IF Pakistani democracy were ever to be mapped within the country’s geographical boundaries, large parts of it would be shaded in grey for all the domains where the rules of democratic politics do not seem to apply.
Within these domains, voters are believed to be so beholden to a few local notables that national political parties feel they do not need to expend their time or resources canvassing for votes as long as they have the area ‘electables’ in their pocket.
So, it is a different kind of politics that plays out in these areas before a major election; a politics that determines winners and losers not on the strength of any manifesto but on bidders’ ability to satisfy the interests of a small group of local influential.
With weeks remaining for the next general elections in February, the race for electables is underway, with the PPP and PML-N trying to outmanoeuvre each other in a bid to bolster their individual prospects in the next assemblies. So far, both parties seem to have made decent inroads in Balochistan, which is ground zero for all electable contests ahead of a major election.
Nawaz Sharif was the first to visit the province in November, leaving with more than two dozen electables under his belt. The PPP’s efforts have only just started, with the father-son duo of Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari launching their campaign to make inroads in Balochistan’s power politics in the last few days and already enjoying some early successes.
While Mr Sharif may have taken a slight lead in the province’s electoral scene, he will have his eyes on Mr Zardari, whose political guile is nothing short of legendary. As the latter so diplomatically put it, “Balochistan is the heart of Pakistan. And it is very important to win over this heart.”
As the chips continue to fall without a clear favourite emerging in this race, the powers that be will soon face a choice. It appears that this realisation is what is driving Mr Zardari to continue playing the long game, even though other PPP leaders have been complaining of being forced into a position of disadvantage.
It bears noting that there is still some uncertainty regarding the PML-N’s front-line candidate for prime ministership, and one would expect Mr Zardari to take advantage of this by continuing to move the PPP to the centre of the board as the more bankable horse in the race.
This may become an immensely important factor post election, which, given how matters are progressing, can only be expected to yield a hung parliament. With the PTI still on the wrong side of the political equation, the prospects will be bright for whoever takes the lead. The game is afoot.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2023