles.
I have the Chief Justice of Pakistan on speed dial, we text frequently, in the evenings we call each other and talk about our days, I love his ring tone, that old Kishore number Mein Hun Don.
He thinks the election commission is doing a fantastic job, I’m not sure what we’re doing yet but all the files that come through are very neat and tidy, with hardly any ink or dust on them. At this age, I can’t take dust very well. My eyes get watery and I have difficulty breathing when my lungs fall out from all the coughing.
Trying to eliminate duplicitous voting. In the last elections, a single man cast 2,546 votes across seven different constituencies, a man who’d been dead 15 years and was buried somewhere in England. This was unacceptable, if you’re not allowed to vote from overseas, you’re definitely not allowed to vote from the afterlife.
The Returning Officers (RO) have been directed to take the pulse of all election candidates too and ask questions to determine the extent of their religious knowledge, mainly if they can recite verses from the Quran. Since the ROs don’t know the Quran themselves, the official directive states that if it sounds vaguely like Arabic, it’s dandy.
Two candidates were disqualified today for wearing pants instead of a Thawb, another one for not owning enough camels. There was also an industrialist who’s never been on Hajj, an agriculturist who can’t count to 100 in Arabic, and a PhD in economics who doesn’t know which hand to wash first in ablution. Hopeless!
The wife came in to my office later and was adamant that I approve the nomination papers of her cousin’s daughter’s husband’s father-in-law’s wife, which turned out to be the cousin herself, which made things awkward as she was standing right next to my wife when I said no. I can’t just approve any nominations — besides, I’ve run out of official stamps.
These politicians sure paid a lot of taxes this year; I think we should have elections every year.
Somewhere in the Punjab the leader of a banned militant outfit had his nomination papers approved. I was asked to investigate the travesty. I’ve talked to some people, the mistake will soon be rectified and the ban lifted.
Sometimes, when my children put their false teeth in before dinner, it hits me that I am in fact much older than this country. It gives me a strange feeling. I immediately take two tablets and lay down until it goes away.
The ROs are getting anxious, one of the candidates put their own questions back to them; it took five hours of Googling for them to say, “We’re not obligated to answer you”.
There are not enough good-natured and honest people in this country to fill up the candidatures. I think we might have to import some from other countries. I have discussed the possibility with my driver, which was a fairly pointless thing to do since he has no say in the matter.
Some of the ROs had the candidates do their kids’ homework. Most of them managed well, but the algebra questions really put them off.
Still in pursuit of the perfect candidate. We had a full staff meeting today about introducing requirements about height and weight. How can anyone be a political representative if they can’t even reach the mike in the assembly?
The Chief Justice asked how things were going regarding articles 62/63. I told him not to worry, we already had two Sadiqs working as stenos in the office, and we were looking into hiring Amins.
Dear Diary, today is the 91st day of my prime ministership. Time magazine has declared me Person of the Year, Foreign Policy calls me “Pakistan’s Nostradamus”, and Newsweek wishes I could run for the presidency of the US.
All in due time, I told Newsweek. But I am happy that, at the prime of my political career, the world has finally recognised the awesomeness that is me.
As I had predicted, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) did sweep the elections — the patwaris were simply washed away in the tsunami. My Tsunami. Today, the national and provincial assemblies only have PTI, and no other political party. Not surprising, if you ask me. If the results had been any different, the elections would certainly have been rigged.
The so-called liberal “analysts” were bowled out — what they thought would be an analytical half-volley turned out to be a toe-crushing yorker. These drone-loving fake liberals could never tolerate my genuinely liberal greatness, because I am so much better than them in both soorat as well as seerat.
“How would you now finish corruption and terrorism in 90 days?” they asked. “Are you going to do a military operation in Waziristan?” A resounding NO was my reply, dear Diary, because only fake liberals support military operations and I am the only real liberal in this country; Mashallah, that is.
But let me tell you, dear Diary, the Tiger of Mianwali was actually a little worried. Even though I knew that I can never be wrong. I mean, if Imran Khan has said that the Taliban would be taken care of in 90 days, then they will be taken care of in 90 days. After all, who can forget that it was I who had predicted Pakistan’s win in the 1992 World Cup?
One day, as I was contemplating my options, an owl came out of nowhere and landed on my shoulder. Yes, dear Diary, an owl! But this was no ordinary owl. This one had flown all the way from Hogwarts and was carrying a message.
