Elections 2013: Make it your decision, vote!

Published: March 30, 2013
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Embrace politics, embrace objective political debate, create your own small, organised get-out-the-vote efforts in your communities, and more importantly, vote.

Come election year, political parties bring out the big guns to strengthen their political campaigns and make their case for the right to the electoral mandate.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has offered higher minimum wages in an effort to appeal to the masses, or perhaps, cloud voter decisions with promises of money

The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) has resigned from the Sindh government because evidently it takes five years to realise that an alliance is dysfunctional.

The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has shiny new buses and underpasses to show “real development”; even ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf is all set to return and “save the country” with the All Pakistan Muslim League.

The prospect of political power sparks a fever of patriotism and renewed political will that only subsides once results have been announced post-election day.

While pre-election campaigning is traditionally marked by such political stunts and even more aggressive efforts to defame opposing political parties, the landscape of political campaigning in Pakistan seems to have altered in a more positive direction.

We see the spectrum of voter decision making the criterion move from rhetoric and marketing ploys to real issues – as with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) introducing sector-specific policies and nurturing transparency in the political process through intra-party elections. The party has also introduced political fundraising as part of its campaign strategy.

So, what are the implications of these introductions?

For starters, they allow the common citizen a chance to become an active participant of the political sphere, where family funding and affluent origins are not the only criteria for political candidacy, and electoral tickets are awarded through an open and transparent process.

More importantly, the effects of these changes ripple across rival political parties. We have political dynasties like PML-N also promising greater scrutiny regarding the transparency of their political candidates. Parties are increasingly forced to answer questions about their social and economic policies, thus facilitating and influencing voter education on policy comparison, and by extension, the quality of voter decisions.

This is by no means an endorsement for the PTI as a political party or for their policies. However, it is heartening to see the nature of political campaigning progress in a manner that mimics campaigning in more established democracies, and is certainly a step in the right direction. But is this the extent of what political campaigning is meant to be?

What is missing is an organised non-partisan effort on the part of the people towards voter mobilisation and turnout.

The other side of political campaigning stems from a spirit of democracy that reverberates at the voter end. These are efforts that are either targeted at specific segments (youth, women, minorities) or cities and constituencies — efforts that edge forward political participation for the purpose of enforcing political rights instead of fulfilling a tainted political agenda — efforts that carry the purpose of empowering citizens to make informed choices, understand the relevance of voting for their future lives, and aim to remove barriers resulting from inadequate knowledge of the voting process.

Pre-election campaigning in established democracies does not merely echo top down political messaging, it involves community organising and voter mobilisation efforts such as registration drives, and even election day efforts to get-out-the-vote, some of which are as simple as knocking on doors or ringing bells to encourage people to go and vote, or driving friends to their polling stations.

Of course these features of political campaigning take decades, even centuries to fully establish.

In countries like the United States, the process is still not perfect despite three hundred years of evolution, and voter turnout is an issue of concern even with rigorous academic research and relevant funding from both partisan and non-partisan organisations.

It may take equally long for it to establish in Pakistan, adapting and evolving according to the unique societal structure of the country. However, we must recognise that in order for the democratic process to flourish and develop, organised citizen driven political mobilisation is crucial.

Politics is a dirty word to some in Pakistan, and a matter of survival or modus operandi for others, but the advocacy of political participation is pivotal to the future prosperity of all citizens.

Plato said it best,

“One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

That’s a penalty we are all too familiar with.

So embrace politics, embrace objective political debate, create your own small, organised get-out-the-vote efforts in your communities, and more importantly, vote.

Every vote, every effort, every sliver of passion, will bring us closer to a brighter future.

