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June 25, 2018

Forecasting elections


June 25, 2018

Forecasting the winners and losers in the upcoming national and provincial elections is akin to trusting prodigious parrots to pick the team that will lift the football World Cup.

There are ways to develop a more informed view of the electoral exercise and to place oneself in a position to stay on top of the situation. The following things-to-watch list is one way to analyse the direction of the election wind. The factors selected are by no means make-or-break variables for the thousands of contestants, but they can decisively influence the outcome for the parties and the candidates.

One, candidate selection. If you want to know who is strong and who is weak, look at the history of that particular constituency and see whether it has responded to strong, traditional political personalities or if it has been more volatile in throwing up results. Generally, in these elections – as in the past – those well-versed with the science of their constituencies are better-placed to harness their electoral dynamics than newcomers to the area. Here we are not talking about ‘electables’, which itself is a silly term because everyone is potentially an electable and that is why he or she is contesting. We are referring to those who are clued up about their constituencies, know their frustrations and needs, and – more than that – have the means to reach out to new groups (voters, business interests, settlers etc) through an organised party, personal or organisational structure. Even a newcomer can turn the tables on an ‘electable’ if he or she has the wheels to move around and connect with the constituency voter.

Two, delimitation. The impact of delimitation on local politics cannot be emphasised enough, and the more we look at the practical side of delimitation the more we come close to the conclusion that in most crucial areas this exercise was far from a simple procedural effort that was carried out by the Election Commission. Slicing off traditional strongholds and creating new political blocs by breaking down well-known areas to renumbering the constituencies, delimitation has changed a lot in a vast number of both urban and rural constituencies.

In certain cases, candidates have been awarded areas that bring their local networks within one boundary while in others established politicians have been thrown in the deep end by foisting upon them localities that they had never visited nor have any truck with because they had remained outside their known constituencies.

But now that it has happened, delimitation has to be seriously studied very closely while analysing the prospects of any election competition on any one seat. It is a tedious process: you have to look at union councils and wards as these have been added or deleted from a particular area. You have to compare and contrast the new and old constituency maps and find out what sort of new demography has come about and what new local issues have now become relevant to the politics of that area. But this much has to be done to move closer to the new realities of the constituency and thus be reasonably sure of the accuracy of analysis or, dare one say, even forecast.

Third, provincial assembly candidates. It is a must to look at not just the National Assembly candidate and his or her strong or weak points, but also how well fitted he or she is with the ‘wings’, ie the combination of provincial candidates. Top-level candidates win or lose on the basis of performance in wards and UCs which are generally left to be managed by provincial level candidates. If this combination is held hostage to personal rivalries and bitter fights, there is no way top candidate can win the seat. This is why National Assembly seat tickets have to be in alignment with provincial candidates choices.

This is also why newcomers to parties like the PTI become such a headache; they bring their entire panel with them and thus displace and cause resentment not just at the top level but also down to the smallest unit. Seats will be won or lost not just because there is a strong candidate. The outcome will be determined by whether parties have been able to create successful combinations at both national and provincial levels.

Fourth, money and resources. Regardless of what the Election Code of Conduct says, the ability to spend money on campaigns, posters, election offices, transport, food, and movement of men and material from one part of the constituency to the other matters a big deal. Candidates who don’t have resources have a handicap. Getting people to vote is a science. This science only fails when there is a revolutionary wave in favour of or against a particular party. From what we can tell, this election is not a ‘wave-based’ election; the surest sign of this is the PTI’s reliance on strong candidates, regardless of where they come from. But neither is this election totally constituency-based, where an established network can easily secure a victory.

Money has to be therefore spent – lots of it and very quickly – to get the message across and to create a dynamic that convinces the public that a particular candidate is going to win. Without money spent, campaigns won’t walk and those associated with weak campaigns will not be able to reach the voter who is either undecided or has not heard of them in any significant way during the days of the campaign.

Five, nature of constituency. There are several types: rural, urban, more rural than urban, more urban than rural, and those almost evenly divided. Then there are divisions of terrain like hilly, mountainous, flat, valleys etc. There are also economic factors defining constituencies. These essentially relate to location of industry or agriculture or other means of livelihood for the majority of the population. The voting patterns of constituencies are often shaped by the class or classes that reside there. Without this profile in view, one can make serious errors of judgement in understanding which way the wind will blow on election day.

Six, small organised groups and game-spoilers. In tightly-contested constituencies, organised groups that have no chance of winning a single seat, but which can drag away chunk votes from the main contenders, make a crucial difference in the outcome. Candidates who want to avoid being broken and defeated by this ‘third factor’ will have to significantly expand their margin of victory, which means they will have to maximise their vote getting strength. Those who are unable to squeeze their support to the last drop will suffer at the hands of groups like the TLYR or similar independents.

In the end, it has to be said that all the above factors (and there are many more) are efficient pointers towards election dynamics only on the assumption that the results of the elections are not decided beforehand; that a decision is not made on who is or is not to be in power; and that the people’s votes will not be cast for a cast of political actors that are already cast to deliver a command performance.

If these assumptions are correct, then there is scope for accurately assessing possible outcomes of the upcoming elections in different constituencies of different provinces. If these assumptions are not correct then no punditry methods are even relevant to these elections. In that case, it is better to simply wait and watch fakeness play itself out to the full and document the farce along with those who are enacting it.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TalatHussain12

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