Farah Adeed |
At the very outset, I want to congratulate the young, energetic, committed and vocal social worker and young politician Alamgir Khan (founder of #Fixit) who has managed to win this by-election from NA-243. Mr. Khan, congratulations to you and to the party leadership for this outstanding victory. So, one more election. One more debate. One more winner. One more hope. And, yes, one more loser.
By-elections results are not really surprising. It was expected joint opposition will give tough time to PTI. But it was not expected that the sitting government will remain able to maintain itself at the top. Politically, PML-N has defeated the PTI in Lahore and some other parts of Punjab but technically it was joint opposition against a newly-elected government, facing severe economic crisis and massive scale corruption at the same time.
CM Buzdar who shies away from media and remains in low profile after being elected as CM Punjab is not what Lahore was expecting or what it really deserved.
Interestingly, some reliable studies on electioneering in Pakistan reveal that the elections in Pakistan are barely party-centric. It is the individual personality which matters the most. These studies also maintain that Pakistani society is not politically very well aware of the issues nor do people here actively participate in the political process.
Dr. Mohammad Waseem in his book titled “Democratization in Pakistan: A Study of the 2002 Election”, termed Pakistani society as an ‘hourglass society’ where political awareness and participation is momentary e.g. during elections people come and vote, and then forget to be an active part of politics and the political process. These studies and theorization are, however, being challenged by new researchers.
Read more: Bypolls: Road to a healthier democracy
Since in urban centers of Pakistan, an active, politically conscious middle class is seen to be more concerned about party manifestos than candidates contesting on the ground. For example, Dr. Amir Liaquat and Imran Khan won from Karachi and Lahore respectively in general elections not because they had what is typically known as someone’s ‘traditional political threshold’, but due to the parties and ideologies, they were representing.
But, as a matter of fact, in rural areas still it is the candidate who matters the most. There are a few examples where the forces of status quo have been challenged and successfully defeated by young and committed political workers but overall the situation has not been changed. Keeping in view the above-outlined framework, PTI’s defeat in Lahore is dismaying.
The de-politicization of police would have eliminated the control of local leaders over Thana and made it independent of all sort of political intervention.
A party ruling in Punjab and center could not manage to retain previously earned seat in Lahore which should be alarming for PM Imran Khan. In Karachi and Islamabad the PTI remained at the top but in Lahore, it was nowhere. The question is why? There may be two main reasons behind PTI’s defeat in Lahore. Firstly, many observers believe that since Lahore is the political base of PML-N, therefore, it was not easy for PTI to win the seat.
But the recent win of Imran Khan and presence of PTI in the provincial assembly contests such justification. The other reason may be the appointment of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar who could not perform well. CM Buzdar who shies away from media and remains in low profile after being elected as CM Punjab is not what Lahore was expecting or what it really deserved.
I personally met some voters from NA-131 (Lahore) who were unhappy because of some decisions PM Khan took after assuming the office. “A visionless person has been imposed on us. What is Tabdeeli here in Punjab? Mr. Buzdar?” a voter told me just a day before the by-election.
Furthermore, the reason behind PTI’s victory in rural areas is not its ideological appeal. The party is in government and many electable have decided to become its part. This is how the party managed to win many seats in Punjab. There are a few examples where young leaders have defeated powerful electable but we cannot count it as a general political trend across the province. Therefore, it is clear that the party managed to defeat other parties because it had powerful, winning candidates.
A polity without electable will allow people to make independent decisions while casting their votes. This is what will benefit the PTI at the end of the day.
The question is who are these electable? Simply, electable are powerful local leaders who control police and local judiciary to some extent. By control over local power structure, these people get ample amount of opportunity to garner popular political support which is the essential ingredient in a democracy. This is, however, in principle a gross violation of modern democratic norms which argue for a participatory, deliberative democracy.
After the general elections and PTI’s victory, it was largely expected that the political trends in Punjab will get changed because of two main reasons. One, PTI promised to establish a powerful local government system which would ensure a participatory system of governance at the local level. This was considered the most important step towards the establishment of democracy in Pakistan.
Two, PTI’s chief Imran Khan repeatedly claimed and assured the whole nation that he would de-politicize police if elected to power. The de-politicization of police would have eliminated the control of local leaders over Thana and made it independent of all sort of political intervention.
But the party performance so far has been dismaying in this regard. Incidents from the immediate transfer of DPO Pakpattan and the involvement of CM Buzdar, transfer of IGP Punjab and the resignation of Nasir Durrani clearly convey the mindset of Punjab government; no change. It has also been reported that PM Khan has been informed about the different socio-political background of Punjab where a KPK-like police model cannot be implemented. Local leaders are required to have control over the police to maintain their political support.
Frankly, if the PTI does not dare to question the existing set-up in Punjab and continues to go with the flow it will have to face some unmanageable challenges at the end. The party will remain dependent on electable in the future to win elections since people will continue to support those who control the police in their respective areas. Ultimately, the party will have nothing to present before the nation after five years as it would have done something extremely contrary to what it had promised for.
If PM Khan de-politicizes police, strengthens institutions and ensures a participatory system of governance at local level, it will alter the political culture of Punjab. A polity without electable will allow people to make independent decisions while casting their votes. This is what will benefit the PTI at the end of the day.
Farah Adeed is a Senior Research Analyst in GVS. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.