Campaigning, anyone?

Published November 26, 2023

PAKISTAN’S sombre mood is in sharp contrast to the electoral enthusiasm witnessed in 2008 and 2013. Two and a half months before the country goes to the polls on Feb 8, 2024, the air is far from redolent with fervour.

Political players have yet to hit the hustings with purpose, while party anthems, pamphlets and party kiosks are mostly absent from view, leaving the streets and screens devoid of election hype. As for the electorate, antipathy for the upcoming festival of democracy is palpable.

On the face of it, PPP stands out as the only political outfit determined to whip up hope and gusto. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari used Iqbal Day to launch an aggressive campaign trail, urging followers in various parts of the country to push for victory. During his opening salvo, Mr Bhutto-Zardari raised the stakes by demanding that the old guard make way for new blood. While his father, Asif Ali Zardari had previously presented his son as a superior option for the position of chief executive, he recently countered his own opinion in an interview, with an emphasis on the value of experience.

Certainly, the Bhutto scion is a representative of the new generation of politicians, but he was ill-advised to indulge in negative politics. Instead, in times of economic and social distress, issues that plague the populace should be fostered with conviction.

Meanwhile, the PML-N is taking things slow, with sporadic workers’ conventions and corner meetings. In doing so, the party projects a negative image for the people, coming across as unapproachable. Its nonchalant approach is also fanning speculations of internal strife in its Punjab cadres. Besides, the party promised a forceful electoral campaign recently, but then linked the commencement of its drive to Nawaz Sharif’s clearance in his legal cases.

The question is, as Mr Sharif tidies up his legal challenges, what keeps Maryam Nawaz away from the people? Further afield, for PTI chairman Imran Khan, the poll season seems set to play out between prison and the courts. His embattled party, given its recent troubles and the migration of many legislators, is a shadow of its 2018 avatar. Other parties, like the BNP-M, JUI-F, ANP, the Jamaat and even MQM, to a certain degree, are conspicuous in their absence from the election stage.

Little can validate PML-N’s lacklustre attitude or PTI’s persecution, calling into question the ECP’s commitment to democratic values and a fair contest. While political rallies are pivotal as shows of strength, an animated run-up frees citizens as it quashes uncertainty around elections. Our political class must demonstrate active recognition of canvassing as an assurance of accord and stability. Indifference towards elections will foment despair and suspicion that the state machinery has been managed and the right to choose a leadership stands erased.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2023

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