Why 2018 elections in Pakistan are more about cynicism, explains country’s senior scribe
Islamabad, July 3: Pakistan is headed for its national and general elections on July 25 but not many are ecstatic about the country's tryst with democracy, which has found no interruption for a decade now.
In a piece in Pakistani daily Dawn titled 'Boycott is never an option', senior journalist Arifa Noor has said that five years ago, when Pakistan went to the polls after an elected government in the country completed a full term of five years for the first time, things looked rosy. Five years later, it is turning out to be a nightmare.
"Five years ago, the excitement and jubilation were palpable. Pakistan was heading towards its first democratic transition - smooth and peaceful. The PPP had completed its term - despite much turbulence and many dire warnings of an upset - and the elections promised a second, legitimate government. Finally, the country had developed a consensus on political transitions through elections and not coups or summary dismissals of governments," Noor said.
It's not that there were no issues related to the failure of the civilian government which was led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) between 2008 and 2013, but yet the country was jubilant over its first-ever peaceful transition of power since independence in 1947.
According to Noor, the reason for the celebrations in 2013 was perhaps the presence of two alternatives to the PPP - the PML(N) led by Nawaz Sharif and the PTI of former cricketer Imran Khan and there was enough excitement visible to the eyes in the ranks of the political parties, civil society and the corporate bodies about the election, she wrote, giving a special mention of the PTI which seemed to have brought a fresh air in Pakistani politics by mobilised the youth.
Five years since then, yet another government has completed a full tenure in Pakistan without any hindrance but the celebrations are less visible this time, Noor wrote in her piece, and according to her, this is partly because of the political polarisation in the country in the last five years. While there was sync between the parties between 2008-13, there was more confrontation between 2013-18 and that marred the mood to a big extent.
Noor also mentioned about the "behind-the-scenes manipulation of electoral politics" after the Senate elections earlier this year that saw the ruling PML-N falling apart in the Balochistan province and getting reduced into a minority in the upper house.
The piece also pointed at the PML-N's other woes towards the later part of its rule, including among others, the disqualification of its heavyweight prime minister Nawaz Sharif last year, which has dashed the party's hopes of making a return to power this year.
The PTI isn't doing any better, either, according to Noor. The erosion in the party' idealism and its resorting to the same old tactic of banking on winnability and winnable candidates despite their tarnished images have turned many people off.
Amid the chaotic pre-election scene, journalism has also been hit, according to Noor, who said: "Divided within itself and under pressure from state institutions, there is little space for neutrality. We are read and watched not for unbiased reporting or views but for the positions we have taken."
There are more cynicism and anger ahead of the July 25 elections in Pakistan, the senior journalist said, but having said that, hasn't that been the dominant feeling in Pakistan's civilian politics for several decades now? 2013 was perhaps more of an exception since it was the first time that the country saw one civilian government passing the baton to another without a fuss from the disruptive quarters.
But it takes more than a term to establish the culture in a political system. The Pakistanis are perhaps expecting the good signs of democracy surfacing far too faster after decades of struggle.
Only patience can be a panacea for the cynicism and disappointment.