Election 2023

Tomorrow's Leaders

With the next elections less than three years away, you might be wondering why I’m writing about elections over 10 years down the road. As it turns out, the two are not unrelated, and, in fact, one may be very dependent on the other.

When the next elections come around in 2013, it will largely be a battle between the same players that we have witnessed almost non-stop over the past few years.

Though the military has largely – and to their great credit – stayed out of politics, the media has more than taken up the mantle of outside agitator and political meddler. Popular media names have thrown all sense of responsibility out the window, spreading rumours and making dire predictions that never seem to come true (and never seem to result in apologies, either). Accusing everyone under the sun of corruption without ever providing any evidence has become a popular parlour game among the nation’s intelligentsia.

But there are consequences for these actions. Irfan Husain points to one serious consequence in his column from Saturday’s Dawn, “The party of the old guard”: the lack of enthusiasm for politics among the nation’s youth.

A major reason for this lack of interest in politics among educated young Pakistanis is the constant hammering of politicians and the ramshackle democratic system by the electronic media. Day in and day out, retired bureaucrats and generals, as well as out-of-power politicians, are invited to TV studios to abuse the government of the day.

Apart from being a destabilising force, this drip-drip-drip of venom understandably turns young people off politics. They do not have the experience to discern between genuine criticism and a campaign inspired by dark, cynical forces.

I hear this all the time when I talk to my friends. No matter whose name comes up – Zardari, Nawaz, Altaf, Imran – the response is always the same. “I can’t stand that guy. He’s corrupt. He should be in jail.” Really, wow! What have they done that’s so corrupt? “Come on, you know it’s true. Everyone knows it. Don’t be a sucker.” Okay, then who do you like? “Nobody, man. I hate politics. They’re all corrupt.” So you think the military should take over again? “God no! We just need some real people in government, not these feudalists and their cronies.” Okay, so why don’t you get involved in politics? You’re smart, you’d be great. “Are you kidding? No way. Even if I could get elected, there’s no way I would put myself through that.”

Complaining is cheap. It’s also safe. Who wants to get involved in politics in a country where doing so means being attacked from all sides and having unfounded rumours spread about you? It’s no wonder that the youth aren’t going to get involved. It’s much easier to go into business or journalism or law where you’re seemingly above reproach.

I hear people complain about Bilawal getting involved in politics. But who are the other young people that are doing anything? At least Bilawal is doing something. If you think you’d be better, why not do something? Everyone starts somewhere, right?

In 2013, the elections will be between the same people. All the parties will field mostly the same candidates under the same leadership. That’s fine for 2013, maybe, but these guys can’t run everything forever. And if everyone is really as unsatisfied as they claim to be, why is no one stepping up to bat?

The truth is, all these rumours and conspiracy theories are more than harmless entertainment or hard politics. They’re creating an entire generation of disillusioned young people who will grow up to be disillusioned adults.

There is no shortage of ‘Ministers In Waiting’, as can easily be seen from their incessant campaigning on TV talk shows. Sharif & Co. along with Imran’s XI like to toss the idea of midterm elections; Altaf Bhai continues flirting with his ‘French Revolution’; and Mushy couldn’t keep his true intentions quiet long enough to get back in the country. Someone is going to be in charge of the government in 2023. Do we want that to be our best and brightest? Or do we want it to be the only person willing to put up with the abuse? We’d better decide now, or we may not have a choice.

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