As we move closer to the elections, political observers and analysts are going to focus on the popularity ranking of the parties, their electoral alliances, manifestos — as if they matter — and political strategies to win elections. This is the subject matter of old politic — the pragmatic politics, which is about building winnable electoral alliances. Politics is nothing but the pursuit of power, ideally for public good, and not for private ends.
Winning elections requires appropriate electoral strategies. Political leaders and parties devise strategies according to the social structures, the political culture and in light of ethnic, demographic and caste and clan characteristics of the society. At the centre of the electoral strategies, both in mature democracies as well as in emerging democracies like ours, are the voting blocs. The social and cultural differences in different societies generate various sets of voting blocs.
While women, ethnic minorities, religious groups, blue collar workers and the old and the young may constitute voting blocs in the industrial democracies, in ours it is the caste, sub-tribe and the dynastic, influential political families with large landholdings that matter. Our old-pragmatic politics focuses more on the social characteristics and influence patterns of the electoral constituencies than on national issues. This is the logic and compulsion of local contestations among the traditional political elites.
The major political parties — the PML-N and the PPP — have been in fierce competition for decades now to win over the dynastic families and through them, access the larger voting blocs of castes and village communities. How do the dynastic political families make their political choices? A good number of them have stayed with one or another political party through good and bad times. Strong party affiliation is a mark of positive political development in Pakistan that will eventually produce a two-party system. However, as is evident from recent defections from both the PML-N and the PPP — more in numbers from the latter — the dynastic families have their own sense of political pragmatism. It is the power question that impels them to affiliate with or defect from a political party. They create a stampede at the doors of a party if they feel it is likely to win and form the next government. So it is the principal of power and not the virtue of public good or any programme of positive change that keeps the political families making odious political deals.
The question to debate is, will pragmatic politics win again or lose in the face of the challenge of new politics? What is this new politics I am referring to? It is the politics of change through the political mobilisation of the people and the building of a national coalition of social groups to rise and vote against the dynastic political parties — mainly the PPP and the PML-N. This is what the Kaptaan and his PTI wish to achieve in the next elections. I believe with his optimism, personal charisma and faith in the ability of the common man, the Kaptaan has rocked the dreamboat of traditional, dynastic politics. If the PTI emerges even as a third party, and even if it is not able to form the next government at any level, the politics of Pakistan will have changed forever, and for the better.
In a hung parliament, which is not unlikely, the PTI will play hardball rather than the role of a kingmaker. Its presence in the assemblies will put tremendous pressure on other parties to do better for the country than they have. It will constitute a democratic revolution if the PTI captures first or second position. Even at third, the Kaptaan will be just one stop short of winning Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2013.