The funny side of being a politician

Campaigning for election

Campaigning for election

Seasoned politicians have it hard because in Pakistan, it means being up against a tabloid styled national media, confused and emotionally charged constituents, and ruthless opponents. They, however, at least have feudal, financial or political influence as a saving grace when in a tight corner.

Four months ago, I decided that I can create a worse, and more interesting scenario for myself and truly get to experience how it feels to live on the edge. So I decided to contest the 2013 general election, both for the National Assembly and the Provincial Assembly, from Karachi as an independent candidate with enough bank balance to buy keemay walay naan for hardly 250 people.

In the process, I learnt the following:
Parents will be parents. It appears that whatever danger you may throw yourself into, your father will always “have your best interest at heart” as he will ask you the single most important question a Pakistani father asks his son: “What will happen to your job, son?” And by that measure he will equate your venturing into national politics to you getting bad grades in A-levels. You will realise that every time you make any comments about the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on national media, your mom will turn more religious and become more punctual about her prayers.

People who blog and rant about wanting change, do not like people who try to bring about change without joining the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In simpler terms, a secular Pakistan is not “Naya Pakistan”. On the other hand, people who hate change (supporters of Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) will love you and find your secular dream adorable because they are too politically aware to realise “it will never happen”. So you are discouraged but at least in an encouraging and comforting manner.

The haters will always hate. If you do not criticise Altaf Hussain in your criticism of a comment made by Imran Khan, you will be dubbed as an MQM agent. If you do not criticise Altaf Hussain in your praise of a comment made by Imran Khan, you will be a dubbed as an MQM agent. If you stand with PTI leaders and address an anti-rigging rally and actually criticise Altaf Hussain, you will still be dubbed as an MQM agent.

When you hold your first ever car rally, wear a tracking device otherwise your rally of 80 cars and all the drivers/passengers will fail to spot you amid traffic and will pass by waving at you. You may have to run for two kilometres to catch up with them before they realise their candidate is missing.

People are confused. When you tell them Karachi’s biggest issue is law and order, they will say, “No, it is street crime and target killing.” You will realise after 20 minutes that you may have won the argument but you have certainly lost a voter. They will never read your manifesto. Don’t waste those long nights researching on policy. Just suit up and smile.
You can get rich. Opposing parties will make you lucrative offers to withdraw in their favour. Take it, because in the end you will realise that you can only get as many votes as keemay walay naan you can afford.

You will also realise that within just one and a half month, you start doing good things only when the camera is around because otherwise sound character and actions don’t pay. But the moment you are more concerned about winning as opposed to changing things you become just like the good old seasoned politicians you despised. You will gain lot of nice comments, likes, reviews and support for those nice pictures but you will lose what you set out to do.

You will, however, gain a few amazing strangers who will join the madness and you will be happy that at least it will be a mass suicide. These strangers will read your manifesto, will see your resolve and will stand with you taking all criticism directed towards you upon themselves. They will keep you grounded and will even gang up against you to make you get your act straight because they, for some silly reason, will see hope in you. They will turn into lifelong friends and mentors.

Finally, you will struggle to convince yourself on election day that it was after all the right decision to contest — not the least because you were contesting from NA-250. Bummer!

Towards a naya Karachi

The site of a bomb attack that occured in Karachi on polling day

The site of a bomb attack that occured in Karachi on polling day

Since its first electoral victory in the local body election of 1987, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) has maintained an astoundingly high rate of incumbency in Karachi. While its detractors attribute these repeated electoral successes to the party’s strong-arm tactics and its propensity to resort to electoral malpractice, it is undeniable that the MQM has retained a strong vote bank over the years. This resistance to the incumbency factor is all the more remarkable as the party has been facing a relentless vilification campaign since its early days, regularly branded as a “fascist” and “terrorist” organisation by its adversaries, while its charismatic leader, Altaf Hussain, has been sitting in exile in London since 1992.

It is not that the MQM has not suffered reversals in its political fortunes. Its vote share, indeed, declined steadily between 1990 and 2002. The 2008 election, however, marked a reversal in this trend. But even in 2002 when the party bore the brunt of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) offensive, its traditional vote bank (the Urdu-speaking electorate of Karachi’s District Central) shrunk but did not fizzle out (the MQM’s vote share in the provincial assembly constituencies of District Central remained close to 60 per cent whereas its overall vote share was just 42 per cent in all of Karachi). In the next election, the MQM managed to reassert itself throughout the city (with a 68 per cent vote share in provincial assembly elections, its highest score since 1993), repeating its record score of 1990 in District Central constituencies (with more than 90 per cent of the votes).