Harry Potter wanted to meet me.
The following day Harry arrived in Bani Gala, riding a broomstick (not kidding)! He told me that during the Triwizard Tournament, when he was listening to the golden egg underwater, he had actually heard the song “Dil nek ho, Niyat saaf, To ho insaf, Kahe Imraaaan Khan!!”. He didn’t disclose this earlier because he was afraid of the Jewish lobby. But now after Voldemort’s death — Yes, dear diary! I am not afraid to say his name — Voldemort, Voldemort, VOLDEMORT!! But anyway, as I was saying, with the death of Voldemort, the Jewish lobby has weakened, and thus Harry decided to make things public.
The next week we called a huge press conference. Well, ‘huge’ would be an understatement, dear Diary, as it was not a press conference, but a press tsunami. Well not even a tsunami; I would rather call it a TSUNAMA! From Roznama Surkhab to The New York Times to the Daily Prophet, everyone was there.
The seating arrangement for the Tsunama conference raised a lot of suspense — we had placed the journalists in the middle, while a huge fenced enclosure was erected to their left, and a dozen empty shipping containers were parked to their right.
I initiated the proceedings and officially asked Harry to rid Pakistan of terrorism. In response, Harry took out his wand and shouted, “Accio Taliban! Bad ones only!” Suddenly the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakitan (TTP) started dropping from the sky and into the fenced enclosure. The army jawans surrounding the fence shouted ‘Hands up!’, and thus the formidable TTP was taken into custody without even a single bullet being fired…! Take that, Najam Sethi!
I then asked Harry to help return the billions looted by corrupt politicians. Again Harry waved his wand and shouted, “Accio Swiss Accounts! Politicians only!” And suddenly the parked containers became full with dollars. They say Zardari was watching it live and had a heart attack when he saw that. I pray for his recovery.
With this done, Harry broke his wand into two and embraced Islam at the hands of Junaid Jamshed. He has been renamed Haris Puttar and is now a member of the Tableeghi Jamaat as well as the PTI.
And this is how I fulfilled my promise to eliminate corruption and terrorism from Pakistan within 90 days.
But that’s not the end, dear Diary, as there are drones to deal with as well. Luckily Superman has also joined our cause. Apparently when he was flying by the moon he heard the chant “Kaun bachaae ga, Pakistan? Imraaan Khan!! Imraaan Khan!!” He said he wants to help us take down the drones. Let’s see how that one goes.
All major political parties have publicised their manifestos for the election 2013. These manifestos express and articulate their respective ideologies, programmes and policies and they differ from one another both in focus and detail.
The Herald invited three experts to discuss the need and impact of party manifestos. The panel included Amit Baruah who has reported for the respected Indian daily The Hindu from Islamabad and headed BBC Hindi Service. The second panelist was Ayaz Amir, a leading Pakistani journalist and columnist and a member of the outgoing National Assembly. The third member of the panel was columnist, analyst and poet Harris Khalique who has also contributed to the latest manifesto of a major political party.
Herald: Is there a difference between campaign slogans and party manifestos?
Amit Baruah: Yes, there is a difference. Parties tend to be more formal in their manifestos and catchier in their slogans.
Harris Khalique: Slogans are [created] to catch people’s attention. A manifesto is a road map; it is more of a policy document. Sloganeering takes place [both] in highly literate societies as well as in countries with poor literacy rate where slogans become even more important: “Roti, kapra aur makaan; maang raha hai har insaan (Everyone is asking for a square meal, clothes and a house)” — this has remained the same for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto [but other slogans have changed]. When General Ziaul Haq deleted the PPP’s election symbol – the sword – from the election symbol list, the arrow became the election symbol for Benazir Bhutto and the PPP. In Sindh, a new slogan was coined — “Nah meer ke nah peer ke; vote Benazir ke; vote saare teer ke (neither for the mirs nor for the pirs; our votes are for Benazir; our votes are all for the teer (arrow).”
Baruah. Indira Gandhi’s slogan when she returned to power in 1980 was “Nah jaat par, nah paat par; Indira ki baat par; muhr lagegi haath par (neither on the basis of caste nor for breed; our votes are for Indira’s word; we shall put the stamp on [vote for] the hand [the Congress’ election symbol]”. It was quite effective! I wonder whether in the internet age, slogans will have to be different.
