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National Elections are about a choice


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—Illustration by Abro

A lot of Americans were surprised by the results of the US elections. With a sluggish economy, protracted wars, and low approval ratings in opinion polls, many expected the Democrats to be defeated. When the votes were counted, though, President Obama was re-elected by a wide margin and the Democrats retained control of the Senate. That this outcome was unexpected was more the result of media narratives than common sense. National elections are about a choice – and in this election, the choice was pretty clear.

One of the biggest myths in this election was that President Obama could not win as long as the economy continued to struggle. Political pundits repeated the mantra that "no president has been re-elected with unemployment this high." Whether or not this was historically accurate, it ignored the fact that the economy was improving (albeit slowly). In order to unseat Obama, the Republicans needed to present an alternative to Obama's economic policies that voters saw as both better and realistic. When independent economists examined Mitt Romney’s economic plan, they widely dismissed it as fantasy. Voters chose to stick with what they knew was working.

In addition to the economy, national security was a key issue in the election. Despite ending the war in Iraq, beginning to wind down the war in Afghanistan, overseeing the death of Osama bin Laden, and supporting pro-democracy movements during the Arab Spring, President Obama faced criticism over the attack on the American embassy in Libya and the ongoing crisis in Syria.

The Republicans, however, again struggled to communicate an alternative national security policy that voters found convincingly better and realistic. Americans want to see an end to the war in Afghanistan, but not an abandonment of the Afghan people; they want to see resolution in Syria, but not American involvement in another war. The Republicans were unable to credibly explain how they would better secure US interests, so voters chose to stick with President Obama.

Like the Democratic Party's 2008 campaign slogans, "Hope" and "Change", the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was elected in 2008 because it promised the people of Pakistan a new direction after decades under military rule. The PPP's slogan – "Food, Clothing, Shelter" – was a promise to directly address the needs of the nation's most needy, and one that resonated with ordinary Pakistanis' empathy for their less fortunate countrymen. It was a promise that the present government has made good on in part through programs like the Benazir Income Support Program, which has been successful both in providing a social safety net and helping empower more Pakistani women through financial independence.

But it's not only Pakistan's poor who have benefitted over the past four years. While Pakistan continues to face significant economic challenges, many important economic indicators have risen since 2008. Pakistan's GDP is up 47 per cent since 2008. Inflation, which was a whopping 25 per cent before President Zardari was sworn in, is now at 9 per cent. Even unemployment – an issue that continues to plague even the most advanced economies – has been relatively stable, shifting between 5 and 6 per cent since 2008. By comparison, the unemployment rate under General Musharraf's regime in 2002 was 7.8 per cent. New trade accords have been negotiated with both the US and the EU. The economy may be improving slowly, but it is improving.

National security, too, will be a key issue in Pakistan's next elections. Pakistan's sacrifice in the war on terrorism cannot be overstated. Tens of thousands of Pakistani lives have been sacrificed; the economy continues to suffer as risk-averse investors hold back from potentially lucrative markets; and a public facing the threat of extremist militants lives in fear of Afghanistan's war further spilling over into their own country.

Whereas in the early 2000s General Musharraf essentially sold Pakistan's sovereignty, the present government has changed direction and demanded to be treated with the dignity and respect due an allied nation. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security may have presented a temporary inconvenience to Nato, but it was essential to establishing a sustainable national security policy informed by democratic consensus. Pakistan is, for the first time, developing a national security policy that balances its national interests with its international obligations. Such a policy will take time to see results, but it is the only path to ensuring a peaceful and prosperous future.

With high personal favorability ratings in opinion polls and a populist message, many expect charismatic cricket legend Imran Khan to emerge as Pakistan's next Prime Minister. But there are reasons to believe this too may be based more in media narratives than electoral reality.

Talk about shooting down American drones and withdrawing from the fight against militants may resonate with a war-weary public's desire for a quick end to the present crisis, but it ignores the obvious consequences such actions would entail in the real world – consequences that could exacerbate, rather than alleviate, suffering. Likewise, Khan's promise to end corruption in 90 days is widely viewed by experts as lofty campaign rhetoric with little chance of success in the real world.

Next year, Pakistanis will be presented with a choice: Whether to give the present governing coalition more time to continue its social, economic, and national security policies, or to start over add try something different. Unless one of the major opposition parties can present an alternative that voters believe is both better and realistic, don't be surprised if Pakistan's next government looks pretty similar to the present one as well.


