Politics of electables | Opinion

The battle to hunt the maximum number of electables before the next general elections has begun. All the mainstream parties have started to try and win over influential candidates from different rural constituencies.

The PTI, PPP and ruling PML-N have started to organise public gatherings to show their political strength to attract the big guns of parliamentary politics. All the mainstream parties are ready to strike deals of any kind with the electables to lure them in. The reason is simple: it’s not just the political parties which hold the real power in the rural constituencies but the so-called electables and local groupings based on tribe and clan.

The PML-N was able to win the battle of electables before the 2013 general elections with the maximum number of changed loyalties. It attracted more than 70 parliamentarians from different parties and the PML-Q was the main casualty. The PTI was behind the PML-N in this battle. Very few joined the struggling PPP. One example is enough to prove the point. In three districts of southern Punjab – Khanewal, Jhang and Muzaffargarh – the PML-N failed to win a single seat in 2008 elections, but managed to bag 12 out of 15 seats from these districts. When these electables deserted the PML-N in 2002 to join the king’s party, the former failed to win a single seat outside the urban centres of Punjab.

Parliamentary politics is just the democratic continuation of the elite’s crushing domination and power. The political power and domination arise from an economic and social hegemony. The feudal lords, capitalists, big businessmen and tribal chiefs own the means of production and wealth. On the basis of their economic power and social position, they dominate the electoral politics. Pakistan’s democracy is still an elitist democracy. The role of the working class is confined to casting votes and participating in the rallies and public gatherings to please their political masters. The people’s democracy or rather participatory democracy is still a distant dream for the people.

Without social transformation – or at least making fundamental and radical changes in the economic and social structure – elections on their own cannot bring an end to this domination. The cosmetic and artificial electoral reforms are not going to bring any fundamental change in the parliamentary politics. The ruling elite will continue to flourish at the expense of the working and middle classes.

In the electoral politics of Pakistan, the political parties, ideology, manifesto and programme matters little. In the big cities, the political parties enjoy some clout and their vote bank decisively plays the key role. But in small cities, towns and rural areas, feudals, rich individuals and influential families call the shots. The constituency-based politics centres around 300 to 400 big influential families and 1,000 to 1,200 allied families. There are around five to 10 influential families and local groupings which decide the fate of each constituency. They have no permanent ideology and political affiliations. They change their loyalty according to the situation. They have a history of changing loyalties overnight. Their only aim is to protect their own interests and domination in their respective areas. In many areas, different members of the same family contest elections against each other – but only on different symbols.

Out of 272 National Assembly seats, 190 are rural seats. These will not be decided on the basis of the party, programme and ideology. Instead, they are decided on the basis of the clan, tribe, individual and family influence, money and local groupings.

In rural areas, people do not vote individually but in blocs. In villages, the elders of different clans and tribes decide which candidate their clan and tribe are going to vote for. Money, local patronage and influence play a key role in these decisions. Poor people, landless peasants and small farmers cannot decide independently or individually on whom to vote for. They will have to follow the orders of the local feudal, tribal chief, rich and influential families and local police officials. A majority of the feudal-dominated population in rural Sindh, Balochistan and in southern Punjab cannot exercise their right of vote in a democratic, open and transparent manner. Even in Central Punjab, which is somehow free from the clutches of feudalism, the rural poor find it difficult to oppose the rich and influential candidates in their respective areas.

The people wonder that how much time this democracy needs to give them their basic democratic right to vote according to their wishes without any fear.

Many of these so-called electables have, time and again, publicly said that they do not need any political party to win the elections. Instead, political parties need them to win elections. One such electable from Sindh has so far changed six parties in the last six elections. In many rural constituencies, the contest is not between the political parties but between the personalities and groupings. There are feudal families in Pakistan who dominate entire districts and members of a certain family contest elections on all seats of their respective district.

Any election that is based on the present social and economic system is not going to bring any substantial change in the lives of millions of peasants and the rural poor regardless of who win the elections. The candidates of mainstream political parties and independents belong to the same class and they have same class interests to exploit the people. In some constituencies, new faces might come up but they still belong to the same feudal elite. The peasants and the rural poor have no real choice between the candidates. The choice is to choose one or the other oppressor.

A majority of the rural population still live without education and health facilities. Clean drinking water is a luxury. There is no decent housing, transport and employment for them. In many areas in Sindh and South Punjab, animals and humans drink the same dirty water from the ponds. The feudal and capitalist elite have failed to improve the living standards and the lives of the oppressed people.

The weakening of the peasant and farmer organisations over the years has further strengthened these feudal lords and petty capitalists.

The writer is a freelance journalist.