What Pakistan needs is a root and branch change in its politics
The Pakistani elections were dominated by land and wealth interests, where the poor, suffering people are at best an afterthought
The intoxication of ‘democratic elections’ once again has consumed vast swathes of Pakistani society, who desperately cling to vain hopes that these will be the ones which finally bring about the changes that are so clearly needed. This time it is different, they say, as they claim it is the first election in which power is to be transferred from one ‘democratically elected’ body to another.
However, wade through the hyperbole and emotion and it becomes all too clear that what we really have is the same tired, old Pakistani politics. Corruption, coercement and manipulation have become the hallmarks of the electoral process, and the elections of 2013 have not disappointed in this regard.
Whilst figures such as the 36 million new registered voters, or the 60% turnout seem to signify an electorate who are engaged with the process, they do not tell the whole story. Widespread claims of rigging, videos on youtube showing individuals filling in stacks of voting slips and the turnout figures of up to 300% in some polling stations make a mockery of this supposedly historic event. Corruption is endemic and institutional, reducing the whole process to a farcical game of ‘who can cheat the most?’
Pakistani elections as with Pakistani politics are dominated by land and wealth interests, where the poor suffering people are at best an afterthought. The various parties’ domination over areas of the country through ownership of feudal land and industry ensure that a large proportion of the electorate are effectively forced into block-voting for their landlord or employer. There is therefore no surprise to anyone when Sind votes in favour of the PPP, whilst the Punjab elects PML-N.
So the process was doomed to begin with, but what about the result? Does the newly elected Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N party deserve a chance?
Nawaz Sharif’s family are owners of Ittefaq Group, a leading steel mill conglomerate. In 2005, Daily Pakistan reported that the Sharifs were the fourth wealthiest family in the country with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion. This is where Sharif’s wealth and Pakistan’s colonialist land owning feudal system secured PML-N the countryside, where the majority of the population live.
Sharif has ruled Pakistan on two previous occasions, from 1990-93 and then in 1997-99, until he was overthrown in a coup by General Musharraf. In power Sharif’s governments were littered with scandal, corruption and incompetence. On the two previous occasions he led the government he virtually bankrupted the nation.
Whilst the country has been at the receiving end of daily US drone bombings, Sharif can barely muster up a word of condemnation. He has never claimed that he would stop them, only going as far as to claim that other options ‘need to be explored’.
PML –N’s clear victory appears odd given that Sharif’s Muslim League was fractured when he was exiled to Saudi Arabia for the best part of the last decade. Also the people are unlikely to have forgotten “industrialist” Sharif’s last tenure in government, which, when abruptly ended by the military coup, resulted in impromptu street celebrations. All the more surprising, given Sharif’s main business-orientated agenda was to end load shedding, is PML-N’s electoral victories in rural areas where virtually no campaigning was undertaken and many of the poor are not even connected to the national electricity grid.
It is clear that ‘democracy’, far from being the saviour of Pakistan, is in truth playing into the hands of those who seek to manipulate the country, its resources and its people to their own ends. It is a tool used by foreign agents to maintain their control, and used by wealthy elites such as Nawaz Sharif to hide their crimes against the people behind titles of public office. Only a complete break from this system will ever bring about true change, and free Pakistan at last from the political merry-go-round it has found itself caught in since birth.