Read more by Fatima here of follow her on Twitter @zahra7891

Fatima Zahra

Fatima Zahra

Fatima is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, and is passionate about using Communication Management as a medium for solutions to social issues. She tweets as @zahra7891 twitter.com/zahra7891

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • zahid ali

    Nice effort to educate the people about elections. People have to realize the importance of vote. However by demanding education access and quality, let’s vote only for those who support education

    ,,Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Yousaf_Manzoor Falcon

    A positive message. We can shape our future only if we voteRecommend

  • Parvez

    How can one disagree with what you have said.
    We have had elections in the past but the end result has always been worse and not better.
    Recommend

  • Faisal

    I love Bat !!!Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    Agreed. It’s not just another holiday, go out and vote.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Parvez: Yes but for the democratic process to show value, it has to be consistent, and it must be allowed to evolve. We can’t dismiss the process based on a handful of elections that have taken place sporadically over our 70 year history. Also, the very purpose of voting is to help weed out the corrupt, it’s a slow process, and yes it isn’t always transparent, we won’t get rid of ill-intent, but if we continue to participate and have our voices heard through our choice of leadership, we can hope that we’ll have the right people leading us in the decades to come. To get to that kind of leadership, however, we have to start by voting in the present. Recommend

  • shahid

    We must be worried about the selection of those who would take decisions that would affect the future of us and our family Recommend

  • Hussain Ali

    Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf’s Symbol (Bat) is very nice and effect able…………. Bat Must win Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @author

    Your idea about grass root level movement “Go out to vote” works in OECD countries because of HDI (human development index). What Pakistan needs is not democracy, but country ruled by technocrats, educated people with doctoral degree who will gear the nation towards higher literacy and promote a tolerant society. You can create grass root movement to educate people about democracy and tolerance. For the past 5 years, Pakistan was governed by democratically elected politicians. What have they achieved ?

    Electoral History of Pakistan. You many want to shed some light.

    1970 (Lead to creation of Bangladesh and takeover by Military)
    1988-89 (BB – Benazir Bhutto)
    1991 (NS – Nawaz Sharif)

    Pakistan army and ISI should report to this technocrat government. This technocrats should be secular and move towards policies to DE-radicalize extremists by ordering targeted operations against terrorist outfits.

    I would like to conclude in a lighter note. One cannot cook “Tasty Biryani” in a dirty kitchen. House cleaning for Pakistanis need to be the first order of priority.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    Elections are great if it achieves the goal of building a tolerant society, where people thrive both academically as well as economically. Elected politicians goal is to serve its constituents and their betterment. In Pakistan it is sad but true that politicians short change their constituents to become corrupt fat cats. Recommend

  • khan

    compaigning to people around me for PTI at my own…Recommend

  • Waqas

    Is the job to find the best person or the most corrupt, why are our “leaders” the most corrupt when ideally they should be the best of the country. Our leaders are to lead us, not destroy us. Politicians are not meant to fill their pockets. Politics is a service, not a profession. Please dear politicians think of the people you are getting votes from. When you have the power to make Pakistan the best country of the world why the heck are you even thinking of fulfilling your desires. I don’t know how you sleep at night when you know you are not fulfilling your responsibilities. The respect you will get if you do something good will be far more valuable than the money you are getting. Please realize.

    Sincerely,
    A PakistaniRecommend

  • Iqbal Turab

    Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf Symbol (Bat) is very niceRecommend

  • A.JAMAL

    VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING ARTICLE.THANKSRecommend

  • Fatima

    @Mehdi: The problem with Pakistanis is that have absolutely no patience to let a system work, they don’t have the patience to fix it and acknowledge that change requires time. It’s much easier to declare that over 65 years of damage to democracy after not having been undone in 5 years, means that democracy will not work. Or even that a few years of sporadic and ineffective democratic government implies that democracy and Pakistan should part ways. Exactly who would choose the technocrats you speak of? Who will hold them accountable? Who will ensure that they don’t misuse their power? More importantly, who will make sure that they are accepted by the people as legitimate authorities when they are not chosen by the people. You must realize that in order for any system of government to function and be sustainable, it must first have legitimacy in the eyes of the people, they must be involved in the process for one to expect them to be involved in the solution. No matter how many evidence-based educated policies and programs technocrats and experts make, they’re absolutely useless if they do not garner the support of those for whom those policies and programs have been made. Which is why grassroots advocacy for a number of social issues, including the role of voting and civic engagement in strengthening democracy is needed.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Parvez: I agree, the system does need change. But I would also say that the existing system is misused primarily because of the people currently using it. If we use our votes to bring in people who we think can respect the system, systematic change would follow. Easier said than done, attaining democracy in its true form is a painful process, but we must stop waiting for change to come in the form of a revolution, or one person who will magically fix everything, or by thinking that it will come without any effort and participation on our part. Even if we bring in the right people today, for systematic change to become visible, it would probably take at least 5-10 years. Recommend