Khalique. Language and rhyming continue to catch the imagination, even in the internet age. The internet is just another medium in that respect.
Herald. Do you think slogans won’t change at all for social media campaigns?
Khalique. Well, they may but they haven’t yet. Look, for instance, at the Insha Allah Naya Pakistan song sung by Salman Ahmad and Junaid Jamshed for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Baruah. I think that the link between social media and the real world – on-the-ground – campaigning still needs to be established. In societies where literacy and internet penetration is low, real slogans of the kind mentioned above will still be important. We can see in India, for instance, that some politicians are using social media, but given the literacy levels, getting people out for a political rally can’t be done through Twitter and Facebook. I also wonder if there will be extensive use of social media for the May 11 election in Pakistan.
Khalique. Yes, there will be, because both our countries have huge populations. Even the middle class sections of society using social media include millions. Those in the diaspora also get equally involved in Pakistani politics, and many of them use social media.
Baruah. I totally agree. As we can see in Bangladesh currently, social media in urban spaces will be actively used and politicians and parties will have to become social media savvy.
Herald. Political parties have the tendency to overcommit themselves in their manifestos and campaign slogans. Isn’t it counterproductive for politicians and political parties to overcommit when it widens the gap between what they promise and their eventual performance, thereby endangering their future electoral prospects?
Baruah. Well, this is an issue endemic to the whole of South Asia: there are actually yawning gaps between what parties promise and what they deliver. The real issues facing people most often take a back seat. In South Asia, there is a definite tendency to promise the moon to the electorate — this is the nature of our political parties.
Khalique. Slogans are always exaggerated. The problem is when a serious commitment made in a manifesto is not realised. We, however, must consider that parties make their manifestos as singular outfits. But when they come to power in large, complicated countries, they work in coalitions. For a third-world country, things change quickly. Parties, therefore, argue that they could only fully implement their manifestos if they sweep the polls.
Herald. Do manifestos even matter when politics is completely dominated by personalities in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular?
Baruah. Well, even personalities have to come out with a manifesto — a minimum programme of sorts, if you like. And the party in power should have something to show to have a chance of re-election. One thing that we must also consider in the South Asian context is the role of families – or dynasties – in our elections where the family is the manifesto.
Khalique. Manifestos matter. Personalities symbolise a certain thinking, sensitivity, slant and world view. People see them as icons. One will choose a personality to follow if one has a similar if not the same understanding of how things should be and how political, economic and social decisions are made. Have you ever heard of a political party contesting polls without a manifesto? A leader becomes popular because of a shared world view — be it clear or confused. Besides, you could hold a party responsible against its manifesto if it has been in power.
Herald. What makes certain political dynasties click with voters better than others? Is it what they stand for? Or do they receive votes because of who they are?
Baruah. We have many political dynasties in South Asia — the Bandaranaikes in Sri Lanka, the Nehru-Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan. Dynasties also have to be clever. They must be able to measure the pulse of the people and know what the electorate wants.
Khalique. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is more of a strip tied around the wild bouquet of the Congress party now. In Pakistan, no Bhutto [family member] is actually ruling at the moment, if you follow the patriarchal definition of the family. But they or those closely related to them will still have influence in Pakistan. However, just think about it — if Bilawal Bhutto Zardari begins to raise conservative, right-wing slogans, will those who follow the Bhuttos continue to follow him?
Herald. Who reads manifestos? Do voters read them? Voters are always in millions and no party can print millions of copies of their manifesto…
Khalique. Of course, not everybody reads manifestos. But slogans derived out of the manifestos are heard by all. Many would read the gist in newspapers or listen to the key points through the electronic media. The summaries of both the PPP and PMLN manifestos appeared on the front pages of all Urdu, English and Sindhi newspapers.
Baruah. Even in India, no one reads the fine print of manifestos; only journalists and other politicians do.
Herald. Mr Amir, from your experience of canvassing for an election, do you think voters are attracted to manifestos? Or are they attracted to something else, such as the personality of the leader or candidate?