One should keep this background in mind when assessing the results of the 2013 election in Karachi. This election signaled important changes in the city’s political landscape. Granted, the MQM apparently is being cut down to size — and this does not only hold true for electoral politics but also for Karachi’s parallel and equally significant armed politics. However the party’s opponents would be ill-advised to celebrate prematurely the demise of a well-preserved party machine whose ability to bounce back in times of crisis is irrefutable. Moreover, the detractors of the MQM should be aware that the “Naya Karachi” that will rise on the ashes of the MQM’s hegemony will not be delivered without political and criminal violence. On the contrary, if the MQM’s decline is to materialise, it is bound to be accompanied by ever increasing levels of uncertainty and insecurity.

Between 2008 and 2013, the MQM’s vote share in the provincial assembly elections in Karachi went down by almost 10 per cent points from 68 per cent to 59 per cent). The main factor in this sharp decline is the arrival of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Karachi’s electoral scene. With an overall vote share of 15 per cent in the provincial assembly elections and 18 per cent in the National Assembly elections, the PTI has proven that it could become a credible threat for the MQM’s hegemonic ambitions. This is all the more important as the PTI seems to have made a dent into the traditional vote bank of Karachi’s hegemony. Although the PTI’s vote share in the provincial assembly constituencies of District Central is slightly lower than its average vote share in the city at large (14 per cent versus 15 per cent), it has done remarkably well in a number of constituencies that until now were considered impregnable fiefdoms of the MQM. This was the case, for instance, of NA-245 (National Assembly constituency consisting of North Nazimabad) where the PTI secured 54,973 votes against 115,776 for the MQM. This was also the case – and even more remarkably, considering that this is the “home” constituency of the MQM – in NA-246 (Azizabad) where the PTI’s Amir Sharjeel secured 31,875 votes against the MQM’s Nabeel Gabol (who won with 137,874 votes). For all the drama that accompanied it, Arif Alvi’s victory in the “hot seat” of NA-250 was actually less significant, as this constituency has a record of versatility (in 2002, for instance, the MQM’s Nasreen Jalil was defeated by the MMA’s Abdul Sattar Afghani here).

Even if the PTI won the same number of seats from Karachi as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – one National Assembly seat and three Sindh Assembly seats – the former has secured twice as many votes for the National Assembly elections as the latter and 230,000 more votes in the provincial assembly election. The MQM has reasons to worry: not only did the PTI become Karachi’s second largest party in terms of vote share (and a party which, adding insult to injury, garnered a significant number of votes from the MQM’s traditional constituencies, unlike the PPP), but its candidates also secured second position in 22 provincial assembly constituencies (out of 42) and 15 National Assembly constituencies (out of 20). It, however, remains to be seen whether this emerging vote bank will survive the 2013 “Naya Pakistan” hype.

While no one can rob the PTI of its symbolic victory, seeing it as culminating into an imminent demise of the MQM would be preposterous. The gap between the MQM and the PTI remains relatively wide, especially in the constituencies of District Central where the MQM has secured a much bigger number of votes than it did during its previous “defeat” in 2002, for instance. Having secured more than 70 per cent of the votes in the National Assembly or provincial assembly constituencies of District Central, the MQM continued to “over-perform” in its traditional bastion, to use the terms employed by Haris Gazdar in his paper Karachi’s Violence: Duality and Negotiation (2011). Even if the MQM were to lose a significantly larger number of seats to the PTI in the next elections, it would still retain all seats in District Central. Of course, an MQM cantoned to a handful of constituencies in District Central will no longer be the kingmaker (and king-breaker) which has been presiding over the destiny of Karachi for the last three decades. Though it will, nonetheless, remain an important stakeholder in the management of the city.

Farooq Sattar, ex-deputy convener of the MQM, addresses a press conference at Nine Zero

Farooq Sattar, ex-deputy convener of the MQM, addresses a press conference at Nine Zero

The party’s detractors will allege that this electoral resilience is the result of systematic malpractices, but even if they were proven right, would this not demonstrate that the MQM retains a firm grip over its electoral turf? The PTI supporters – many of whom had little previous experience of electoral contests – are yet to come to terms with the ground realities of Karachi’s politics. After almost four decades of civil strife, the battle for Karachi is not merely – maybe not even primarily – a battle for votes. It is a relentless showdown where the respective strength of the city’s stakeholders is partially a question of democratic legitimacy but also of street power — and these are truly mean streets we are talking about. On this terrain, the PTI remains an insignificant force, while the MQM continues to enjoy a predominant position, although there, as well, the ground beneath its feet is getting increasingly shaky — for reasons and with a potential outcome which, incidentally, remain largely unsuspected by the PTI loyalists.

