Approaches and strategies

Hypothetically, every candidate plans to win

Approaches and strategies

“If you are an independent candidate running from an urban centre like Islamabad, local issues matter the most. However, candidates fielded by major parties have to bear the party baggage as well,” says Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, politician, former senator and an independent candidate from Islamabad.

As a candidate from two relatively large constituencies, Khokhar has a very busy week ahead, full of scheduled visits.

Islamabad’s population has crossed three million. It has three National Assembly constituencies. Being the federal territory, it does not have representation in any provincial assembly. A typical National Assembly constituency has a population of 500,000 to 700,000 people. Theoretically speaking, every candidate has to have a plan to win.

Candidates representing popular parties have an edge over the independents in that they count on party workers to support their efforts and carry their message to the voters.

To understand the dynamics of a party-run campaign, let us take a look at NA-127, Lahore, where Huqooq-i-Khalq Party has fielded Muzammil Kakar. For one of the provincial seats (PP-160) in the area, it has fielded Dr Ammar Ali Jan.

Party leader Farooq Tariq says that they are focusing on small towns. “We do not go for big cars and big guns the way big parties do. We look at the small things that, left unresolved, snowball into big issues,” he says.

“We have set up 60 offices to run our election campaign. Most of these offices have been set up in party workers’ homes. Typically, women of the family run them. There is a lot of interest in our campaign,” he says.

“We have set up a Khalq Health Clinic where physicians provide free consultation. Educated youths, including some students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, are taking interest in our work. Some of them are contributing by teaching at the schools we have built for out-of-school children.”

He says community issues have prompted their campaign slogans. He says the party has been mobilising the community to build pressure on the government institutions to provide better services in sanitation, education and healthcare sectors.

Asked if the strategy is working, he says 500 to 1,000 people have been turning up at each of their corner meetings in the constituency.

Tariq says older citizens have memories of militant trade unions and slogans of a red revolution. “Some of our heroes, including Abdur Rehman Shaheed and Chaudhry Gulzar Ahmed, were raised in this area.”

He says one of their campaign slogans is: Vote Not for Sale. “We tell people that if they sell their vote, their problems will not be solved for another five years,” he says.

He complains that PML-N candidate Atta Tarar and his supporter Asad Khokhar have recently launched development schemes in the area in violation of election rules.

Asked if his party could have formed an alliance with the PPP, he says that the latter had not agreed to withdraw its candidates.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is also running from the same National Assembly constituency.

Musa Khokhar, the PPP Youth Wing leader for central Punjab, says that their campaign is people-centric. “We have some success stories to tell. We also have some tragedies to share. Above all, we are promising people things only we can deliver,” he says.

He says Bilawal is a young and exciting leader whose strengths have been acknowledged internationally. He also says Lahore had once belonged to the PPP.

Zeeshan Naqvi, PML-N leader and a deputy mayor of Islamabad, says that his party believes in direct contact with the voters. “We meet people at their doorsteps. We listen to them and deliver solutions. This has been the secret of our success,” he says.

Jamaat-i-Islami leader Mian Aslam, also a candidate from Islamabad, disputes that. He says the PML-N has always relied on state machinery. He alleges that the Islamabad administration has removed the banners put up by his party while those put up by the PML-N remain on the streets. He says the Jamaat has fielded its candidates in all the three constituencies of Islamabad and that their campaign is in full swing.

“It is important to meet people on the ground. These days, the role of social media has become significant. As a party, we are aware of the trends. We, too, are using the social media to convey our message to the public.”

He says his party is using several platforms including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. “Jamaat-i-Islami is campaigning in earnest. You will see us on social media, print media and electronic media. We will be on every platform. We are also going door to door, organising corner meetings and holding rallies,” he says.

Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar agrees that social media is an effective tool for campaigns. “Social media is cost effective. The results are there for all to see and they are verifiable. However, a social media campaign does not suffice for an independent candidate,” he says.

He also says election campaigns are meaningless if the candidates do not understand the problems people in their constituencies are facing. He mentions that his family has deep roots in politics and that he has been a part of party campaigns.

Like Khokhar, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the former PML-N stalwart, running from a nearby Rawalpindi constituency, is directing all his energies to reviving his contacts with the community.

Electoral campaigns are not simple or easy. Nisar has been having a tough time answering those who berate him for ‘betraying’ the party that did so much for him and his voters. In NA-47 and 48, where Khokhar is running from, more than two dozen independent candidates are claiming to be representing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Raja Khurram, who won on PTI ticket in the last election, is hard pressed to convince the voters that he is the ‘real’ party candidate.

Many people are saying they have lost all faith in elections. They say they believe that someone else makes the decisions. There is a clear need to launch a campaign to regenerate public trust in the ballot box.

Hassan Shahzad Zaidi is a teacher of journalism. His X handle is @HassanShehzadZ

Tahir Naeem Malik is an analyst. His X handle is @TahirNaeemMalik. 

Approaches and strategies