Ayaz Amir. In all the elections I have contested, no one has ever asked me ‘what is your manifesto’? Manifestos are read only if dramatically written; otherwise, they go into the trash can. Voters are definitely not attracted to manifestos; other things matter now. The last time anyone was interested in a manifesto was in 1967-1968 — the PPP manifesto which still resonates [in the political sphere].
Herald. So you think that manifestos are simply a legacy of the past?
Amir. No, they can still matter and turn people’s head if written like, say, The Communist Manifesto. Now that was some writing.
Khalique. What will you hold the party accountable for if there is no manifesto? Nobody in Mr Ayaz’s constituency may have asked about his personal manifesto but he did run for a party and the party had one.
Amir. There is a perception about parties and that matters. Parties in Pakistan stopped being literate a long time ago.
Baruah. Manifestos are also important to differentiate one party from another. n
— To join future live discussions, log on to herald.dawn.com
In the 1970s, its manifesto helped propel Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to popularity and power, firmly entrenching its slogans into the electorate’s hearts and minds. Military regimes that followed put a halt to democratic process and, along with it, sloganeering and all that comes with it. As the May election approaches and many major parties release their manifestos, aimed at swaying undecided voters, the Herald takes a closer look at how closely promises made in these manifestos reflect civil society’s concerns.
Party manifestos are a legitimate part of the democratic process
Yes, for the most part
There is a perception that parties produce manifestos and other policy documents simply because it is a routine exercise to do so, not as a serious undertaking in explaining their positions on important issues. The chequered history of the implementation of manifestos is, indeed, a comment on their effectiveness as policy documents. The parties seem to release manifestos because they are expected to do so by the media and civil society, not because they feel that such policy documents are important. But, regardless of their importance and effectiveness, manifestos still form a part of the democratic convention of campaigning and, therefore, have to be given due respect as manifestations of a party’s programme.
In the wake of the impending election, political parties have been under pressure from civil society groups and activists to include in their manifestos proposals on pressing issues, such as transparency and fairness of the democratic and electoral process, good governance, women’s rights, minorities’ rights, freedom of expression and the right to information amongst others. The roots of the emphasis on such democratic values and principles can be traced back to the lawyers’ movement during the governance of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, in 2007, that created a new awakening within the civil society about its own power to make itself heard. The movement shifted substantial political space towards civil society members which, helped by the media, started assuming the role of a legitimate fourth pillar of the estate that could challenge the political elite, and create an impetus for political and democratic accountability. In such a scenario, manifestos have become vetting stones to measure policy proposals and agendas of political parties in terms of the aspirations and expectations of civil society. This is where the current legitimacy for manifestos and the need to put them right stem from.
Civil society has a role in policymaking
Yes, but the media must also help
It is only civil society organisations and activists who can remind political parties that, as contenders for power, they have certain social and humanitarian commitments under international laws and agreements. These may not get the parties more votes but, nevertheless, require addressing due to obligations under the United Nations charter and conventions. For instance, Pakistan is committed to protecting child rights under the United Nations covenants so any party aspiring to come into power in the country must be aware of and follow through with such commitments.
But civil society can convey its concerns, expectations and demands to politicians and political parties only through the media. “The media reports on policy documents prepared by civil society activists, in the hope of acquiring the support of political parties,” says Fasi Zaka, one of the main authors of the Education Emergency Pakistan, a report prepared in 2011.
But I A Rehman, senior journalist and the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), argues: “Media is not committed enough to democracy or to people’s rights. Its claim to sympathy is only skin deep.”
Do parties adhere to civil society demands when constructing their manifestos?
Yes, but only partially
Ahsan Iqbal, the deputy secretary general of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) – one of the individuals responsible for his party’s lengthy manifesto released on March 7 – explains how the document was more than a year in the making. “Consultative meetings with experts and members of civil society were held for months, before ideas and scenarios were fleshed out.”
Anis Haroon, a former chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women and now the head of the Aurat Foundation, agrees that parties are taking note of civil society’s concerns while writing their manifestos. She tells the Herald how Aurat Foundation has been consulted by different political parties for its expertise and input regarding women’s rights but she cautions that there still is a vast disconnect between political officials and civil society demands. “We have to remain vigilant and active to see through the change we are working towards,” Haroon says.
Zafarullah Khan, executive director of an Islamabad-based independent think-tank Centre for Civic Education, says the problem lies with the non-institutionalised way the manifestos are written and released. “How many parties have institutionalised the process of building and maintaining specific manifesto cells where experts are brought in to discuss and advise on issues of real concern to voters and civil society members?” he says.