For Karachi’s predominant party, the relative electoral setbacks of May 11 and May 19 are only the latest breach in its system of domination. Since the mid-1980s, the city’s politics is irreducible to electoral contests which coexist with a more occult and more violent realm of politics. Unlike what is sometimes claimed by its detractors, the MQM did not midwife this armed politics; the Islamist and progressive student organisations which went on a weapons procurement spree from the late 1970s onwards did. But the party contributed significantly to the institutionalisation of this “other” political arena where political parties and violent entrepreneurs battle it out for the control of turf and economic rents. On this terrain as well, the MQM has been losing ground over the last few years, although it still remains a force to be reckoned with.

Since 2007, the MQM has been on the defensive, facing armed resistance from myriad contenders for a piece of the Karachi pie. Starting with a freshly militarised Awami National Party (ANP), a new generation of politico-military actors has been challenging the MQM’s monopoly over the protection, representation and taxation of Karachi’s populations. While the ANP has been reduced to a shadow of its former self by the offensive of the jihadi factions affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) since June 2012, other armed factions have proved to be a greater challenge to the MQM.

This is the case of the People’s Aman Committee (PAC), in particular, which has been expanding its activities well beyond its bastion of Lyari over the last few years. Taking root in many Baloch-populated goths across Karachi, the PAC has become a major irritant for the MQM. In Landhi, for instance, the PAC recently took a foothold in several Baloch- and Sindhi-dominated localities along Korangi Road, such as Baloch Para and Ismail Goth.

In February 2013, I went to a friend living in a Christian katchi abadi of Landhi II, at the border of Ismail Goth. This was not my first visit to the area and I could feel that the atmosphere was unusually charged. The fresh bullet marks on the street separating this kachi abadi from Ismail Goth bore testimony to the highly volatile “situation”. So did the dark rings under my friend’s eyes. As he explained, local residents hadn’t been able to find sleep for several nights in a row, as the militants of the locally dominant MQM were facing a joint offensive from Baloch strongmen and Sindhi nationalists (who were well entrenched in Ismail Goth), with some reinforcement from a resurgent Mohajir Qaumi Movement or MQM–Haqiqi. As I bid farewell to my friend that day, I could not help worrying about the times ahead. While Lyari and Kati Pahari have become household names for ethnic and criminal violence over the last few years – to the great dismay of their residents, who feel increasingly alienated from a city that looks down upon them – it is in these working-class settlements, urban villages and derelict slums of Landhi that the current transformation of Karachi’s increasingly complex ecology of violence is the most blatant.

In this regard, Future Colony might have an appropriate – and ominous – name. Within a few square kilometers here, every armed faction active in Karachi maintains a visible presence and appears determined to fight for its turf and for the control of the economic rents associated with it (drug trafficking, in particular). The writing on the wall is clear, both literally and metaphorically. As the ubiquitous wall-chalking in praise of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) founder Haq Nawaz Jhangvi attests, the ANP has had to contend with the ever more visible presence of sectarian and jihadi groups here. This found confirmation during the 2013 provincial assembly election when the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM), of which the SSP’s successor Ahle Sunnat wal Jama’at (ASWJ) was a component, registered its best score in Karachi in Sindh Assembly’s constituency PS-128 which covers Future Colony and the neighboring localities of Landhi II.

On the whole, electoral success has eluded sectarian parties which, for the first time, have tried to make inroads into the National Assembly and provincial assembly elections in the city. (Electoral failure was even more visible in the case of the Shia groups gathered together as the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen.) In PS-128, however, the MDM candidate Aurangzeb Farooqi (who leads the Karachi chapter of the ASWJ), secured 21,332 votes and came a close second to the MQM’s Waqar Hussain Shah who won with 23,496 votes. This was another warning call for the MQM and, even more so, for the ANP which, at least in Landhi, has been literally wiped out by an emerging sectarian vote.

A few hundred metres away from Future Colony, portraits of Uzair Baloch saturate the visual environment while one only needs to cross the road and venture into the lanes of the aforementioned Christian kachi abadi to find inscriptions claiming sovereignty over this piece of land and its residents at the sound of ‘Jiye Altaf! Jiye Muttahida!’ In any other city, this co-presence of rival ethnic-cum-political groups would not be such a cause for alarm, but in Karachi, it signals the increasing fragmentation of urban space into a patchwork of ethnic citadels ruled by organic sovereigns claiming the power – if not the right – to discipline, punish and eventually kill with impunity. Increasingly, the MQM appears to have been downgraded to the rank of a primus inter pares (first among the equals) within this emerging landscape of self-assumed sovereignties.

The protesters who gathered at Karachi’s Teen Talwar crossing on and after May 11 to protest against election rigging rarely venture into this part of the town and thus have little idea about the current challenges to Karachi’s tensile equilibrium. In any case, if these demonstrators thought that all a peaceful and well-behaved “Naya Karachi” demands is the eviction of the MQM from the political game, they are in for a rude awakening.