  • Asim

    Salam. To criticize is a very easy thing, but you made a very good effort. Pakistan men thoda system kharab he, kisi theek ko bhi vote keye jayen, per iqtedaar men achcha insaan aata hi nai he. Imran Khan made one promise that he will use peoples tax appropriately, but he did not say that “he will minimize the tax rate” on people, which is too high now. Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Fatima: As per your logic the only different face is that of Imran Khan and his lot and they too have to fight the system if they are going to make a difference.
    The system I am referring to is the electoral system which is so structured that it only throws up the rotten lot. The system that runs the country can only change if good people get elected………………do you see the Catch 22 situation ?
    It is because of this dilemma that the thinking of a cataclysmic change being the only answer comes about and religious extremists benefit.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @Fatima:

    I whole heartedly agree with the last line of your response. You absolutely need to build civil society as part of laying out the foundation for democracy. Educating people about democracy should be the starting point. Unfortunately in Pakistan religious intolerance has created a big abyss. It would be a tremendous task to come out of it. There should be a seperation of state and mosque. Please note I am not using church because that would be blasphemous for many here. Quran recognizes all the previous abrahimic faith, but extreme followers of Islam call them with a very derogatory term “Kuffar”. This in itself is a contradiction.Recommend

  • Zee

    nicely written…

    As per surveys and polls conducted by Gallup and a couple of independant poll running organizations, the voter registeration has gone up considerably. I think that is good, people are realizing right and wrong and at least registering themselvers as voters. The most important thing would be to step out and cast the actual vote.

    A lot of times poor administration is one of the causes of low voter turnout. In the last election, in Lahore, one of the polling stations was supposed to open at 7AM, we were there but there was no sign of any admin staff, eventually me and my father stayed there for another 6 hours before we could get a chance to vote but my mother and grandmother etc left, went back home after a couple of hours…The booth opened at 11 btw.
    So that is 2 votes less…now these are something of the things that need to be changed and managed properly, by the caretaker govt or whoever is in charge.

    Second problem is the buyout of the votes. My driver got Rs 300 per family member, they took away the CNIC and returned it to them the next day along with some Rs 3000 odd rupess. His extended family lives in a different probably a more urbanized area they got Rs 500 per CNIC.

    So the whole election system is a problem. With the current situation I truely feel that Pakistan has hit rock bottom and it cannot get any worse than this. Hope the masses (whose vote really matters) realise this and use their correct judgement when exercising this right. I mean its everyone moral obligation towards their country.

    I didnt quite go through the whole conversation taking place..but just in a jist, I am all up for the technocrat govt structure…we ideally should have 4-5 candidates for the role of the premier and the whole country should cast their votes to anyone of them, and then there should be the elections for the governers and/or chief ministers…but we really dont need both. The final elected premier should select a technocrat goverment. I mean the person responsible for Finance Dept should have the correct credentials to be in that post.
    We really need to get rid of these 500+ Ministries. I just found out that there is a Ministry for Fisheries and Aquatic Research. I mean SERIOUSLY???!!???
    And the minister for health should be coming from the health sector and not from some Tribal Area running 4 Ghee Mills and now running a ministry.

    The whole system needs an overhaul.Recommend

  • Muhammad Naveed Hashmi

    Salam, v vote compulsorily, even v are not interested with any contestant/parties and with their manifesto. use the blank coloum, which help us to DE-moralized all those who lose by marking this column, and may they perform much better in their territories for next election. Recommend

  • amna bibi

    i♥batRecommend

  • amna bibi

    @Faisal:

    am also like and♥ batRecommend

  • Hussain Ali

    @Fatima: ohh my God …………. very very long lecture Miss……………. I think you can’t read the post ……………………………… make your decision just and don’t fight here please ……….. everyone want to prove he/she right…..Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Parvez “do you see the Catch 22 situation ?”

