Poll discourse in Pakistan elections

By ZRG | Updated: May 07, 2013, 10:43 AM IST

Ajay Vaishnav / Zee Research Group

Friday’s brazen broad daylight killing of Chaudhary Zulfiqar, the top Pakistani prosecutor investigating the murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Islamabad and an another National Assembly candidate along with his three-year-old son in Karachi, has come as a gruesome reminder of the threat radical jihadi elements pose to the Pakistani society and its freedom.

The May 11 elections are historic for being the first after a democratically elected government has completed its full five-year term in Pakistan. But, the campaigning has been marred by threats and attacks by Tehreek-e-Taliban, particularly against the three ‘secular’ Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP). Reports say at least 62 people have been killed in the run up to May 11 Pakistan General Elections since April 11, leading observers to label it as the bloodiest ever elections.

Yet the violence hasn’t been able to spoil the spirit of campaign in the triangular contest between three main political contenders – Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP and Imran Khan`s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. While the hype and excitement is nowhere near Indian levels, the three parties are doing everything to capture the Pakistani voters` imagination. A plethora of issues ranging from simple bread and butter to the most complex problems of terrorism, governance, Constitution and foreign policy are being raised to strike a chord with the ordinary Pakistani.

What may delight many Indians is a near-absence of anti-India rhetoric which used to be the hallmark of past Pakistan elections. Apart from stressing on stronger ties with India in their manifestos, Pakistani political parties are busy attacking the US-led drone attacks inside their territory. Former cricketer Imran Khan-led PTI is especially trying to drive home the point that the rise of jihadi elements is linked to indiscriminate American drone strikes in the tribal areas.

Simultaneously, law and order has slipped rapidly as Islamists have taken root and struck with impunity in major cities and towns, the latest being Karachi. Even bigger area of concern is the growing sectarian violence targeting the Shia community and religious minorities. Cities like Karachi are experiencing a new wave of ethnic violence and attacks targeting specific communities.

Pakistan’s economic woes are bigger than its political problems. While rampant corruption mars governance, water shortage and massive power outages, especially in the important Punjab province, have become the order of the day. On top of it, key macroeconomic indicators of Pakistan suggest it is in deep trouble and may require bailout or foreign aid to meet its deficit.

The International Monetary Fund’s executive board concluded in November 2012 “deep seated structural problems and weak macroeconomic policies have continued to sap the (Pakistani) economy’s vigour.” Inflation-adjusted economic growth over the past four years has averaged at 2.9 per cent annually. It is projected to be only 3.2 per cent in 2012-13. The poor economic growth won’t help Pakistan achieve significant improvement in living standards and to absorb the rising labour force. Worse, prices are rising about 11 per cent a year. A 5.6 per cent unemployment rate coupled with significant underemployment of a large number of youth will only help jihad elements.

Pakistan enjoys a demographic advantage like India with 65 per cent of its youth below 25 years, but massive illiteracy, poor education and lack of opportunities may not help the cause of its economy. But the crisis on the ground is yet to reflect amply in the colour of the poll campaign. This is so because politicians in the fray have no easy solutions to offer to the common man on the street to redeem his economic woes.