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Contesting elections to lose

March 29, 2013

-File Photo

During 2008 general elections in total 23 candidates contested elections from NA-48 (Islamabad-I). Anjum Aqeel Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won the election with an overwhelming majority.

He secured 61,480 votes whereas his runner up Syed Israr Hussain of the PPP got 26,485 votes.

Second runner up was Rizwan Sadiq of the PML-Q, who could only manage 10,000 plus votes. From rest of the 20 candidates who stood up for elections in NA-48 no one could manage more than 2,500 votes. There were eleven candidates, who got less than 100 votes.

Why do such people contest elections, despite being well aware that they can’t win elections?

On average all over the country, over half a dozen candidates participated in the contest of each seat in the 2008 general elections. And there are many National Assembly seats, where the number of participating candidates was from ten to fifteen. For example, 13 candidates participated in elections from NA-1, 11 in NA-11, 13 in NA-27, 21 in NA-36, 24 in NA-37, 20 in NA-38, etc.

It appears that there is no single reason why candidates rush into elections, knowing full well that their chances of winning the election are as slim as of say Musharraf forming the next government.

Many of them rush in because they want to test their popularity or more precisely electoral strength. Candidates, who fight election under this scheme, use all available resources at their disposal and give the contest their best shot. If they can manage a healthy turn out in their favor, they can use the result as a bargaining chip for future political endeavors with mainstream political parties.

The principle is akin to young one who will intern for free – the experience looks good on your resume and the next time around, it can just help you land a well paid job.

Next comes the category of candidates, whose mere purpose is to acquire a political identity and a constituency to match.

In this category, the aspirants are rich, very rich but have an acute identity crisis. And the election is fought in the hope of resolving this problem (no one has pointed out that it might be cheaper to see a shrink). A close confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is known for his deep pockets, is currently busy in presenting himself as a potential candidate in the capital city for the upcoming elections. For the last around one year, he has launched an aggressive media campaign in the city.

They travel in conveys of flashy vehicles, spend generously on their election campaigns including on huge billboards and posters plastered with their faces and offer lavish food at their election offices.

People may even love them, but, they rarely get the vote because of their lack of political track record.

The third category of candidates includes those who don’t just know that they cannot win elections; they also have no intention of contesting them.

So why do they file nomination papers and vigorously campaign? Because they are looking for a deal.

While they may have filed nomination papers and threatened to contest the fight, their unannounced but openly known objective is to sell their departure from the election for the right price. And what they have to offer in return is a small chunk of the votes that they dominate – because they head a caste or tribe or business.

So they keep a close tab on potential winners from their constituencies, and keep sending messages through intermediaries to the leading candidates. And eventually, one or the other of the real candidates bites.

They offer favours to the pretender to withdraw, promising in return also their captive vote bank. And if the candidate they ‘conceded’ to wins, for five years they continue to reap the benefits of their ‘sacrifice’ during the elections. Such as in NA-48, a number of candidates initially submitted their nomination papers, but then campaigned for Mr Anjam. At least three of these candidates could be seen quite often in the parliament house with Mr Anjam during the last five years.

But there is one last reason for which elections are contested.

There is money to be made for once a candidate announces his candidacy for elections, there are many powerful people who are more than willing to contribute to the election campaign expenditure.

Who does not know of the infamous tycoon who is close to everyone in power? But he does not just help the very powerful. He is also willing to help the young, eager by financing those whose ambition is limited to but just one constituency.

Textile magnates and stock market players are no less willing to help out too. This is the Pakistani version of the lobbying that finances the American political system.

But apart from the wheelers and dealers of the national stage, there are also local business people who are star struck enough to help out candidates in specific constituencies.

The support can be both in cash and kind. They not only transfer cash to the potential winners for election related expenditures, but, also help by offering a handful of vehicles for use in the election campaign or run media campaigns. For example in district Sialkot, the cities known for its wealthy industrialists, election campaigns of the local politicians are totally supported by them.

In return, the winning candidates look after the business man’s interests. In other words, if the horse a businessman bets on wins the race, the latter can call in many favours and for quite some time.

It is not just the contestants whose future is linked to winning and losing.