The author is a political consultant in Washington, DC and an advisor to Americans for Democracy and Justice in Pakistan. He is on Twitter @setholdmixon


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

Taimur Nov 28, 2012 06:25pm
erum Dec 01, 2012 05:32am
Well said@ Kdspirited,I dont know why the author is comparing Economy of Pakistan with Musharaff regime 2002,not with 2005-2006.Also the PPP government doesn't change the direction and we are still a alliance in american war as Musharaf did in early 2000's. And also according to author "PPP demanded to be treated with the dignity and respect due an allied nation.,but the result is "more drone attacks "
Kamran Dec 01, 2012 08:30am
I have lost respect for Dawn News after reading this awfully uninformed and pointless article.
MAD Nov 29, 2012 05:44am
The author obviously hasnt visited Pakistan and what is written here is based on official statistics and nothing more. There has been no peeking behind the scenes. Just my opinion
Cheema Nov 29, 2012 02:43am
Your article makes me depressed. How can one live without hope. Your comparison of Romney with opposition parties in Pakistan is absurd. In fact Republicans started the two wars in Iraq and Afganistan. Also it was Bush who left America in the economic turmoil. So how can Romney, a republican candidate be representative of a change. I see this article as an attempt at endorsing PPP for next elections when the reality is that the institutions in Pakistan are completely destroyed. Why cant you see the energy crisis including electricity crisis which is crippling the industry. Failed Rental power projects which were started for corruption and kickbacks. Look at the fate of PIA, Railways, Steel Mills, OGDC and the list goes on. I hope the people in Pakistan dont fall for any tricks a second time. Let these elections be an opportunity for accountablity of politicians. Its time for a change. Waiting for another five years would be a mistake.
NASAH (USA) Nov 28, 2012 06:32pm
Only the republicans were surprised at the result.
khalid amir khan gan (@kakhangandapur) Nov 28, 2012 04:06pm
For heavens is planted.....please avoid propaganda.....where is the employment? I could not see anybody in my surroundings, who has found a job except in Army, Police or some other LEA. Nobody has been employed even as teacher as it has been banned for the last four years owing to the dismissal of illegal enrollment of hundreds of teachers in MMA's rule.......
Zeeshan Nov 29, 2012 08:00am
The author is not clear about his opinion but his intention is to create confusion and get replied. The people of Pakistan will defiantly give a chance to PTI what so ever . The rest of the options already tried out and found incompetent.
Bilal Choudry Nov 28, 2012 03:50pm
how many times has the author visited pakistan ? what are you talking about ?
arpan Nov 29, 2012 07:49am
Present government hasn't taken any bold steps to improve the economy. The finance minister is again in US with a begging bowl in his hand. Populist governments aren't need of the hour. Imran Khan is certainly not the solution but nor is another term for the present ruling coalition.
Zeeshan Nov 29, 2012 08:02am
Many times in his dreams.........
kdspirited Nov 28, 2012 03:46pm
Really Seth sitting in Washington you are able to tell how the PPP govt has improved the lives of average Pakistanis with 16-18 hours of continuous load shedding killing any chances of an underdeveloped nation to have an economy. Our factories have shut down our small business owners have gone bankrupt. And what did this govt do rent the most expensive electricity generator in the world that crippled this nation even further. Since this govt took over they have been unable to bring security and stability in this nation all the while only securing themselves behind concrete walls. You have also not highlighted the number of corruption cases that this govt or the members of this govt have directly been involved in. You have refused to highlight the lack of measures introduced by this govt to increase the literacy rate in our country. The one indicator for a prosperous nation. Our economy that you "think" has improved has bankrupted our once profitable companies like PIA, Railways, NICL, etc. and this govt has done nothing to stop it. There have been national catastrophes such as floods and fires and this govt has left its people to fend for themselves. So please don't tell us how much this govt was better than the last. Also you are comparing the Americans to us Pakistanis. What you forget sir is that in America you have the leisure to think and make good judgement calls because you have the freedom and security to decide freely without the burdens of security threats, feudalism, bribery, corruption and a foreign nation dictating who should be empowered. One thing that the PPP govt. is indeed very good at is buy out the votes and people they need to win. But having said that I am confident in my fellow Pakistanis that they will choose wisely this time.