Even when there is an agreement between civil society and politicians on a certain issue, there are plenty of roadblocks that prevent policy documents from entering the stage of legislation. Zahid Abdullah, the programme manager at the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives who has been working towards building a model law on the right to information, says how protecting civil rights while negotiating the parameters of the proposed law was a challenging task. “When lists of exempt, sensitive information were drawn up, our team had to convince political leaders how it should be a public right to access certain information, as per international mandates.”
Iqbal Ahmed Detho, the national manager for the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, a child rights group, also claims that efforts for mobilising support for rights-based initiatives dissipates often due to a lack of political will, rivalries within the ranks of a political party, or a simple lack of understanding regarding issues.
Khan offers a solution. He wants party manifestos to reflect the aspirations of the entire country rather than the ideals and visions of a few in the party leadership. “Manifestos need to have a consensus of opinion, rather than voicing the ideas of one or a few individuals. They should include considered views, involving debate and discussion instead of echoing a single individual’s ideological viewpoint,” he argues.
Rehman believes that manifestos as they exist today are only compilations of promises made by members of political parties in order to garner votes rather than being serious policy documents. But he expects this to change if democracy in Pakistan moves ahead unhindered. “As democracy develops, however, this process is bound to evolve.”
Political developments impede the implementation
True, but parties need to think ahead
Political analysts point out how Pakistan is entering into a political phase where coalition governments will be prevalent in the foreseeable future. How do the imperatives of remaining in power then force parties to amend their manifestos in accordance with coalition pressures?
Khan is of the view that manifestos become a stumbling block in such a scenario and parties, therefore, need to come together and set a common minimum agenda within which to implement their policy proposals and programmes.
Raza Rumi, director at the Jinnah Institute, a think tank in Islamabad, blames the inability of governments to implement what they have stated in their manifestos on the very nascent process of democracy in Pakistan. He refers to other military-dominated countries such as Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia which have experienced similar problems within a fledgling democratic process. “We need to give more time for democracy to develop before we can begin to start holding governments accountable for their policies,” he adds. Rumi also points out how “parties do not have internal mechanisms to track manifestos and their successes.”
Should parties invest in sectors with no immediate electoral dividends?
Yes, of course, but they generally don’t
The dividends from educating a child accrue decades later — after he or she is able to join the workforce and contribute to the economy. Even then there is no guarantee that the children of today, when they grow up, will remember and vote for the parties whose policies have benefited their educational careers.
The need for a long-term commitment to issues such as education, health, women’s rights and child protection is what holds parties back in investing political capital in them. To put it mildly, says Rehman, “those who do not count in vote banks, are of no interest to politicians.” This, he says, is the reason why women and children are voiceless. “They are not able to bring a political party into power. They, thus, remain marginalised.”
Rather than focusing on addressing policy and structural issues on areas such as education and health, parties instead focus on using them as a means to generate employment opportunities for their voters. “That is why Pakistan’s largest cadre of civil servants is teachers and ghost schools flourish because giving voters jobs as teachers is the most popular way for an elected politician to give back to his constituency,” says Zaka.
To rectify the situation, politics and policy have to been seen as distinct from each other, he says and adds: “Once politics and policy can be distinguished, the whole system will fall into place.”
Are party manifestos addressed to voters?
On March 7 the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz launched its manifesto in which the focus lay on putting the economy back on track. A week later the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) launched their 75-page document which was based on the Bhutto legacy and the PPP’s image as the sole national party. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is set to unveil its manifesto on March 23. But who are these manifestos addressed to?
On March 21, 2013, at 7 pm, the Herald has invited three experts to discuss whether party manifestos are aimed at attracting voters or if they are just designed for consumption by the civil society and the media?
Amit Baruah is the author of Dateline Islamabad. He has previously served as the head of BBC Hindi and has been the Pakistan correspondent The Hindu, an Indian newspaper.
Ayaz Amir is a leading Pakistani journalist, columnist and politician. He was a member of National Assembly of Pakistan from 2008-2013.
Harris Khalique is an independent columnist and intellectual who has a keen interest in social democratic politics. He is based in Islamabad.
