Pakistan Elections 2008: Why the lull this Time?

Posted on February 13, 2008
Filed Under >Syed Ahsan Ali, Politics, Society
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Syed Ahsan Ali

I have witnessed few elections since 1990. It has always been a fun witnessing elections in your mohalla in the hustle bustle of Karachi.

Pakistan Elections 2008Pakistan Elections 2008Pakistan Elections 2008Pakistan Elections 2008

Motorbike riders running around on their bikes flashing flags of parties of their preference. This is considered by some to be a nuisance but they play a vital role in adding color to the whole ambiance of elections. I still remember vividly that passionate girls and boys of my area lighting the oil lamps on the order of their leader.

At that time, I was not having any like and dislikes regarding parties. We brothers and sisters just enjoyed the festivities of the occasion. Going to the election offices with our father to take a look at the voting list to make sure that names of our family members are there or not was one enthralling experience. My mother was an enthusiastic voter.

Different parties arranged conveyance for the voters to take them to the polling stations. Party workers running after us with polite smiles gave all of us giggles because on that day public, general public becomes the real power. Every political worker knows the significance of making voters happy on the day of elections and that made all of our families felt empowered at least for the couple of days when voting has to be held.

And the biggest and best part of entire election occasion was PTV-run marathon transmission to give the results at the earliest. Watching Naeem Bukhari sitting in his neatly clad suits churning out joke after joke in his usual Punjabi-Urdu-English mixed lingo with decent and ever-alert Qurat-ul-Ain Haider, sister of well-known anchor Tauseeq Haider, in the studios waiting for first results to filter in were the moments I cherished.

There have been many other respected anchors especially the likes of Laeeq Ahmed, Mustansar Hussain Tarar and Kanwal Naseer. They were there in the hot seats where they found the first pieces of news from every region of Pakistan to keep us informed with reliable information. Listening to the experts sitting on the other side of the panel discussing the chances of PPP and PML in their strongholds late in the night while eating snacks was an enjoyment of its own kind.

Another thing that kept us glued to our screens were the skits and sitcoms during the transmission written by Anwar Maqsood, Atta-ul-haq Qasmi, and several other prominent playwrights with the cast of Moin Akhter, Bushra Ansari, Habib-ullah Anjum and Ismaeel Tara woke us from our slumber.

But this time, in the 2008 elections, things are lot more tense and uncertain.

Fewer people seem willing to cast their vote.

Everyone is asking to each other what is going to happen after elections? The biggest concern is the law and order situation.

What kind of terror can be felt when arms and ammunition remain on display. How can we feel the ‘thrill’ of elections when confronted with the possibility of suicide attacks?

Even today, there are polling offices, elections songs, voters’ lists, motorbike-riders in almost every union council in Karachi. But what is missing is the eagerness to cast ones vote. We are not clear that we will be safe if we do so. Nor are we clear that it will make a difference. And votes is what this whole hullabaloo is all about.

I pray that we all get out of this peacefully and we move towards peaceful transition.

16 responses to “Pakistan Elections 2008: Why the lull this Time?”

  1. Aik Aur Dewana says:

    JUI molvi says its haram to give vote to anyone except JUI candidates.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/elections08/story/2008/0 2/080214_vote_fatwa_fz.shtml

    Everyone should keep this in mind as we don’t want to do anything haram.

  2. meengla says:

    I fully agree with @Aqil Sajjad above. In this connection, I’d like to add that the political culture of Pakistan has made some progress since the 70s though it may not seem obvious. Even the nature of martial laws of Pakistan has improved when you compare Musharraf with Zia ul Haq. I also think that, despite all ethnic divisions, there is a growing nationalism in Pakistanis cemented by the common language of Urdu. These are slow improvements. But they are still step in the right direction.

    But, as @Classof71 points out, external factors are extremely important in Pakistan’s internal affairs and these external factors can undo the gains–as shown by jihadi-led terrorism– and can even lead to a breakup of the country.

    But of course blaming the foreign powers for all of Pakistan’s problem is unfair. Pakistan’s reliance on Western countries is rooted in Pakistan’s internal sense of insecurity vis a vis India. Pakistan has become a ‘client state’ to gain a few morsels of support. Unfortunately the military in Pakistan has all too often become the best agent of performance in the client state.

