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Smokers’ Corner: Lurching for meaning

May 19, 2013
PTI chief Imran Khan.—File Photo
PTI chief Imran Khan.—File Photo

I’m sure, by the time this column appears on these pages, a lot has already been said, written and investigated about the rather stunning results produced by the May 11 election.

It was interesting to note that, alas, though the electronic and social media is effective in generating hype and virtual commotions, they do not necessarily impact voting trends the way one was expecting them to.

If one believed in the sustained hype about PTI’s ‘tsunami’ in the social media, he or she was understandably left mouthing incoherent and disoriented gibberish on Twitter and Facebook the moment it became clear that PML-N would bulldoze all opposition, especially in the Punjab.

Not only was PTI drubbed severely in the Punjab by PML-N, it could not even go past the number of seats won by the PPP — a party that was pushed into the corner by threats and attacks by the TTP and came to the election as a highly unpopular outfit after spending five chaotic and mismanaged years as the outgoing ruling party.

In Sindh where, according to the electronic media, PML-F and the Sindhi nationalists were set to finally topple the PPP’s traditional supremacy, they simply failed to even slightly check the PPP’s sprint towards victory. The PPP ended up winning a comfortable majority in both the national as well as provincial assembly elections in the region.

However, the electronic media was correct in predicting the success of the MQM, the major party of Sindh’s capital, Karachi. The party managed to retain its electoral hold in the city, even though PTI accused it of rigging the election.

The truth is, even if one takes back a chunk of the votes that the MQM received, it will still manage to win in Karachi. Those residing outside Karachi, or for that matter, away from the more congested areas of the city, have yet to figure out the rather complex and paradoxical nature of the party’s electoral popularity among the Urdu-speaking majority in Karachi and in parts of Hyderabad.

MQM cannot be defeated in Karachi with lofty middle class idealism and moralism or with flag-waving patriotism. Not only are these perceived by MQM voters to be tools and excuses to undo the economic and political interests of the city’s Urdu-speakers, these also don’t unclog gutters, mend electricity wires, and guarantee regular water supply to areas far way from trendy boulevards and shopping malls of Clifton and Defense.

Apart from PML-N’s stunning show in the Punjab, the other most interesting bits about the election was the way PTI managed to gather a semblance of respectability by winning big in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

Though the media did allude to PTI’s growing popularity in KP, however, during the last few weeks of the election campaign, when the province’s outgoing ruling party, the ANP, was suffering a continuous series of brutal assaults by the extremists, TV channels began to float the idea that the ANP might benefit from a sympathy wave.

Nothing of the sort happened and the party was rudely wiped out by PTI that managed to win the largest number of seats in KP.

But perhaps the most noteworthy bit, at least to me, was to see how Peshawar in KP and Rawalpindi in the Punjab voted. Both these cities went to the PTI.

Rawalpindi was swept by the left-liberal PPP in the 1970 and 1977 election. It gave a split verdict between the PPP and the conservative PML (IJI), in the 1988 election, before falling completely in the lap of PML-N throughout the 1990s.

The PPP did manage to win a few seats here in the 2002 and 2008 election, but Rawalpindi remained to be a PML-N stronghold until this year’s election.

PTI dislodged PML-N’s supremely here on May 11, and ironically, it did so in an election in which the PML-N completely swept the rest of the Punjab!

Peshawar where PTI enjoyed a clean sweep on May 11, has turned out to be an even more (if not the most) temperamental city when it comes to elections. Its seats were shared between the left-wing NAP and the right-wing JUI in 1970.

Then between 1988 and 1997, these seats altered between the PPP and the left-liberal ANP before going completely to the right-wing alliance of religious parties, the MMA in the 2002 election.

In 2008, Peshawar re-adjusted itself and once again voted for the secular ANP and the PPP, only to obliterate both these parties in 2013 and give the centre-right PTI all four of its seats.

Some observers believe that whereas voting in Rawalpindi still takes place on the basis of ideology — reflecting Punjab’s shift from left to right ever since 1990 — voting trends in Peshawar however, always exhibit the city’s pragmatic nature where its Pashtoon and Hindko voters are merciless in judging both left and right parties purely on the basis of performance.