Cries about change and a “tsunami” of young voters overrunning all else revive memories of a different era of political activism, calling to mind the lost fervour of the student and youth movements of the late 1960s, mobilised by the revolutionary sloganeering of Che Guevara and Mao Tse-tung. The impact of those charged days was evident in Pakistan too, with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto first riding in on the crest of youth activism in 1968-1970 and then falling victim to it in 1977.
As much as mainstream political parties in Pakistan try to revive that lost era of youth mobilisation today, their efforts appear to fall short, leaving many in the media to speculate that the so-called “youth vote” in Pakistan is more a mirage or an illusion, rather than a reality.
On paper, the youth bulge is undeniable. The latest electoral lists contain 83 million registered voters, of which 47 per cent are under 35 years of age, coming to about 40 million people. Voters falling in the 18-25 age bracket alone are a little more than 16 million — about five million more than the number of votes polled by the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 2008 elections. The Herald looks at how this demographic development will impact the upcoming general elections.
The parties weigh in
Some political parties have aggressively campaigned to gain the attention of young voters over the last 12 months or so , with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) taking the lead. Being a relatively new addition on the political scene, it has built a more extensive ‘fan’ base in the youth-dominated sphere of cyberspace than any other party in the country by utilising avenues that others have not yet explored. With its Facebook page boasting 350,000 (and counting) “likes” and a separate youth page, the PTI is targeting these young individuals as the core focus of its election campaign. Besides public rallies, the party is also employing personalised telephone messages and videos disseminated through social media networks, all in an effort to mobilise the youth.
Muhammad Najeeb Haroon, a founding member of the PTI, confirms this when he says his party is committed to “addressing the concerns of the disillusioned youth, regardless of which background or stratum of society they come from.” Through promises of a better economic environment and increased job opportunities, the PTI aims at “providing youth with a place to voice their concerns, especially for those young adults who grew up in the tumultuous political environment of the 1990s,” he adds.
In another measure aimed at catering to the political ideals of educated, urban youth, the PTI is campaigning on a plank of openness and meritocracy. It is making its leaders declare their assets and has announced that it will give its members the final say in deciding who the party’s election candidates will be. How the party sells its ‘electable’ members such as Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi – who have been groomed in the very political values the PTI claims to eschew – to its idealist youth electorate will be one of the greatest electoral challenges it will face on election day.
Other major parties are also doing their bit to court this particular set of voters. Since coming into power in 2008, the PPP has aggressively been encouraging citizens to register with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and acquire Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs). The reasons are twofold: firstly, only a CNIC holder can benefit from public sector welfare schemes and bank and government loans which serve to motivate voters; secondly, without a CNIC a person can neither register as a voter nor cast a vote. The majority of new CNIC holders and voters are expected to belong to rural areas where the PPP believes itself to have a strong vote bank and where Nadra has more of a presence now than it did in the past. The majority could also be young people who need government documents for acquiring government jobs, grants, loans and other things more than the elderly do. This may point towards the PPP’s electoral strategy for the next election. The party also seems to believe that its new crop of leaders – Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa (children of Asif Ali Zardari), all in their early to mid-twenties – will be able to attract voters from their own age group in large numbers.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN) has launched Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, as the young face of the party. It is also trying to appeal to students and their parents by distributing thousands of laptops among position holders in school and college examinations.
Which way will the wind blow?
While almost every political party is doing its part in attempting to attract youth voters, the job of those in the opposition or those outside the parliament is easier than those in office. Those not in power can easily target the disillusionment of a young electorate, perturbed by ever-increasing lawlessness, corruption, the energy crisis and a general mismanagement of economic affairs. Whether their efforts will result in these parties winning seats in the upcoming general election is a question different people answer differently, depending on their political affiliation.
For Raza Rumi, director of Policy and Programmes at the Jinnah Institute, an independent think tank based in Islamabad, the next election will see a rise in voter turnout and increased participation by young voters, especially in urban constituencies. Yet, he says, the effect will not be huge. It will only create a ripple, “narrowing the margins by which mainstream parties will capture seats in the parliament.”
The known unknowns
A youth vote is easy to talk about in urban constituencies with high literacy rates and easy access to computers and the Internet; it is simple in such an environment to disseminate political messages through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. In more far-flung agricultural communities, the youth’s manifestation as a political phenomenon remains elusive. In rural areas, political parties, including the tech-savvy and slogan-heavy PTI, will rely as always on a combination of personality-driven politics and local development agendas. Given that 65 per cent of the population in Pakistan still lives in rural areas takes much wind out of the sails of youth mobilisation.
