The unelectables

Published: July 24, 2018
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The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of biomedical engineering, international health and medicine at Boston University. 
He tweets @mhzaman

The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of biomedical engineering, international health and medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman

Just as there are those with deep pockets, famous names and intimate knowledge of how to win elections, there are others, who run for the office not because they feel it is their birthright, but because they are bothered by the injustice that surrounds them all. Using the popular phrase of electables, it is safe to call these men and women as unelectables, not because they lack qualification, or desire, or a sense of fairness, but because they lack the backing of their feudal heritage, or that of a big party.

Politics of late has been messy, much dirtier than it ought to be, and far more violent than anyone expected. But there are also some positive signs. A sign of our democratic evolution is the increasing number of driven and motivated fresh faces running for office in the upcoming elections. Sometimes they are under a party banner, and sometimes independent, but these people offer competence, decency and the willingness to listen. I realise that some of us may have made up our mind recently, or our minds may have been made years ago, but these new faces deserve a look. Even if we have decided what symbol to put the stamp at, listening to, or reading about these new faces is well worth it.

The parliamentary system of elections is far from perfect — and has many holes in it, including the influence of local strongmen, religious exploiters, pirs, and feudal lords. The whole idea that a cabinet is largely made of politicians and not domain experts is also problematic. But it also has the advantage that voters can get to know the locals who decide to run for office and have a long track of standing up for the rights of others, of not being swayed by religious bigots, and not stifling dissenting voices under the guise of national security. Voices like Jibran Nasir in Karachi are important for they champion the rights of minorities, question the abuse of authority and are ready to look squarely in the eyes of the mighty and speak truth to power.

Big parties have made arguments about challenging the status quo, or pushing social justice, or prioritising local welfare. In a system like ours, change comes not from having electables, but having these so-called unelectables in parliament. The real challenge to status quo comes not from just a new slogan of a new beginning but instead from having people who have challenged the status quo throughout their lives. It doesn’t come from having turncoats in your party. The real issues of social justice are not going to be tackled because you are a famous son of a famous former leader. It is going to be tackled by those who know why healthcare is inaccessible and why it is unsafe for girls to attend the local schools. The local welfare problem is not going to be solved by someone famous, from a big party, and a big bank account contesting from your constituency. If anything, this is deeply disrespectful to the local voters of the area for someone else to parachute in right before elections and expect you to vote for him because of his party affiliation. Local welfare requires the voice of those who have lived and experienced the challenges faced by the cab drivers, the small shopkeepers and those who are finding it nearly impossible to make ends meet.

After fits and starts, false steps and plenty of terrible misadventures sponsored by military dictators, we have much to be grateful for. But we also have much to preserve and protect.

Vote is a responsibility — but it is also a choice and a voice. That choice represents who we are, and that voice should reflect who we want to empower to speak for us. Parties matter but people who care matter even more.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2018.

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