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Will the Tsunami kill orthodox politics?

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Adeel Ahmed
Tribune Blog

In the last century, it has been generally accepted that Pakistani voters are more or less divided according to the left-right ideological divide which is also, conveniently, referred to as the Bhutto/anti-Bhutto vote.

However, in the last decade a new breed of voters is ready to replace those who were young during 1970s and 80s. The priorities of the previous generation of voters too has been altered by the significant changes in economic and social conditions, consequently they no longer are as enthusiastically affiliated to the left-right politics as they once were.

On the other hand, new generations of voters are immune to this so-called ‘ideological’ divide. The political discussions or talk shows that take place around us generally encompass the debate of right or wrong, corruption, policies, infrastructure etc but nobody talks about the political ideology Bhutto believed in. Such neglect simply tells us that whatever Bhutto’s ideology was, it is considered irrelevant to the present political landscape. If we analyse other left wing political parties like the MQM or the ANP, their vote bank is, by large, due to ethnicity rather than any left wing ideology.

The PPP, which is regarded as a center-to-the-left mainstream political party, also appeals to the Sindhi ethnicity whenever it feels threatened, in spite of being a nation-wide political party. The second mainstream political party, the PML-N, is usually considered as center-to-the-right party and is increasingly restricted to Punjab.

This supports the perception that society is being increasingly polarized. However, the most important thing to observe is that PPP and PML-N are shifting towards center. The difference in their policies and its implementation is almost negligible. This further reinforces the death of orthodox left-right political divide.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as third mainstream political party but doesn’t have left or right label.

Interestingly, the PTI encounters constant criticism from both conservatives and liberals. And yet it comprises of people from both sections. PTI takes its stance on a case by case basis rather than following any particular school of thought stringently. For example, its policy for negotiation with Taliban is much closer to the conservatives but it also supports trade with India, which is closer to the liberal front. I feel that both are based on a principle, as it should be.

This is precisely the strength of the PTI as now the party is considered to comprise of a broader range of schools of thoughts. Be it conservatives, liberals, moderates, all are attracted to the PTI for its diverse party dynamics evident in its policies.

PPP supporters and workers in Punjab and KPK, who were unhappy with the performance of the party and left with no choice due to the deep rivalry with the PML-N, are now shifting their loyalties to PTI. Contrary to many analysts, it is now an undeniable reality that the PTI is damaging the PPP’s vote bank in Punjab and KPK. In 1997 elections, the PML-N won by a landslide not because of any increase in its voters, but benefited significantly from a much lower turn out of PPP voters.Unlike the 1997 general election, PPP supporters now have a genuine alternative.

This situation is favourable to the PTI. Moreover, being devoid of any ethnic colour and traditional left-right label, the PTI will dent the vote bank of almost every political party.

Recently, I came across a very superficial analysis which concluded that in Punjab, the PTI and PML-N will share opposition votes or anti-Bhutto votes, as a result of which PPP will win the elections in Punjab. Frankly, some intellectuals have yet to free themselves from the Bhutto/anti Bhutto era. The major flaw in the analysis is that it is based on the following assumptions:

(i) There are only two kinds of vote banks, Bhutto/anti Bhutto

(ii) Voter turn-out will remain 35-40%

(iii) The PTI will only take its share from the right wing vote bank

It is worth noting here that in the general elections of 1970, voter turn-out was 63% which helped the PPP overcome Muslim League factions in Punjab.In the present scenario where an anchorperson of a political talk show is earning
much more than showbiz celebrities, the turn-out is expected to go beyond 60%. Moreover, the largest chunk is likely to be the first time voters (18-35 years of age). It is generally agreed upon that the inclusion of new voters or increase in voters turn-out usually benefit the newer political party rather then the traditional ones, unless the performance of older parties were commendable. Furthermore, the disadvantage with both the traditional parties is that they will also be affected by the incumbency factor as they both are ruling parties whether in federation or province.

The argument over the assumption that the PPP will be victorious in Punjab due to the split in opposition or right-wing voters, is not at all true if we were to analyse ground surveys. Another very important point to be noted is that every ground survey conducted during the past 12 months by the IRI indicates that the PPP’s popularity in Punjab has seen a decline so much so, that even if the opposition vote banks were to split, it will be highly unlikely for PPP to win. Note that according to many Pakistani journalists, IRI has been consistently proven to be accurate with the election results, particularly in 2008.

If we compare the results of the general elections of 1993 and 1997, one can observe that there was no major gain in terms of votes for PML-N. Its spectacular success was due to the lack of PPP voters; a significant chunk of PPP voters is actually swing voters. The challenge for PTI is to target these voters strongly. IRI surveys show the PPP vote bank diminishing – so where is shifting to then? My claim: the PTI. I will support my claim with the observation my friend and I made on our visits to Punjab, that these swing voters of PPP have started viewing the PTI as a likely and strong alternative.

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