By-elections in Pakistan follow a set pattern. Voter interest is minimal. Turnout is abysmally low, despite quick-fix development spending by the incumbent government to entice voters. Close to general elections, even the ruling party’s interest is low. So not much development work was visible. A list of projects doing the rounds had actually been completed well before. If anything, one was expecting a backlash of the unfulfilled promises made in full public view by the holder of the highest political office. That is perhaps why no grand ruling party show was staged. Invariably, the ruling party is the winner. In Lodhran, the candidate of the ruling party won. This is, however, the only line of the pattern that survived. All others were blown to pieces. Take the voter turnout first. It was massive by the standards of by-elections. It was, indeed, as much as is expected of general elections. Nearly half of the voters thronged the polling stations in NA-154 on 12 February 2018, a whole lot more than the NA-4 election on 26 Oct 2017 and even the all-important NA-120 clash on 17 September 2017.
So what happened at Lodhran? Why was it an exception to the rule? By all accounts, the winner and his party were taken by surprise. “This unthinkable result is a victory of our efforts to restore the sanctity of vote. People are responding to our efforts otherwise this wouldn’t have happened,” said Nawaz Sharif. It wasn’t necessarily in response to his campaign, but unthinkable it was. The loser and his party are making justificatory statements, skirting the fringes of the issue. ‘Inexperienced candidate’, defection of party workers and sympathisers to the rival candidate, etc. Just when we had learnt to counter the PML-N’s techniques of rigging, the PML-N had devised new techniques. Some 350 commandos would be required to be personally trained by the commander-in-chief to win the next round!!!
The issue is the failure of the very educated to understand that our people may be illiterate, but they are not stupid. They take the traditional politicians for what they are. Nay, they take them for what Imran Khan calls them — ‘badshahs’, dynastic, mafias, corrupt, ‘sifarshis, destroyers of institutions and rule of law. They see Imran Khan, the great cricketer and an icon of social development, on a high moral pedestal. They may not vote for him, given the local nature of our constituency politics. But they would certainly vote against him for the slightest deviation from what he stands for in their perception. In Lodhran, there were major deviations. First, he was personally seen to be violating the rule of law by holding a public meeting in the constituency, despite warnings from the Election Commission. Second, “Nawaz Sharif is still deceiving the masses despite being disqualified,” said he. But he did not apply the same litmus test to Jehangir Tareen, who also made a political statement not very different from Nawaz Sharif at the same illegal public meeting addressed by Khan. The fine of Rs20,000 imposed by the Election Commission was another hard-to-believe for the ordinary voter. Finally, the last nail in the coffin was the spectacle of vociferously anti-dynastic Imran Khan supporting the son after the disqualification of the wealthy father in a public meeting. Party seniors’ talk-talk in talk shows to prove otherwise, impressed no one.
Is it any wonder that the people voted with their feet, not for, but against? This is not the Bridge on the River Kwai. Bring the gentleman’s cricket to politics, not war. And don’t be hoodwinked by the great K-P growth story.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2018.
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