Whatever its detractors might think, Karachi’s challenged hegemony is no longer in control of the armed politics, of the market of protection and of the shadow economy which have been a source of anxiety for many a “decent” citizen while providing a living to millions of others. The Teen Talwar protesters should also realise that the downgrading of the MQM will probably translate into ever more atomised and lethal forms of violence.

Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf take to the streets in protest against the evident rigging during election

Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf take to the streets in protest against the evident rigging during election

The political and military predominance of the MQM had introduced an element of stability and predictability in a political configuration otherwise characterised by chronic uncertainty and informality. This “ordered disorder” was exemplified by the market of protection that came with the rise of the MQM at the helm of Karachi’s politics. If the critics of the political party complain that the collection of bhatta (protection money) caused great distress to the shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and citizens of Karachi, this system was not without merits for its participants, however coerced into it they might have been. The collection of “donations” was rationalised at all levels: it followed a fixed periodicity, was duly acknowledged through receipts and was proportional to the revenue of each and every one. In a country where only 0.6 per cent of the population paid income tax in 2012, and where Value Added Tax efficiency is the lowest in the world (at 25 per cent), the MQM proved that it was possible to enforce a rational system of revenue collection.

What truly has caused distress to Karachi’s mercantile and industrial classes over the last few years is the deregulation of the market of protection, following the gradual loss of control of the MQM over revenue collection — a process which paved the way for increasingly violent and arbitrary forms of extortion. This was exemplified, in recent years, by the Shershah scrap market massacre and also by the methods of the new major extortionists in town — the Pakistani Taliban, who tend to demand much heftier sums from Pakhtun entrepreneurs than any racketeer ever did in the past, and with even greater brutality.

The embedding of violence in Karachi’s politics and economy has reached such a level that even if the MQM renounced its hegemonic ambitions and proceeded to a complete aggiornamento of its muscular style of governance, it is doubtful that predatory behaviours and armed conflicts would recede in the city. Karachi’s predominant – but increasingly challenged – party currently resembles the sorcerer’s apprentice of Goethe’s poem, who stands before the spirits he has summoned and which, once at large, are no longer in his control.

Complaints and identified discrepancies

NA 47 Polling station: 20 Document of evidence: Statement of count There were 557 female voters, but not a single woman turned up to vote

NA 47
Polling station: 20
Document of evidence: Statement of count
There were 557 female voters, but not a single woman turned up to vote

NA 117 Polling station: 89 Document of evidence: Statement of count The presiding officer did not mention the registered voters on the statement of count

NA 117
Polling station: 89
Document of evidence: Statement of count
The presiding officer did not mention the registered voters on the statement of count

NA 117 Polling station: 153 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 465 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 862.

NA 117
Polling station: 153
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 465 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 862.

NA 117 Polling station: 146 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 630 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,021.

NA 117
Polling station: 146
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 630 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,021.

NA 117 Polling station: 188 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 798 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,386.

NA 117
Polling station: 188
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 798 votes (100 per cent turnout) were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 1,386.

NA 264 Polling station: 138 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, this polling station had a 100 per cent voter turnout

NA 264
Polling station: 138
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, this polling station had a 100 per cent voter turnout

NA 174 Polling station: 67 Document of evidence: Statement of count In Form XIV there are 1,390 registered and polled vote (100 per cent turnout), but according to the final polling station list, the number of registered voters are 2,083

NA 174
Polling station: 67
Document of evidence: Statement of count
In Form XIV there are 309 registered and polled vote (100 per cent turnout), but according to the final polling station list, the number of registered voters are 2,083

NA 174 Polling station: 249 Document of evidence: Statement of count The total in the final polling station list is 1,643 (893 males and 750 females) but in Form XIV there are 912 registered and polled votes

NA 174
Polling station: 249
Document of evidence: Statement of count
The total in the final polling station list is 1,643 (893 males and 750 females) but in Form XIV there are 912 registered and polled votes

NA 50 Polling station: 346 Document of evidence: Statement of count According to the statement of count, 527 votes were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 520.

NA 50
Polling station: 346
Document of evidence: Statement of count
According to the statement of count, 527 votes were polled at this polling station. However, the registered voters mentioned on the statement are 520.

– 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.

PMLN, PTI are neck and neck

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. nawaz-bilawal-imran-670 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.

Journal observations

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

Saturday

Some of the ROs had the candidates do their kids’ homework. Most of them managed well, but the algebra questions really put them off.

Sunday

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.

Diary of Imran Khan

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.

Forum: Manifesto Talk

Left to right: Ayaz Amir; Haris Khalique; Amit Baruah

Left to right: Ayaz Amir; Haris Khalique; Amit Baruah

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

The right approach


detailed-2

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.”

The Long March in Lahore that mobilised civil society into action in 2007

The Long March in Lahore that mobilised civil society into action in 2007

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
of manifestos
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.”