Five years is a long time, particularly when it does not show a discernible pattern and is consumed by sporadic events and countless issues. In Pakistan, memory fails us in what happened over the last five years, why and how it impacted our individual and collective lives.
However, the shrewd politicians will help us in remembering some events and forgetting some others during the election campaigns in the coming hot summer. The vote we cast might not reflect our true understanding of which political party or candidate can better serve the country.
Most of us will be driven by emotions aroused by slogans and symbols associated with religion, ethnicity and victimhood. Very few will appreciate the true worth of the vote so as to take a long-term view of the factors that determine our economic, strategic and political destiny. Collective wisdom, which is most often eulogised as the antidote for individual stupidity and capricious behaviour, will itself boil down to the bandwagon fallacy – the erroneous assumption that the opinion of the majority is always valid and one should uncritically follow the mob.
Appeal to populism and the politics of patronage is hugely rampant in rural areas. An extension of symbolism, which is so vogue in villages, is the participation of contesting candidates in funeral prayers and other social events before elections. Sitting in the backseat of expensive Prados and Vigos with their security guards piercing through the crowds, the candidates make their presence felt besides showing their prowess and power. The hosts and their close relatives feel indebted and reciprocate the good gesture of the candidates with publicity that they so earnestly need during elections.
Next in line is the politics of patronage. Small favours – economic and social – done for individuals matter more than public projects. Helping individuals in getting an appointment with a renowned physician, expediting official work, and handing over a few bags of cement is what tempts the voters to choose a particular candidate. Thinking of the whole country and the challenges it faces rarely occupies the imagination of voters while casting their votes. Realising the importance of patronage, the political parties, rather than promoting their past performances and election manifestos, turn to electables for success.
Playing the victimhood card is another effective tool. Victims, real or artificially created, milk their physical and/or social conditions and make undue demands from the public. In most cases, the victims exaggerate their conditions because of the benefits attached to them.
As we move closer to the 2018 elections, politics will start drifting more and more towards trivialities by way of tossing new and old scandals in the air. The real problems and challenges that the country faces will only get a scant mention and attention in the media as sensational stories will occupy prime time TV and front pages of newspapers. Social media, in particular, will mix fact with fiction to construct realities and put forth weird narratives. We, the public, will then judge politicians on what they say more than on what they have done and will actually do. The 2018 elections in their true essence will be a repeat of history.
The writer teaches at the Sarhad University.
Email: zebkhan.basuit. edu.pk