    Until there is peace with India, Pakistan has two basic choices: Continue to be client state and gain some diplomatic cushion as well as foreign aid and trade (Pakistani textile could cripple otherwise, leading to millions of unemployed people). Or Pakistanis can choose to ‘eat grass’, galvanize internally in a revolution, expats become suspects, and show the finger to those who ask Pakistan to ‘do more’.

    In my opinion while PML-N was never so Western-inclined anyway, today I read an interview of Asif Ali Zardari. If that reflects a calculated thinking of the PPP following the murder of BB then the PPP is at least halting its reliance on Western capitals to influence events in Pakistan.

    I am a firm believer that Pakistan needs to offer sacrifices of trade etc and build govt. of political consensus for next 10-15 years, eat grass if needed, fight the fundos with fullforce, expats be prepared to be targetted…all this after refusing to be America’s client state once and for all. But for that to happen, nothing can replace a govt. elected by the people to make such decisions and galvanize people.

    And hence these elections are crucial. Change is coming to Pakistan. May be even a revolution of sort? Or may be we have already seen many mini-revolutions in 2007 and the elections will be the logical ‘last push’ to topple the status quo and the establishment.

  3. Aqil Sajjad says:

    Riaz:
    Despite all the problems with the feudal class and the other issues with our political class, I still think that elections are not meaningless, provided they are not rigged (as this military regime is most probably going to do on Feb 18).

    For instance, the present govt has badly mismanaged basic things like wheat and power supply. In a free and fair elections, it will not be able to return to power. That will set an example for the future govt (even if it also comprises of crooks) that if you mismanage things so badly, you will be thrown out of office by the electorate. So the future govt will also mismanage things, but it will try not to be as bad as this one. Over time, we can have some improvement in the quality of leadership, albeit a gradual one.

    Of course this sounds less impressive than a drastic revolution, but it’s better than dictatorship, which is totally status quo oriented (the higher growth rate under military regimes being mainly due to exogenous factors rather than a result of their own management).

    Disillusionment with democracy is no solution, because the alternative is even worse.

  4. Riaz Haq says:

    There could be several possible reasons for lack of action/enthusiasm of previous elections. I can think of a few:
    1. Benazir’s assassination has had a chilling effect.
    2. The multiplicity of TV channels has moved the action from the street to the TV screen.
    3. People are just too disillusioned. They don’t believe anything will change regardless of who wins.
    I tend to think it’s #3.
    Amidst all the cries for democracy, independent judiciary, human rights, and fair polls in Pakistan, nothing will change fundamentally on Feb 18. Regardless of the party labels and promises, the feudal power will endure in the name of democracy. The choices remain narrow for Pakistanis: Choose between military and the feudal class. There is no third choice as long as the middle class remains small and unable to exert any real influence. The only hope for real democracy lies in continued robust growth of the middle class over an extended period of time of another decade or two. There are no guarantees that feudal rulers will permit that.

  5. Classof71 says:

    I think people in Pakistan have finally awoken to the reality that individuals are weak and institutions are strong. I wish Pakistanis had learnt this lesson sooner.

    Phir Mauj-e-Hava Paichaan Ai Meer Nazar Aai
    Shayad Ke Bahaar Aai, Zanjeer Nazar Aai

    Why are people not interested in the election? Because they can see that the elections will not make a difference to America’s neo-colonial policies towards Pakistanis who have always been at the receiving end.

    There are some opportunistic Pakistanis like Asif Zardari who have a stake in winning the election ( possibly because it is their one and only chance).

    Whilst there may be some sincere Pakistanis who believe in elections like the poor idiots in America who believe a new President will solve Iraq and Afghanistan and stop Amkericans dying for Oil and Israel, the reality is that electing a new government anywhere does not solve any of those problems…

    I believe that democracy in Pakistan’s instance is a bit like magical realism. You can afford to be “democratic” only if you can be oblivious to the the harsh realities of the security threats by the American presence inside and the Indian presence around Pakistan.

    Perhaps even the ordinary Pakistanis are becoming aware
    that dealing with the imminent external dangers facing Pakistan is more important than a Bhuttoesque Parliamentary majority which can be achieved simply by dividing the country in two and secession of the majority half…

    In order to build a longer living Pakistan, we must make Pakistan more than a figment of British imagination than the one which exists today in its American-mole infiltrated-state.

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