The only unpredictable factor in these elections is the PTI. Still, caste-based politics and the influence of electables in constituency politics also need to be factored in. The stage is set for a very interesting and intriguing battle today
The Election 2013 in Pakistan is a trend changer in many respects. A combination of various new factors will make old predictions and pundits irrelevant; an active role by the ECP, neutrality of armed forces, vibrancy of media, independence of the higher judiciary and the emergence of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on the national political map. Still, it is interesting to analyse the support base of the three major political parties in the present election; the PML-N, the PPP and the PTI.
Drew Westen, in his book “The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” (2007) observed that the political brain is not a rational brain; it is an emotional brain. Voters do not behave in a rational manner while voting for the parties. Once partisan, the research of the human brain indicates that the amygdale in the brain does not receive any negative news about the favoured party, however, it is definitely receptive to positive news about it and negative news about the political opponent. The Democrats in the United States, therefore, almost always vote for the Democrats and the Republicans vote for the Republicans and are normally not open to persuasion and reasoning. Thus in the different categories of the voters such as die-hards, loyalists, supporters and the bystanders, it is only the emotionally unrelated electorates and the bystanders who are open to change in their voting decision. Hence we see the Peoples Party jiyalas voting for PPP since the 1970s and the PML-N matwalas doing the same for some time now.
The PML-N is well placed as it retains most of its vote-bank primarily in the Punjab. The retention in vote bank is the result of the message that the PML-N has consistently and successfully conveyed to their supporters; that they stand for clean governance, hard work and tight supervision and accountability of the government functionaries. Critics may question the policies and priorities of the government run by the PML-N in Punjab in the last 5 years yet very few people will blame their government during 2008-2013 for avoiding work, corruption and soft handling of the government machinery. The PML-N is also enjoying the advantage of the strongest set of electables as it has been in power for most of the time in Punjab since 1985. Undoubtedly, the governance in Punjab is much better than in Sindh and Balochistan.
The PML-N, however, has also lost some support. The anti-incumbency factor would put a dent in their vote-bank but not in a significant manner. It has disappointed some voters due to its ambiguous stance on religious extremism in the country. Shias, in general, are sceptical of the party’s association with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Punjab; soft handling of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi activists and courting Lashkar-e-Jahngvi voters in a by-election in Jhang. The educated youth that used to vote for the PML-N in the urban areas is also dissatisfied with the party’s performance. They feel that it has behaved in government as a status quo party that is averse to change.
The PPPP campaign has played almost exclusively on raising emotions around the Bhutto family’s sacrifices and has very little to present which appeals to the reason of common voters. The party has lost significant support in Punjab and it is also waning in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). In 2008, the murder of Benazir Bhutto had emotionally connected the swing voters and the veteran Jiyala to the PPP. This time, the party will only retain its die-hard voters. In rural Sind, a majority of PPP voters have an emotional connection with their party. The number of die-hard loyalists is more in interior Sind than in Punjab and other provinces. The BISP and Watan card have also revived the emotional connection of the poor PPP voters to their party.
The only unpredictable factor in these elections, the X factor, is the PTI. The support for the PTI comes from a variety of groups. The charismatic leader is popular among women of all age groups. The youth is deeply disappointed with the old players in the game and now they want to vote for change, for reforms and for Imran Khan who has quite successfully appealed to their hopes and dreams of a “New Pakistan”. The PPP voters who feel let down by the party leadership and don’t want to vote for the traditional political rival, the PML-N, are also likely to vote for the PTI. Some of the religiously conservative voters who would usually vote for religious political parties and the PML-N are also attracted towards Imran Khan for his criticism of the American involvement in the region, “war on terror” and his bold stance against drone attacks in FATA. There were serious threats to the life of Imran Khan and his fall from the lifter in Lahore has removed him from the reach of the potential terrorists and confined him to a safe environment till elections. Many believe that this is a blessing in disguise for him and for the PTI. His address from the ICU has created a wave of sympathy for him.
Caste-based Biradari politics and the influence of electables in constituency politics also need to be factored in despite the charms of the X factor. Biradaris have played an important role in determining the results of the elections in most of the constituencies and especially in the rural constituencies of all four provinces. The electable also have an advantage due to their responsiveness to the voters during the voting management process on the last night before elections and on the election day. Big landholders in different areas enjoy immense influence due to long family histories of contesting elections and patronage.
The stage is set for a very interesting and intriguing battle amongst the three main political parties. The PML-N wields an advantage for not losing any significant support and for fielding the strongest set of candidates in Punjab. Imran Khan is posing a serious challenge and is capable of giving a major surprise tomorrow, especially if we witness a significant increase in voters’ turn out. The PPP is also not going to perform as badly as it did in 1990 or 1997 because the establishment is definitely playing neutral. Politics has the potential and history of creating strange alliances and post 11 May 2013, we are likely to see such alliances that will remind us that all is fair in love, war and elections.
Akbar Nasir Khan is a Governance and Security Analyst based in Islamabad
Mehr Saleem is a Lawyer and Political Analyst based in Lahore