What PDM’s failure tells us about Pak voter

Absence of mass mobilisation is why PDM’s rallies haven’t translated into any game-changing political moves


M Bilal Lakhani January 09, 2021

What’s the difference between a PDM rally and a PTI dharna? Women, children and selfies. Let me explain. If mothers bring their children to a political rally or teenage boys with colourful face paintings post selfies of themselves at a political rally with their sisters, you know that the Pakistani electorate is beginning to swing in a palpable way. If women are mobilising and families are ready to get garmi mein kharab, it means the political temperature of those families is in flux.

You see PDM has managed to draw reasonably decent crowds at its rallies throughout the country but it consisted largely of their loyal party workers (mostly men) and Maulana’s madrassah boys (even the Minar-e-Pakistan jalsas on ground management was outsourced to Maulana versus the PML-N showing off its prowess in Lahore). This absence of mass mobilisation is why PDM’s rallies haven’t translated into any game-changing political moves. While the media keeps reading tea leaves on what the boys as well as the PTI and PDM leadership are thinking, the real question is: what did the Pakistani electorate just signal by not mobilising against the government?

So, let’s dissect the potential signals the Pakistani electorate could be giving. Let’s start with the circumstantial ones PDM used to justify the lack of mass crowds. The first is that the Pakistani people took Covid-19 more seriously than their leaders. The second is that they don’t like coming out in winter. Yes, one can argue Covid-19 and winter stopped families from mobilising but then again, having a pulse on the Pakistani electorate was the job of PDM’s leadership and they dropped the ball on their most powerful political weapon: timing.

Looks like the argument by the opposition that people should ignore Covid-19 and come out to protest Covid-18 (PTI’s government) fell on deaf ears. More importantly, PDM was mobilising people against two distinct sets of enemies: the ruling party and the boys. So, there are three scenarios possible now. The people stand with the boys and the ruling party. Or they stand with the boys and against the ruling party. Or with the ruling party and against the boys. Which one is it?

We can’t know for sure because PDM keeps shifting goal posts but given that the PPP has started flirting with the boys again and the PML-N will no longer name and shame, it’s safe to say that the Pakistani voter prefers evolutions to revolutions. There are always good reasons to be unhappy with a Pakistani government and come out on the streets. However, success or failure hinges on the credibility of the mobiliser and a critical mass of people becoming politicised. In this case, people appeared unmoved by the lack of credibility and mixed messaging by the PDM. As of now, the people of Pakistan are either not unhappy enough with the government to come out on the streets or they disagree with the PDM’s platform.

This is not the story we were being sold by the mainstream media and Twitter elite. And that has been the PDM’s success. According to mainstream media, Pakistan was ripe for a revolution with a capital R. This was a once in a generation, nay, once in a lifetime movement that was going to transform Pakistan. Why does the mainstream media keep falling for lies that the Pakistani people don’t fall for anymore? The problem isn’t bias as much as misreading situations so consistently. And if the media could be wrong about the pulse of the public on something as big as a revolution to overthrow the government, what else is the media getting wrong?

Now, let’s talk about the most representative forum of public opinion in Pakistan: Twitter. PPP manipulates liberals on Twitter like Maulana manipulates madrassah students for PDM jalsas. One abuses religion, the other progressive values, in service of power politics. Maulana mobilises madrassah kids in the name of religion, while PPP mobilises Twitter liberals in the name of democracy. Of course, the real objective is power politics because both the PPP and Maulana are the first to cut anti-democratic deals. At least the madrassah students get free biryani for their trouble. No one feeds the liberals any pizza.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2021.

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