Soothsayers’ nightmare

November 11, 2011

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POLITICIANS are akin to bravado but, with scheduled elections in Pakistan still some 15 months away, can commentators predict the results with certainty?

Imran Khan's Lahore rally forced many of us to acknowledge that he needed to be taken seriously. For, till he assembled that huge, and more significantly, diverse crowd, he was seen as no more than a joke, even if couched in all seriousness. It can also be said that many of us crave change but also carry within us the fear of ending up 'out of the pan into the fire' as our desire hinges on the negative, on what we think we don't want, rather than an embrace of a well-founded promise.

Regardless, some have already started to hail Imran Khan as the man destined next to rule our land.

Frankly, personally one doesn't care who wins at the hustings as long as the exercise is free and fair with the national security establishment not striving for a 'positive' outcome. All such efforts in the past have resulted in disaster.

But our establishment's planners and handlers have often given the impression they'd like to be certified insane by Einstein because they keep repeating their follies in the hope of a different result all the time.

Even if the establishment factor was zero, it would be a difficult election to predict now. Please consider the following. Have we researched how 37 million 'fake' voters appeared on the old electoral rolls and have now been deleted by the Election Commission?

The EC has added 36 million voters. Now if the explanation is that this doesn't mean a shift of more than 70 million possible voters but merely the deletion of those who didn't have the Nadra card earlier and their re-inclusion once they got their card, it'd be simple.

If it implies that actually 37 million fake voters were deleted from the list and 36 million legitimate new ones added it could be a game-changer. (One is open to correction as it is possible to have missed something that actually explained this).

There may have been some fake votes registered , as the updated (draft) EC list shows a decline of about half a million voters compared to the number of those eligible to vote in the last polls. This can hardly be due to natural wastage.

However, since Imran Khan is the only one who has found the EC move worthy of comment one would assume that the more established parties' silence over the issue means they have checked, found a simple explanation and don't see it as a threat.

Also, for any worthwhile analysis, it would be important to do what this paper's Cyril Almeida is doing: touring the heartland and getting under the skin of the biradari (clan) politics at the constituency level, coupled with alliance-building, allied intrigues at all levels.

Many observers say Imran Khan reminds them of Z.A. Bhutto's rise during the 1970 elections. As much as I'd like to know what you think, I feel ideological politics died more or less with Bhutto's end. And over the Zia years, even its remains were stamped out.

What we witnessed in 1988 and beyond can at best be termed as a hangover of whatever little ideological politics happened in the past. This isn't to say ZAB was a Lenin or a Marx, even if he contributed to the awakening of the downtrodden.

So if ideology may not be a relevant variable for our analysis, what can be? Well, shall we consider a couple of other factors? The impact of the government's (Benazir) income support programme, the BISP as it is called, for one.

If, and it's a big if, it has successfully delivered Rs1,000 a month to nearly 2.3 million of the poorest people in the rural areas, we can also assume the whole family would have benefited — with the multiplier effect accruing to the government.

Those familiar with the countryside will appreciate that in rural economies, where agricultural labour is often paid in kind (food grains, etc), Rs1,000 a month in cash may not be seen as an insignificant amount by those steeped in abject poverty.

For the middle class and the more affluent sections of rural society, the impact of agricultural support prices ought to be assessed.

Their protestations notwithstanding, if more money has been put in the agriculturists' pockets and we know no new tax has been levied on them, they are unlikely to forget on polling day.

On the negative side would be the general perception of misgovernance fuelled in large measure by reality but also aided by a biased, self-righteous electronic media, which reflects the agendas of different interest groups.

If the handling of last year's floods across the country and this year's flooding in Sindh due to unprecedented rain was as bad as it looked with large chunks of the rural population practically left to fend for themselves then all incumbents must start packing their bags.

One is yet to say a word about the performance of the Punjab government which relates to the fate of the other major political party. Will the PML-N's strategy of being in government (Punjab) and attacking the government (federal) for all possible shortcomings work? Will their supporters buy it?

These are but a few areas. Each reader can add half a dozen variables and the list won't be exhaustive. For example, how the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa voter sees the US drone attacks and our own army's stalled campaign. The US pullout/drawdown from Afghanistan can cast a shadow.

Balochistan adds dozens of variables. If I were a soothsayer, I'd be considering a career change or learning to live with raw egg sliding down my face.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com