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Opinion

June 2, 2018

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Time to choose another oppressor

The upcoming general elections on July 25, 2018, like many previous elections will leave out large sections of the population from the democratic process.

Workers, peasants, small farmers, small traders and the working-class youth will not have any real choice in the elections. They will not have any voice or platform that can represent them and protect their interests. The poor masses will have no real choice to make as it will be the same ruling class representing different parties.

Our ruling elite has made the election process so expensive that even someone from the middle-class finds it hard to compete with rich candidates, let alone the working masses, who cannot even think of contesting the general elections. No mainstream political party is interested in awarding party tickets to workers, small farmers, small traders and political activists.

If you are a voter who is a worker or a landless peasant and wish to vote for someone like youself, then you are seriously mistaken, because in our election system the poor, exploited and repressed people cannot contest elections. The only viable choice such voters will have will be to choose between two or three feudal lords and capitalists. The only real choice for a worker or peasant is to choose his exploiter.

If you are a left-leaning, progressive and anti status-quo voter looking for a mainstream political party’s candidate who shares the same political views as you, you will hardly find one. Consider yourself lucky if you get a real choice in your constituency.

The PPP used to be the ultimate choice for many leftist, progressive and anti status-quo voters. But that is no more the case. Along with the right-wing shift in society, the PPP too moved towards the right. We have been decisively shifting towards the right since the 1990s. This process started with the ouster of the Bhutto-led PPP government in 1977 by Gen Ziaul Haq. Leftist, progressive and socialist activists were targeted and brutally repressed, and the collapse of the Soviet Union further alienated and marginalised leftist politics in Pakistan.

Today, no left-wing party or group is in a position to pose a serious electoral challenge to the right-wing and conservative ruling class. Hence, progressive and left-wing voters (though small in number) will have no real choice in the July 25 general elections. All three mainstream political parties, the PML-N, PPP and PTI are pro-globalisation, pro-capitalist and pro-neo liberal free-market economy.

All these parties believe that capitalism and free-market economy are the only viable economic system, so why look for alternate models and systems? The economic programmes of these political parties are hard to distinguish, which proves that they want to maintain the present economic and social status-quo. Gone are the days when the PPP would talk about nationalising industries and bringing about land reforms. No party campaigning for the July 25 general elections will raise these issues. These parties do, indeed, talk about poverty, inequality, class-polarisation and social and economic injustice, but none of them put forward a clear programme, strategy, or policy to end these economic injustices.

The real issues faced by the working-class and the lower-middle class are always missing from mainstream political parties’ agendas. None of them represents the wishes, aspirations and demands of the most exploited and repressed sections of society. As was the case with previous elections, this election too is not going to be contested on the issues of poverty, social and economic injustice, inequality, class exploitation, unemployment and hunger.

But a traditional right-wing religious voter looking for candidates of religious parties representing different sects is in the right place. They will find plenty of candidates campaigning on religious issues and using religion to exploit the emotions of ordinary voters in almost every constituency. Moreover, if you are a voter who decides whom to vote for on the basis of caste, clan and tribe, you too will have plenty of choices before you. Every party keeps in mind the votes of all the main clans, castes, tribes and families before the party tickets are awarded. On top of that, one can also find candidates belonging to different clans and tribes contesting elections independently.

Parliamentary politics is the mere democratic continuation of the elite’s crushing domination and power. This power and domination arises from economic and social hegemony, as feudal lords, capitalists, big businessmen and tribal chiefs own the means of production and wealth. And it is on the basis of this economic power and social position that they dominate electoral politics.

Pakistan’s democracy is still an elitist democracy where the role of the working-class and poor masses is only confined to casting votes and participating in rallies and public gatherings to please their political masters. A people’s democracy or rather a participatory democracy is still a distant dream for the overwhelming majority of the people.

Without social transformation – or at least fundamental and radical changes in the economic and social structure – elections on their own cannot bring an end to this domination. The cosmetic and artificial electoral reforms are not going to bring any serious changes in parliamentary politics, and the ruling elite will continue to flourish at the expense of the working and middle-income classes.

Regardless of who wins a majority, any election that is based on the present social and economic system is not going to bring any substantial change in the lives of millions of peasants and the rural poor. The candidates of mainstream political parties and independents belong to the same class, and continue to serve the same class interests of exploiting people. The choice is only to choose one or the other oppressor.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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