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Pakistan-Britons catch election fever

Updated July 13, 2018

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The election bustle is not a norm in Britain where even polling day is just another weekday. Voters benefit from the extended polling hours to cast their votes either before leaving for work or go to the polling stations in the evening.

The election campaign is also a quiet affair here with no public meetings at local or national level even during the run-up to polling day. Leaders of the political parties clash in TV debates to put their policies and campaign messages across while the candidates participate in the low-key hustings that take place in churches and community centres to debate the local issues.

But it is different when it comes to Pakistani diaspora living on this island and you can see glimpses of Pakistan-style electioneering in local council elections in Birmingham, Bradford and parts of Manchester and other areas with substantial Pakistani-origin population.

Since the general elections have been announced in Pakistan, towns and cities having substantial Pakistani-origin population are buzzing with activities. There have been noisy musical nights and fundraising dinners across Britain.

If Pakistan’s prime minister was to be decided by UK’s Pakistani-born population, PTI chief Imran Khan would have been in PM House long ago

Men with bats

If Pakistan’s prime minister was to be decided by the UK’s Pakistani-born population, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan would have been in the PM House long ago. He had all the ingredients required to cook a winning dish — wealthy financial backers, called ATMs in Pakistani media, a vibrant social media team, hyper-active organisation and mass appeal.

Mr Khan had a good following in Britain even when he was in some sort of political wilderness in Pakistan, but rise in his stars in Pakistan has resulted in new enthusiasm among his party’s activists in the UK. The inclusion of former AJK prime minister Barrister Sultan Mahmood in party ranks is cited as a major factor in the increase in popularity of the PTI among the UK’s Pakistani diaspora where Mirpuri/Kashmiri community is the largest grouping.

The party didn’t wait for the formal announcement of election schedule and started raising funds for campaign activities in Pakistan about three months ago. The PTI chief himself travelled to the UK in April this year to attend the party’s fundraising dinner in Manchester. Former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Pervez Khattak also visited the UK and attended various party functions in Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester. Similar activities took place in other parts of the country which were led by various other visiting leaders of the PTI. The momentum generated during these visits was maintained by meetings and fundraising events participated in by the local leaders of the party.

These activities culminated in a special coordination meeting in Birmingham on a Sunday some time back, organised to give final touches to participation of UK PTI activists in July 25 elections.

A look at the statement issued after the meeting can give a fair idea about the level of involvement and scope of participation. “The meeting discussed ways and means to accelerate the election campaign. It explored the possibilities of two rallies to mobilise the party activists. The first rally will cover London and the neighbouring regions while the second will start from Scotland and terminate in London after visiting all the election campaign offices in North West and Midlands.”

“It was decided in the meeting that names of all the activists going to Pakistan for election campaign would be entered into a database which would be shared with the party’s central office in Pakistan for better coordination.”

“The meeting was told that the UK PTI had placed an order for preparation of 100,000 party flags which would be funded by all the regions and distributed in different constituencies. It was announced in the meeting that the UK PTI would participate in two overseas Pakistani car rallies starting on 14 July from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Participants of these car rallies will reach Islamabad on 21 July where they would attend overseas Pakistanis convention. The Punjab rally will start from Lahore and reach Islamabad after passing through Gujranwala, Gujrat, Serai Alamgir, Jhelum and Gujar Khan and terminate at Islamabad. The KP rally will start from Swat and terminate at Islamabad after passing through Attock, Swabi, Mardan and Haripur.”

“The meeting not only finalised the support being extended by the UK PTI but also urged the local cadre to mobilise their friends and families in Pakistan. It was decided that all the campaign offices established throughout the UK would have free telephone facility for canvassing purposes.”

According to a community source in Midlands, a number of party activists will soon head for Pakistan to take part in campaign in Rawalpindi division and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Most of them will go to Gujar Khan to give a hand to Chaudhry Muhammad Azeem, who is PTI candidate in National Assembly constituency NA-58 in Gujar Khan,” the source with ears to the ground told Dawn.

“Mr Azeem is the brother-in-law of billionaire businessman Sir Anwar Pervez, owner of the Bestway Group, and has close links with many in the community here,” he said.

The tigers

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also has a very active organisation in the UK. The significance given by the PML-N to its UK chapter can be gauged from the fact that during the 2018 Senate elections the party gave a ticket to Zubair Gul, president of the party’s UK organisation, while some others were given offices in the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation and Overseas Pakistan Commission.

The PML-N’s UK chapter is still following a wait-and-watch policy ahead of the July 25 elections. Its local leaders and activists are seen with Mian Nawaz Sharif and visiting party leaders outside Central London’s Harley Street Clinic where Begum Kulsoom Nawaz is under treatment after a cardiac arrest on June 14.

The PML-N activists came in good numbers to match PTI workers in shouting matches outside Avenfield House residence of Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz, sons of former PM Nawaz Sharif. It is yet to be seen what kind of mobilisation happens once Nawaz Sharif and Maryam return to Pakistan.

Jiyalas

There is little visible activity in the PPP camp but an office-bearer of its Midlands branch claimed the party is sending volunteers to Rawalpindi and Multan where the party’s two former prime ministers are trying their luck on National Assembly seats.

The party insiders attribute the lack of mobilisation to infighting the party has suffered in the recent past. Although a new organisation structure for the UK chapter was announced last year, it failed to infuse any fresh energy in the party ranks.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018

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