    Sure do. Only good leaders can make a good political system, but only a good political system will bring forth good leaders. We are stuck in a seeminlgy infinite loop of bad leaders and bad political system.

    How to break this cycle is the million dollar question. And I’m not so sure that going out and voting in the same political system for the same leaders is the answer.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Sajid: So really, we’re hoping for somebody to wave a magic wand and bring both good politicians and a good political system? One would presume that since the system is a man-made construct, it would need a well intended human effort to change.

    If we’re hoping for good people to appear and change the system while refusing to vote, isn’t that counter-intuitive? I suppose my question to both you and Parvez is, if not voting, if not years of voting to bring about change since that is how democracy functions, then what kind of approach would work to help put Pakistan back on it’s feet? Always good to flesh out constructive alternative solutions so I’m just curious. Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Faitma: I’m not refusing to vote, I’m refusing to endorse the ‘lesser’ evil with my vote. If a good, non-evil candidate turns up in my constituencey, sure I’ll vote.

    I’m not placing my faith in politics or politicians to fix this country. I believe our best bet is in better education (with or without political support) and thats one of the reaons why I’m an educator.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Sajid: The only issue there is that widespread education needs supportive education policies, those policies are approved and altered by politicians, and at the very least, involve politicians. Yes nonprofit and private education is keeping education afloat in Pakistan at the moment, but higher literacy rates require public education and public = government. There’s an upper limit to what one may be able to accomplish without involving the government, so the argument that we’re not endorsing the lesser evil will fail us eventually, because if people don’t participate in the system, they lose their voice, they resign themselves to the sidelines, and everything will remain the same. To me, that’s not really a solution.

    If we’re dealing with candidates that are just more of the old kind, we should stand for elections in our constituencies ourselves, or support people we know to be honest into candidacy. Either way, improving the system and Pakistan will require participation, sacrifice, a lot of hard work and perhaps even more time. Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Fatima: “If we’re dealing with candidates that are just more of the old kind, we should stand for elections in our constituencies ourselves, or support people we know to be honest into candidacy.

    Yes, and while we’re at it.. I’m also dealing with AutoMechanics who are ripping me off and I cant seem to find any honest AutoMechanics to fix my car. So maybe I should become an AutoMechanic as well. Same goes for Electricians, Plumbers and many other service providers. We cant take all their places. What we can do is be the best possible in our current profession.

    As for public education, you’re hopefully well aware of its pitfalls in the US, as well as the rise of private education in the far east (Hong Kong, South Korea, China etc). Other countries are maturing to the point where they are discouraging government intervention in education. I dont think we should be encouraging it when we still havent recovered from the last major government intervention in our education (in the 80s).

    If Pakistan is to progress, it will not be because of the government, but rather it will progress despite the government, by the efforts of hard working, honest, sincere, enterprising individuals. So, in my opinion voting in the lesser evil or not voting.. doesnt really matter. If a good candidate turns up, sure go vote. If not, I’ll continue to contribute by being good at what I do best.Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Sajid: Yes, that is one way of contributing and of course that has value in its own right and is commendable, but do remember that operating “despite” the government always comes with a cost, something that all honest, enterprising individuals are perfectly aware of while doing business in Pakistan, something that I am also fairly familiar with given my own work experience.

    Secondly, I agree that countries should eventually move towards models that are not dependent on the government, but in a country where millions of people are living below the poverty line, people who cannot be served by the private education sector or the nonprofit sector collectively, government support is required, you need a shift in the baseline before you start implementing policies that emulate nations that are far ahead of Pakistan in most respects.

    As for the auto-mechanics analogy, I do know of people who have chosen to run in the present elections despite their professions and backgrounds having absolutely nothing to do with politics, honest, middle-class, educated people, so yes, it happens, but it takes a certain kind of person to do that, and I hope they can inspire more to. It’s certainly not the only way to contribute, but it’s still a very important way. Recommend

  • Sajid

    @ Fatima: This could be long discussion. I’ll concede that one should vote, it may not do any good in the long run but it cant be any more harmfull than not voting at all :)

    And do keep writing. Recommend

  • Fatima

    @Sajid: Haha, agreed. And thanks!Recommend