In case you missed Nadeem Paracha’s column in Dawn yesterday, take a moment to read it, please. Nadeem makes an excellent point about the recently concluded election in NA-55 and what this really says about what politics really resonates with the people.
Pakistan has no shortage of right wing voices in the media, and far-right politicians with booming voices and noisy supporters. Because of their outsized amplification, however, sometimes people assume that these right wing parties have more support than they really do. But when it comes time to vote (the only measurement that really matters, at the end of the day) they can barely scrape together enough votes to stay in business.
Given the fact that PPP did not contest the NA-55 election, one might think that JI or PTI would run away with many votes. But, when the dust settled, these right-wing groups were shown to be merely paisa – too small and outdated to matter anymore.
There were a total of 22 contestants in the constituency, a contest that was left wide open when the country’s largest political party, the PPP, opted to stay out. Apart from the two main contenders here, the participation of two other men is also of some interest. These were the candidates put forward by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf and the Jamat-i-Islami respectively.
Both the parties belong on the rightist side of the ideological divide, with the JI representing the old strain of political Islam and the PTI characterising the ideology’s newer strains. Both have been mainstays in the popular electronic media, being the most vocal in condemning the US and Pakistan’s ‘war on terror,’ the army’s operation against extremist groups in Paktunkhwa, and the presence of some shady western security personnel in the country.
Along with a popular TV channel, these two parties have also been highly critical of the present coalition government headed by the PPP. In fact, both these parties have been declaring the coming of some sort of a revolution that will make Pakistan a ‘true Islamic state.’
Well, the results of the Rawalpindi by-election in which the candidate of the more moderate conservative party, the PML-N, bagged over 70,000 votes and the fact that the country’s leading secular social democratic party, the PPP, was not contesting, the JI and the PTI’s dismal performance should put a much deserved spanner in the demagogic rhetoric they have been indulging in. Both the parties’ candidates combined could not garner more than a mere five per cent of the vote. So what happened to the revolution?
Obviously, the revolution only exists only on TV. And why should this come as any surprise? Considering what the right wing parties have to offer, who would want to buy it?
This fact is lost to the JI, which always tries to rouse people’s interest in abstract and ideological issues that, ultimately, do not seem to count for much when it comes to election. The same is the case with Imran Khan’s PTI, a party that has had as its mentors controversial right-wing ideologues such as the former ISI chief, Hamid Gul. What’s more, Imran Khan has failed to carve out a convincing political position for himself, in spite of the fact that he was able to create a powerful launching pad for his party with his brilliant cricketing career and his tremendous efforts to construct a state-of-the-art cancer hospital in Lahore.
Instead, he chose to retain his obvious naiveté about the rugged and Machiavellian dynamics of realpolitik, and got carried away by the kind of ‘noble’ dyed-in-wool drawing-room idealism that can get him thousands of TV viewers and internet fans, but only a handful of votes.
And anyway, as regards the two parties’ loud stand on assumed corruption of politicians, the supremacy of an independent judiciary and the oh-so-dreadful war on the poor Taliban, a string of TV anchors do a better job of it. But can they win an election? Nope.
Remember this next time someone tries to tell you that Pakistani people want a revolution or a military coup. Nobody is interested in these options. When given a choice between moving forwards and backwards, real Pakistanis want to move forwards.