With the election season upon us, political parties have unveiled their manifestos that mirror the ideology and vision they uphold. Although this has not been a traditional political practice, presenting manifestos has become the new norm. The voter of today is more aware and concerned about the commitments that a party makes and how well it fulfils them. A manifesto has thus become a tool for electoral campaigning and a benchmark to evaluate the performance of contesting parties.
One can sense change in the upcoming elections because for the first time in Pakistan’s history, over 25 million youth are about to use their right to vote. This may be a reason why political parties are compelled to include a brief chapter on youth in their manifestos.
Promises of youth empowerment are common in all electoral manifestos. The PPP wishes to engage the youth in policymaking at the grassroots level after embodying the Youth Policy and the Ministry of Youth Affairs during its last term. This is akin to the concept that the PTI proposes: to invoke youth through Jawan Markaz — a comparatively broader and wider concept. The PML-N proposes a Dynamic Youth Policy, whereas the PML-Q vows to conduct annual student summits, compared with the ANP’s Volunteer Movement. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the JUI-F have similar plans.
The good thing is that parties have anticipated the power of youth. The bad thing is that none of the political parties plan to build upon the successful experiences of existing youth institutions, such as the National Boy Scouts and Girls Guides Movement.
Another often overlooked and politically alienated segment of our social fabric is the religious minority. Manifestos of all parties pledge to defend and protect them through mantras of equality and zero tolerance when it comes to discrimination and violence against them. Almost all major parties aim to curb forced conversions and marriages, and abolish the secondary status of minorities. Earlier, the PPP had pledged to establish a National Commission of Religious Minorities. It has also vowed to the raise quota of minorities in the legislature and public service. Ironically, during the PPP’s tenure, religious minorities were brutally victimised and it failed to protect them against sectarian violence.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, 43 per cent of eligible voters are women. It expects 40 per cent of them to turn out on election day. Considering this huge vote bank, mainstream parties have included women issues within their manifestos. The PPP pledges to take institutional initiatives to abolish violence again women. Conversely, the party is being criticised for failing to protect women’s rights. Credible reports indicate that the frequency and intensity of violence against women has increased by seven per cent during the PPP’s rule. The PML-N, on the other hand, advocates land rights for women, while the PTI vows to implement what it calls the Proactive Gender Policy, which supports the abrogation of gender discriminatory laws in the Constitution.
It is interesting to note that the Urdu version of the JUI-F manifesto did not specify the party’s plans pertaining to women; however, the English version ensures safety and protection of women’s rights entwined with Islamic principles, much like what the JI proposes.
Let us have a pre-poll examination of the promises that the parties have made. Only 36 women candidates have been awarded tickets for the 272 seats of the National Assembly by all the major parties. Visibly, gender equality has been overlooked in terms of, at least, numerical representation of women. The PPP in 2008 had granted 15 tickets to women, but this time it has positioned only 11 women in the electoral arena. The PML-N has given tickets to seven female candidates, as has the MQM, while the PTI has nominated only four female candidates. The ANP has fielded only two female candidates for the National Assembly.
It is up to the voter to determine which party to vote for. What is important to remember is that the winning party’s rule will be evaluated on the basis of its manifesto. The voter must choose wisely. Otherwise, we may be at risk of seeing the same “performance” that we have seen in the last five years.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2013.