Another problem is the absence of comparable data from the past. The Election Commission of Pakistan does not collect and disseminate a break-up of polled votes on the basis of the voters’ age-group. Nobody knows how voters falling in the 18-40 age bracket, for example, have acted during polls in the last election; whether they turned up in large numbers at the polling stations or stayed at home for the most part is perhaps the best kept election secret in Pakistan. Consequently, as we do not know if youth participation was higher or lower in past election, there can be no definitive way of gauging whether it will increase or diminish in the upcoming polls.
There are no empirical studies interpreting voting patterns among youth, and no verifiable statistics concerning the possible impact of factors such as the media, peer and community groups or the political and educational environment on voter behaviour. Similarly, there is no research to understand how young people develop an allegiance to a particular political party or leader — is it because of party leadership, its policies or a combination of the two? These questions have never been studied in detail.
Whether political parties’ moves to attract young voters reflect a growing importance of youth in the national political arena is also not quite obvious. After all, in the run-up to the 2002 general election, the government of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 . The move was certainly not a result of domestic pressure from the country’s youth, instead, it came about as part of the electoral reforms Pakistan is committed to undertake because of international conventions.
The known knowns
Between 1997 and 2008, there have been 26 million new voters in Pakistan. Most, if not all, of this increase can be attributed to the fact that the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 in 2002. On paper, this suggests that there must have been a big increase in the number of young voters; yet there is no data assessing how many of these new voters went to polling stations to cast their votes in 2002 and 2008. Even if most of them did, their participation did not result in a large-scale shifting of political patterns — the beneficiaries of their votes remaining the same much-reviled dynasty-led traditional parties. Available data also suggests that voter turnout increased from 41 per cent in 2002 to 44.4 per cent in 2008, despite the fact that the PTI, the self-proclaimed party of the youth, boycotted the last polls.
Bring in the vagaries of the first-past-the-post voting system that Pakistan adheres to, where elections are not necessarily won by the contender receiving the most amount of votes, and you have in front of you a clear electoral challenge. Mudassar Rizvi, who heads the Free and Fair Election Network, a conglomerate of civil society organisations working on elections in Pakistan, highlights the highly erratic nature of the system. “The 2008 election saw the PPP gather close to 11 million votes and acquire 95 National Assembly seats [out of a total of 272 general seats]. The PMLN came second with 72 seats, though its vote tally was close to seven million. The Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) came third with 41 seats, even when it received about one million more votes than the PMLN did,” he explains. A similar trend can be seen in the case of the 2002 general election when the PPP received 7.6 million votes and captured only 64 seats, and the PMLQ, which received 7.5 million votes acquired 92 seats. Simply put, even if a party polls all the youth vote cast across Pakistan in the coming election, it may not end up sweeping the polls because, as the statistics suggest, winning a large number of parliamentary seats is not quite the same as getting a high number of votes.
Secondly, Rizvi argues, “one constituency’s electoral behaviour remains independent of another constituency’s behaviour, thereby making it futile to make any political projections and generalisations [and predict] outcomes.”
The road ahead
And so the question presents itself — can a young electorate significantly shift electoral momentum in the direction of change that certain political parties contend as being the demand of Pakistani youth? Can voters in the 18-40 age bracket change the face of Pakistan and Pakistani politics?
Answering these questions in the affirmative may seem too idealistic, given past voting statistics, or the lack thereof. Whether a need and impetus for change are real, or whether political parties are talking about the youth and pandering to its presumed demands merely as a new unexplored angle to win the next election can only be answered after the voters have given their verdict.
What is already becoming clear, however, is that the youth vote cannot be seen as a monolith: it has to be understood and analysed within the confines of constituency politics, as well as other contextual ingredients such as literacy, location and the socio-economic environment. By no means can it be considered an indivisible factor that can determine the result of an election on its own. Rumi, for this reason, rules out a path-breaking poll result in 2013 and advises caution in evaluating the impact of the momentum that youth awareness and participation in the political process may create. “The emergence of the youth vote as a swing vote is still far from being [the agent of] change,” he says.